Biden setbacks rattle Democrats facing tough elections

Democrats facing tough reelection bids in the House and Senate are grappling with what to tell their constituents about the party's failure to advance major pieces of President BidenJoe BidenFormer chairman of Wisconsin GOP party signals he will comply with Jan. 6 committee subpoena Romney tests positive for coronavirus Pelosi sidesteps progressives' March 1 deadline for Build Back Better MORE's agenda as they head to their home states and districts for the holidays.

Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinPelosi sidesteps progressives' March 1 deadline for Build Back Better On The Money — Fed's inflation tracker at fastest pace since '82 Billionaire GOP donor maxed out to Manchin following his Build Back Better opposition MORE (D-W.Va.) effectively killed President Biden’s Build Back Better plan on Sunday when he said he would not support the mammoth social spending legislation. The move sparked outrage from moderates and progressives alike.

Rep. Abigail SpanbergerAbigail Davis SpanbergerPelosi says she's open to stock trading ban for Congress On The Money — Ban on stock trading for Congress gains steam Joining Pelosi, Hoyer says lawmakers should be free to trade stocks MORE (D-Va.), who is one of the most vulnerable House Democrats facing reelection next year, called Manchin’s move “unacceptable” in a statement on Sunday.

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“We cannot act like this moment is the end. Children, families, and the future of our planet are counting on us. In the weeks and months ahead, I will keep working to deliver these meaningful investments to the people of Virginia,” Spanberger said, citing the legislation’s child tax credit, and efforts to combat climate change and lower prescription drug costs.

Both wings of the party know they'll likely face questions at the end of the first year of total Democratic control in Washington about why they still couldn't pass a massive climate and social spending bill and major voting rights legislation.

A Morning Consult/Politico national tracking survey released on Monday found that 41 percent of respondents said Democrats in Congress had accomplished less than they expected, while 32 percent said the party had accomplished about what they expected.

The developments over Build Back Better come as Democrats face increasing headwinds going into the midterms, particularly in the House, where the party is experiencing a slew of retirements. Reps. Stephanie MurphyStephanie MurphyThe Hill's Morning Report - US warns Kremlin, weighs more troops to Europe Headaches intensify for Democrats in Florida Clyburn says he's worried about losing House, 'losing this democracy' MORE (D-Fla.) and Lucille Roybal-AllardLucille Roybal-AllardBass raises nearly million since launching LA mayor campaign Clyburn says he's worried about losing House, 'losing this democracy' On The Trail: Retirements offer window into House Democratic mood MORE (D-Calif.), the powerful chairwoman of an Appropriations subcommittee handling immigration issues, both announced on Monday they would not seek reelection in the new year, while the New Jersey Globe reported on Sunday that Rep. Albio SiresAlbio B. SiresDemocrats confront rising retirements as difficult year ends Biden setbacks rattle Democrats facing tough elections Members of Congress not running for reelection in 2022 MORE (D-N.J.) will not seek reelection as well.

“This is an excellent opportunity for us to reset the conversation and quit talking about process and focus on what really matters, what we want to deliver for people, how that connects with our values and makes their life better,” said Kelly Dietrich, the founder and CEO of the National Democratic Training Committee.

Democrats say that despite not passing Build Back Better, lawmakers must continue messaging on the party’s victories passing the American Rescue Plan and the bipartisan infrastructure package this year.

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“House Democrats delivered a historic economic recovery that’s created six million jobs and made a once-in-a-century investment in our infrastructure that will put millions more Americans to work,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Chris Taylor. “We’re going to tell people about it and keep at the hard work of governing. House Republicans will have to explain why they continue to peddle conspiracies that threaten to prolong this pandemic.”

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) voiced a similar sentiment, while blasting Republicans for “pushing the interests of big corporations and the ultra-wealthy at the expense of working families.”

“Senate Democrats have a strong record of accomplishments: delivering millions of vaccines, cutting taxes for American families and passing a bipartisan infrastructure law that grows good paying jobs,” DSCC spokesperson Jazmin Vargas said in a statement.

Democrats also point to the party’s track record on the coronavirus pandemic as the country grapples with the new omicron variant.

“We’re going to be talking about how Democrats delivered in effective vaccine distribution,” said one Democratic strategist.

“There’s a lot of developments that can happen in the next couple of months with this [Build Back Better] stuff,” the Democratic strategist said. “The record that we have hasn’t changed and the Republican opposition to these very popular proposals hasn’t changed either.”

Democrats at the state and national levels have been busy touting the infrastructure package. The Democratic National Committee announced on Tuesday it is rolling out billboards in Texas, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Nevada to tout it. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party of Georgia hosted a press conference highlighting the infrastructure package. And in North Carolina, that state’s Democratic Party released a statement highlighting that the infrastructure legislation will provide North Carolina’s airports with $458 million over the next five years. 

However, Republicans argue that the difficulties passing Build Back Better through both chambers will negatively impact Democrats with voters.

“They were kind of in a position where they were damned if they did, damned if they didn’t,” said one national Republican strategist.

“Their base is going to be depressed because they didn’t pass their multitrillion spending boondoggle,” the strategist said. “They ended up doing the worst of both worlds by passing it through the House and putting their members on the record, supporting the unpopular aspects of that bill, then not actually getting it done.”

Polling paints a mixed picture of the public’s attitudes on Build Back Better. A Morning Consult/Politico poll released earlier this month found that 47 percent of voters said they supported the bill, while 40 percent said they opposed it. However, the same poll found that respondents supported a number of measures inside the bill, like the child tax credit and expanded health care access.

And despite Manchin’s declaration on Sunday, Democrats insist that Build Back Better is in no way dead.

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Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerThe Hill's Morning Report - Democrats sense opportunity with SCOTUS vacancy Schumer finds unity moment in Supreme Court fight Breyer retirement throws curveball into midterms MORE (D-N.Y.) wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter on Monday that the upper chamber will consider the Build Back Better Act, "very early in the new year so that every Member of this body has the opportunity to make their position known on the Senate floor, not just on television.”

“We simply cannot give up. We must and we will keep fighting to deliver for working families,” he wrote.

Political discourse on Monday was dominated by Democratic finger-pointing, with various members of the party taking aim at Manchin. Democratic operatives warned that the average American voter is not as concerned about the inside Washington mechanics of getting the legislation.

“Members who may be frustrated should absolutely express their frustration, but also pivot to remind their constituents what they have done for them already,” said Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright.

Democrats said that the ultimate goal should be to put Republicans on the defensive when it comes to provisions in Build Back Better like paid family leave and combating climate change.

“Right now and for the past months, [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Actor John Krasinski films outside White House Biden's Supreme Court choice: A political promise, but also a matter of justice Let's 'reimagine' political corruption MORE [R-Ky.] has probably been laughing his ass off at Democrats and our inability to get out of our own way,” Dietrich said. “Now is the time for us to turn around and put the pressure on them.”