Little is going with President Joe Biden as the summer lull sets in ahead of the hubbub of the midterm elections.
Gas prices are rising; his popularity rating is down. A conservative Supreme Court majority is attacking its agenda by abolishing the federal right to abortion and undermining environmental protections meant to curb climate change. His own party is losing patience, fearing that any chance for consequential change as Democrats control Congress will fade.
“There needs to be urgency and action,” said Rebecca Kirszner Katz, who was an aide to the late Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid. “People have been saying since the day Joe Biden was elected that we have to act quickly. There are many things we need to do for the American people. »
Biden has rolled out plans to deal with the mounting crises. He has a three-part plan to reduce inflation. Another proposed gas tax suspension in hopes of lowering prices. Then there’s his long-term plan to enshrine abortion rights in law by suspending the Senate’s filibuster rule requiring 60-vote supermajorities.
Inside the White House, however, advisers understand that what is needed is not just plans, but votes. The 50-50 divide in the Senate between parties has proven an insurmountable obstacle to Biden’s greatest ambitions – to expand the social safety net in ways that insulate the most vulnerable Americans from economic shocks.
“He needs to change course,” said a Democratic congressman, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of upsetting the White House. “His numbers are in the toilet. Whatever he does, it doesn’t work.”
A perennial complaint from Biden’s Democratic critics is that he hasn’t capitalized on the platform he commands as president.
“There’s a benefit to having the president out there every day using his executive power to show the country you’re fighting for them,” the Democratic lawmaker said. “And it’s almost like he’s hiding. He has the pulpit of bullies, and he hides behind or under. I do not know where he is.
Allies say Biden, along with other members of the administration, will make better use of their megaphones as they approach midterms, portraying Republicans as out of touch. Biden, they said, is energized by the Roe v. Wade, which could be a prelude to future Supreme Court rulings overturning same-sex marriage and birth control rights.
Unpopular presidents tend to perform poorly in midterm elections. But Biden-world sees an opening to challenge historical trends, stemming from some of the same setbacks that have so angered the Democratic base.
Republicans are going too far in a way that will alienate voters, White House allies say.
“I can tell you on the street what you hear is a bubbling cauldron of anger at the Republican Party for putting in these antediluvian judges who think they can take us back to the 18th century,” said Jay Inslee, the democrat. Governor of Washington State. “My acumen and the polls indicate that this is going to help people decide not to vote for the red team.”
Biden and other administration officials intend to draw a stark contrast between the parties in the coming months in hopes of awakening voters to how their personal rights will be jeopardized if the Republicans take control of Congress. To the extent that Biden can drive home the fact that the court’s conservative majority was built by former President Donald Trump and Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, he can demonstrate the huge stakes in the upcoming election.
“You will see them [Biden administration officials] have a more specific message as the fall approaches,” a Biden ally said. “This message will revolve around painting the Republican Party as extreme and doing things that actively harm people’s lives. Is there a strong enough message now? Probably not. But they know it.
Biden presented the strategy last week during a virtual meeting with Democratic governors. He pledged to use the full weight of the federal government to stop what he called “extremist” governors who might try to stop women from traveling out of state to get abortions.
A Biden adviser pointed to former Vice President Mike Pence’s call for a nationwide abortion ban — something that can only be stopped if Democrats have enough votes in Congress to block it. It’s the kind of question that can engage voters who might otherwise be apathetic to coming to vote.
Abortion “is much more motivating for Democratic-leaning voters than for Republican-leaning voters,” the Biden adviser said, speaking on condition of anonymity to speak more freely. “A lot of this is because Republicans have been looking for this outcome for many years and have just achieved it. But the opposite effect is happening with Democrats and Independents, who are deeply offended by this and who are afraid of what it means for their lives.
Most Democrats worry about a midterm annihilation, but recent polls show grounds for optimism. Bryan Bennett, a pollster for Navigator Research, a coalition of progressive pollsters, noted that something “weird” is going on right now in politics. Biden’s approval rating hovers around 40%, suggesting November’s midterm Republican wins won’t be so much a wave as a “tsunami,” he said. And yet, in polls pitting generic Democrats against Republicans in congressional races, Democrats are performing better than expected given the president’s low reputation. Indeed, since the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, three polls were released showing Democrats leading Republicans by 3 to 7 percentage points.
“It’s a new election,” Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg wrote in a blog post. “The chances of the anti-MAGA majority reappearing – like in 2018 and 2020 – have increased dramatically.”
And Republicans, in some cases, are putting forward candidates that mainstream voters may find distasteful. A video circulating on Twitter shows a recent debate between Republican candidates for Congress in Wyoming, where some of Rep. Liz Cheney’s challengers are struggling to form a coherent sentence.
“People are going to be amazed when they see some of the nominees they [Republicans] put out there,” said Joe Trippi, a longtime Democratic strategist.
However, the economy usually drives elections, and Republicans are working hard to remind voters that Biden is presiding over $5 a gallon of gasoline and rising prices across the board. The White House describes inflation as a global problem for which Biden bears little direct responsibility. Yet Biden was quick to claim credit a year ago for low grocery prices. In the days leading up to July 4, 2021, the White House tweeted that the cost of a family barbecue had come down. “Hot dog, the Biden economic plan is working,” said the The White House tweeted at the time.
This year, the cost of a barbecue including burgers, potato salad and ice cream was 17% higher, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. No tweet from the White House has drawn attention to this sad reality.
The summer promises to be delicate for Biden. Next week he will travel to the Middle East for meetings in Israel and Saudi Arabia. Normally, a trip abroad is a chance for the president to show voters at home the respect accorded him around the world. He gets off Air Force One and on red carpets. Troops line up for his inspection. The groups play. The toasts are done. But Biden is already facing a backlash over the shutdown plan in Saudi Arabia, having vowed during his 2020 campaign to make the kingdom a “pariah” in part because of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
As for Israel, Biden will meet a government that is effectively leaderless, having dissolved its parliament and scheduled its fifth election in the past four years.
“I don’t envy Biden,” Katz said. “There is a lot of pressure. But that’s the job.