The atmosphere on Capitol Hill turned tense and uncertain Tuesday as Democratic lawmakers grappled with President Joe Biden's re-election bid. Amid mounting concerns about his ability to secure a second term, the party faces an extraordinary dilemma: whether to support the incumbent or push him to bow out.

In private meetings, both House and Senate Democrats expressed high tensions. Conversations in the House were described as "dour" and "sad," reflecting the party's struggle with Biden's insistence on staying in the race despite growing calls for his withdrawal. In the Senate, where Biden spent much of his storied career, discussions were notably restrained.

Representative Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey became the seventh House Democrat to publicly urge Biden to step aside, emphasizing the high stakes with former President Donald Trump seeking a return to the White House. "The stakes are too high - and the threat is too real - to stay silent," Sherrill said.

Instead of rallying around Biden, Democrats are descending deeper into crisis, fearing a potential loss of both the White House and Congress. House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York acknowledged the gravity of the situation, stating members had the opportunity to express their candid views during a closed-door session.

Biden's political future, usually a unifying factor for the party, has become a contentious issue just weeks before the Democratic National Convention. Some Democrats, including Representative Jerry Nadler of New York, have reversed their positions to publicly support Biden, but a strong undercurrent of dissent persists. Nadler, after initially suggesting Biden should not run, stated on CNN, "He's our candidate, and we're going to support him."

A significant portion of the House Democrats voiced their concerns about Biden's continued candidacy. Representative Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, who leads a group of military veterans in the House, is among those urging Biden to step down. Meanwhile, other Democrats, like Representative Adriano Espaillat of New York, expressed unwavering support for Biden, citing his leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Concerns extend beyond the presidency, with many Democrats fearing for their own down-ballot races. Representative Mike Quigley of Illinois bluntly stated, "He just has to step down because he can't win." A sense of helplessness pervades the party, with one anonymous lawmaker describing the situation as "sad."

In the Senate, reactions were more muted but equally significant. Senate Democrats, who convened for their weekly caucus lunch, refrained from making strong public commitments either way. Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, a close Biden ally, emphasized the need to focus on the threat posed by Trump rather than internal divisions.

Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, up for re-election in a critical battleground state, acknowledged hearing concerns from constituents about Biden's viability as a candidate. "Everyone's looking very carefully at his performance this week," Baldwin said. Others, like Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, expressed confidence in Biden's ability to defeat Trump.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York maintained his support for Biden, repeatedly stating, "I'm with Joe." The private Senate meeting was described as a "private family discussion," with consensus on defeating Trump but no clear resolution on Biden's candidacy.

Amid the turmoil, some Democrats are turning their attention to Vice President Kamala Harris as a potential alternative. Representative Jared Huffman of California, leading the House Democrats' task force against Project 2025, expressed confidence in Harris's readiness to step up if necessary.

The White House, responding to the fallout from Biden's recent debate performance, is working to consolidate support. Biden met virtually with the Congressional Black Caucus, thanking them for their loyalty and assuring them of his commitment. Progressive leaders, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, have also expressed their continued support for Biden.

As Democrats navigate this challenging period, the focus remains on unifying the party to face the looming threat of a second Trump presidency. Representative Jasmine Crockett of Texas underscored the stakes, particularly for Black Americans, stating, "We are not willing to risk our freedoms for somebody feeling good because there's a different name on the ballot."

Despite the internal strife, Biden's letter to congressional Democrats reaffirmed his determination to stay in the race, believing he is the best candidate to defeat Trump. The coming weeks will be crucial as the party seeks to resolve its leadership dilemma and present a united front ahead of the 2024 election.