President Biden’s midterm strategy is coming into clearer view as he and Democratic leaders begin framing November’s elections as a choice between the White House’s agenda and giving power to Republicans who they argue offer no substantive plans.
The president during a press conference Wednesday repeatedly expressed a desire to get back to doing the kind of retail politics he’s thrived on throughout his decades-long career. His messaging, which was echoed in a memo from the Democratic National Committee, offered a glimpse of what voters can expect to hear from Biden and his party in the next 10 months as it seeks to stave off overwhelming losses in November.
“I did not anticipate that there’d be such a stalwart effort to make sure that the most important thing was that President Biden didn’t get anything done,” Biden said of the GOP. “Think about this: What are Republicans for? What are they for? Name me one thing they’re for.”
To drive his point home, Biden read from an interview New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) gave to the Washington Examiner in which he said he decided against a Senate bid when he got the impression he would merely be a “roadblock” until Republicans could take back the White House.
Biden sought to shift away from the argument that the midterms are viewed as a referendum on the sitting president and instead said he sought to do three things differently as he transitioned from his first year in office into the midterms.
The first was to get out of the White House more often to meet face-to-face with voters, something he suggested contributed to frustration among Black voters, who are a key part of his base.
The second thing Biden pledged to do was bring in outside voices to provide “more input, more information, more constructive criticism about what I should and shouldn’t be doing.”
“And the third thing I’m going to be doing a lot more of is being in a situation where I am able to bring — I’m going to be deeply involved in these off-year elections,” Biden said.
“We’re going to be raising a lot of money. We’re going to be out there making sure that we’re helping all of those candidates. And scores of them have already asked me to come in and campaign with them, to go out and make the case in plain, simple language as to what it is we’ve done, what we want to do, and why we think it’s important.”
Key pieces of Biden’s argument for Democrats in 2022 were echoed on Thursday in a Democratic National Committee memo that accused Republicans of having “no agenda,” citing the party’s opposition to a $1.9 trillion economic rescue package passed in March and the opposition of some Republicans to masking and other measures to curb the coronavirus pandemic.
The memo did cite a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that passed with bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress.
The GOP has used the anniversary of Biden’s inauguration to harp on the president’s difficulties since taking office, such as rising prices and the persistence of the pandemic, arguing Biden was unable to keep his promise to “shut down the virus.”
“One year in, the American people are clearly worse off because of Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress,” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement. “From rising prices to spiking crime to surging COVID cases, people across the country are paying the price for Biden’s failed policies. Americans deserve better, but Biden doesn’t care.”
Some Republicans argue they would be happy to see Biden out on the campaign trail more, pointing to his sinking approval ratings.
An Associated Press poll released Thursday morning found 43 percent of respondents said they somewhat or strongly approve of the way Biden is handling his job as president, compared to 56 percent who said they somewhat or strongly disapprove of Biden’s performance. That figure marks a steady drop from the 48 percent approval rating Biden had in a December AP poll.
Eric Schultz, a former deputy press secretary in the Obama White House, said it would do Democrats no good to distance themselves from the president despite the bleak outlook.
“Joe Biden is a strong leader of the country, and he’s a strong leader of the party and we should all be in this together,” Schultz said. “Candidates, campaigns will have to make their own decisions … but I think there’s enough history to learn from that when you run away from the president of your own party it usually culminates in electoral disaster.”
Democrats are hoping to add at least one more win on Biden’s agenda before hitting the campaign trail in full force later this year. Biden conceded at his press conference his signature spending proposal, with money for health care, child care, education and climate change programs, would likely need to be scaled down to whatever can get 50 votes in the Senate.
Passage of Biden’s Build Back Better plan in some form would be significant, strategists argue, because it would give Democrats another accomplishment to point to at a time when the public simply cares about results.
“I think there’s a massive gravitational pull in Washington inwards, and that is just not where the country is. The country doesn’t care about the sausage making process, they just want results,” Schultz said. “That’s the contrast the president was driving yesterday and sounds like he will make moving forward.”