Democrats want Biden to replicate their rage

Democrats say they are angry, and they want President Biden to be angry, too. 

In recent weeks, they’ve watched the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade and at least one conservative justice hint that same-sex marriage and contraception could be next. Then they saw the high court restrict the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to effectively tackle climate change. 

They’ve also witnessed the escalation of gun violence despite a small-scale legislative success on gun safety that fell well below what Democrats want to do on that issue. 

Biden has addressed each issue, and on Monday at a White House ceremony said he would not rest until winning a new ban on assault weapons. 

“I’m determined to ban these weapons again and high-capacity magazines. … I’m not going to stop until we do it,” the president said. 

Yet the White House event itself encapsulated the frustration among Democrats toward Biden when the parent of a teenager killed in the 2018 Parkland High School shooting repeatedly interrupted Biden to declare that the legislation approved by Congress — the subject of a “celebration” that day on the White House lawn — wasn’t nearly enough. 

Manuel Oliver was eventually escorted out of the event. 

Oliver’s anger, to a certain degree, reflects the sentiment among Democrats that Biden hasn’t come close to reflecting their exasperation and rage with his public comments on guns or abortion. 

And it all comes at a difficult time for the White House, with The New York Times releasing a poll on Monday that found a stunning 64 percent of Democrats do not want Biden to be their party’s presidential nominee in 2024. It’s a difficult climate, to say the least, for Biden’s party ahead of the midterm elections in November.

“Persistent disappointment with Biden is rooted in his lack of channeling the intensity of what so, so many are feeling,” said Democratic consultant Tracy Sefl. “Critics want him to be who he’s not. And then, realizing who he’s not, [that] leads to deep frustration and further outrage.”

“In an emergency, we’re told to keep calm. He’s the calm, but we’re the endangered,” Sefl added. “This is our emergency. Show it.”

Biden won the Democratic nomination in 2020 largely because voters saw him as the best candidate to run against President Trump, whom the party desperately wanted to unseat.  

Biden also was seen as an antidote of sorts to Trump, who never hesitated to insult his opponents and jump into the gutter. 

Biden promised to work across the aisle, called certain Republicans “my friends” and said he would bring Washington back to normal. 

But the rational Biden isn’t always what Democrats appear to want. 

“Given our times, Democrats are looking for a sense of urgency that doesn’t seem to be coming from the White House,” said Basil Smikle, a Democratic strategist and the director of the public policy program at Hunter College. “It may be the same thing that endeared him to voters to bring back normalcy that is hurting the cause of Dems at this moment.”

Former Obama adviser David Axelrod recently told The Washington Post that Biden was elected in part for being a “decent, temperate person,” but that those qualities at the moment have put him at odds with “activist Democrats.” 

The White House disagrees with the notion that Biden has not been a fighter. 

“To say that the president has not been passionate, to say that this president has not been focused, is just not true,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters during a briefing Monday afternoon.  

The White House pointed out that Biden spoke out forcefully on what he described as an “extreme” and “outrageous” decision by the Supreme Court restricting abortion rights.   

Biden, announcing a new executive action to protect abortion rights on Friday, received praise for denouncing the Supreme Court ruling as “an exercise in raw political power.” He broke from his usual measured tone to express outrage at a report about a 10-year-old rape victim having to cross state lines to get an abortion. “Ten years old!” he exclaimed. 

The president also gave impassioned speeches about gun violence following devastating mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, N.Y.

“Enough, enough, enough,” Biden said in early June as he called on Congress to act on gun safety measures. 

Others criticized outside voices for the criticism. 

“Unsolicited critiques of the White House is a tale as old as time and are a healthy part of the process. But Joe Biden won a sprawling, competitive primary and a nailbiter of a general election by staying true to who he is,” said Eric Schultz, a spokesman in the Obama White House. 

“Getting more theatrical doesn’t move the needle. When he’s forceful, confident and speaks from the heart, he’s at his best. Trying to be something you’re not is a sign of weakness — not strength,” he said. 

Zac Petkanas, a former aide to Hillary Clinton, argued that Biden is striking a “tricky balance” between reaching out to independent and Republican voters and channeling the “righteous outrage” of many Americans. 

“If you actually listen to Biden’s words, I think he is hitting that mark,” Petkanas said.

But others say what they’ve seen so far is insufficient to meet the moment. They’ve also balked at his at-times friendlier talk toward Republican lawmakers, viewing it as counterproductive to the Democratic Party’s strategy in a critical election year. 

“He’s proven time and again that he doesn’t understand the moment we’re in,” said one Democratic strategist. “He’s empathetic, sure, but he’s not angry, and we need angry right now.”

Democrats say the negative polling reflects the frustration many people are feeling with multiple crises, notably inflation. 

“I think it says that Joe Biden is presiding over a country that is struggling and is in a funk,” said Democratic strategist Joel Payne. “And he has a liability that people can easily point to, being his age and his perceived lack of urgency and energy.”

Ellen Sciales, the communications director at the Sunrise Movement youth climate activist group, said that young voters want to see more action from Biden and the Democratic Party on issues like abortion — regardless of the president’s rhetoric. Democrats have encountered steep limits to passing legislation due to their slim majority in the Senate, where the GOP filibuster blocks action on most bills.

“Really we’re just asking for him to protect Roe v. Wade and step up and fight for us, and I don’t think we’re seeing his leadership shine through,” she said.

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