Pelosi challenges Democrats on economic messaging

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) addresses reporters during her weekly on-camera press conference on June 17
Greg Nash

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is challenging rank-and-file Democrats to get more aggressive in selling voters back home on President Biden’s economic agenda, specifically touting a provision providing thousands of dollars to working families through child tax credits.

The White House on Monday had launched a “day of action” promoting the expanded child benefit, which passed in March as part of Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan and is set to take effect on July 15. 

During a closed-door meeting Wednesday in the basement of the Capitol, Pelosi sought to build on that message.

Calling the tax credit “Social Security for kids,” the Speaker pressed fellow Democrats to become better messengers for both the benefits they’ve already enacted this year, and the additional relief they’re fighting to adopt under the president’s enormous infrastructure proposal. 

“If you’re offended by me asking you to do more, then be offended,” Pelosi told her colleagues, according to a source in the room. 

Another source in the room said Pelosi’s message was for lawmakers to “step it up” beyond just using social media to promote Biden’s economic plans, as some have done by staging press conferences in their districts. 

Emerging from the meeting, some lawmakers said Pelosi’s critique was appropriate and justified, especially as House Democrats fight to hang onto their razor-thin majority in next year’s midterms amid a barrage of GOP attacks, which have focused largely on inflationary concerns and worker shortages.    

“We’ve done the hard work. We’re doing what we’re supposed to do and what we promised the American people,” Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) told The Hill. “But if we don’t message it, nobody will know that we did it. No one will understand why they’re getting the benefits that they’re getting.”

“She was suggesting that we need to break through the news cycles. It’s our responsibility to tell folks what we’re doing, and she doesn’t think that we’re doing that enough,” he continued. “Get out there and tell the news and the media — they will cover it if you tell them.”

The Democrats’ weekly caucus meeting focused largely on the child tax credit, which was enacted as part of Biden’s American Rescue Plan and is set to take effect next month. Democrats are quick to point out that the $1.9 trillion package passed along strict partisan lines, with every Republican opposed.   

The child tax credits would be extended through 2025 under the third leg of Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda, the $1.8 trillion American Families Plan which focuses on support for families.

“We need to make sure that every single American, every single constituent that we represent, understands what’s coming on July 15 … when the child tax credit will take effect,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “It will lift more than half the American children who are currently in poverty out of poverty.”

Phil Schiliro, who served as former President Obama’s top White House liaison to Congress during the successful fight for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), was a special guest in the Democrats’ meeting. He echoed Pelosi and urged Democrats to talk more about the child tax credit, something he called a “winning issue” in every district in the country and the most influential legislation Congress has passed in recent years, sources said.   

“His message was: This is as historic as the ACA and we need to be home in the districts talking to Americans about the impact of the child tax credit on the 15th of every month when these checks come in,” said a source who heard Schiliro’s pitch.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), chair of the Appropriations Committee and a long-time advocate of the child tax credit, detailed the benefits on a granular level, presenting the caucus with district-by-district data that lawmakers can take back to their constituents. 

 “More than 90 percent of the people in almost every single congressional district — families with children — will benefit,” said Jeffries. “It’s transformative, and not a single Republican — not a single one — voted for it.”

Tags American Families Plan Build Back Better Gregory Meeks Hakeem Jeffries Infrastructure Joe Biden Nancy Pelosi Rosa DeLauro

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