Administration

Left says they’re not to blame for Biden’s problems

Progressives are pushing back at the idea that they are to blame at all for President Biden’s dismal poll numbers, arguing the White House’s problems have more to do with it moving away from a progressive agenda. 

They argue the anemic polls largely reflect an unimpressed base disillusioned that Biden has been unwilling to deliver on issues such as voting rights, health care, gun control and climate change.  

“Biden’s popularity was high when he ran on a progressive agenda — and it dropped when he let corporate Democrats take the reins,” said Varshini Prakash, executive director of the Sunrise Movement. “It shouldn’t be a surprise that voters are becoming impatient.” 

A Pew Research Center survey released on Wednesday found Biden with just a 41 percent approval rating, down from 59 percent in April. 

Among Black adults, a key constituency for Biden, just 60 percent approved of Biden’s job performance, down from 67 percent in September.  

The bad poll numbers come after voting rights legislation failed to move forward in the Senate this month despite Biden’s urgings. It faltered because of opposition from Republicans, and because two centrist Democrats — Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — opposed a carveout from the filibuster to move the voting rights legislation on Democratic senator votes alone.  

Those two centrists have also been major impediments to Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, which includes a host of progressive priorities including an extension of a child tax credit and what would be the most ambitious effort to tackle climate change to pass Congress.  

Moderate Democrats for much of the last year argued that progressives risked pulling Biden too far to the left to the detriment of their party. Sinema pushed back at proposals for higher taxes on corporations and wealthy households in the Build Back Better bill, arguing it was bad policy considering the economic climate, while Manchin opposed further spending given rising inflation.

Republicans have played up the divisions and cast Biden as a puppet of the left. They see that argument as helping them win swing districts in the suburbs next fall that will lead to GOP congressional majorities for the rest of Biden’s term.  

But progressives argue Biden is playing into GOP hands by not fully embracing progressive priorities. They see the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed into law by Biden last fall as a lost opportunity that cut into their leverage for pressuring Manchin and Sinema on the Build Back Better legislation — which is also their top priority.

And they think a closer look at the polls shows that Biden’s real problems lie in a demoralized base — which they fear could also cost the party this fall.  

“They’re standing in the way of the president’s promises, and it will be mostly their fault if Democrats lose Congress in November,” Prakash said of moderate Democrats. 

Moderates have taken aim at White House chief of staff Ron Klain, a longtime aide to the president who has taken heat from some moderates who say he is aligned too closely with liberals.  

The Washington Post reported that some think Klain is too deferential toward Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.  

Progressives held up a House vote on the infrastructure bill for months to try to move the Build Back Better bill forward.  

Eventually, under pressure from Biden, they relented and voted for the infrastructure bill. That gave Biden a political victory, but it is one that hasn’t really showed up in the polls so far.  

A few progressives dissented, and there are some who say it was a mistake to vote for the infrastructure bill, though it is not clear holding it up would have moved Manchin and Sinema either. 

Democratic operative Eddie Vale said progressives shouldn’t be blamed for hurting Biden when they are the ones who ultimately compromised and backed him on infrastructure.  

“For the specific argument folks are currently having and the spate of stories going after Jayapal and Klain, blaming progressives doesn’t really make any sense because in the end they went along with the ‘pass infrastructure only’ strategy and almost all voted for both bills,” he said.  

Progressives say they are used to getting backlash when their flank pushes for more populism. While some say the president should take more responsibility, many argue that key congressional Democrats should take the shellacking in the court of public opinion. 

“People are just really exhausted by moderate Democrats continuously eating their young,” said Camille Rivera, a partner at the progressive firm New Deal Strategies. “Conservative and moderate Democrats need to start taking responsibility for their own messaging.” 

Operatives like Rivera are now moving into campaign mode, anticipating a tough midterm cycle.  

“They’re not to blame, to put it simply,” said Adam Hilton, an assistant professor at Mount Holyoke College who studies Democratic politics, describing progressives’ standing less than a year out from the midterm elections. “On the contrary, the progressive wing broadly speaking is very much responsible for defining this ambitious agenda.” 

“Biden is a centrist in a party that is tapping left,” he said. “To remain a centrist, he’s got to be actually moving.” 

Tags Build Back Better Democrats Filibuster Joe Biden Joe Manchin Kyrsten Sinema moderates Pramila Jayapal progressives Ron Klain

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