Cabinet officials to join Biden at House Democratic retreat
President Biden will address House Democrats this week at their annual strategy retreat, headlining a cast of administration officials slated to join the event in Philadelphia.
The list of speakers, released Tuesday morning, will include Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and Gina McCarthy, the White House’s top climate adviser.
Other participants on the schedule include Wally Adeyemo, deputy secretary at the Treasury Department; Eric Holder, the attorney general under former President Obama; and Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia during the Obama administration.
The appearance of presidents and top officials at such events is not unusual. Obama made it routine during his presidency to participate in the confab, which offers Democrats an opportunity to strategize — and socialize — outside of the glare of Capitol Hill. Republicans stage a similar event, with theirs set for later this month in Florida.
The environment surrounding this year’s Democratic retreat, however, is more volatile than it’s been in the recent past.
The conference arrives amid the outbreak of war in Ukraine, where Russian forces are in the second week of a bloody invasion that’s already killed hundreds of civilians and sparked the largest humanitarian disaster to hit Europe in decades.
Biden’s participation lends him a platform to promote his sanctions agenda toward Russia, which includes a ban on the import of Russian oil and gas — a step the White House had initially opposed, only to reverse course with Biden’s endorsement on Tuesday.
The president’s appearance also risks opening him up to GOP criticism that his focus should be squarely on the crisis in Ukraine and not a partisan strategy session. Already, Republican leaders are hammering Biden for the spike in gas prices — an increase that’s likely to continue with the new ban on Russian oil.
The event arrives at a pivotal time for Biden, whose approval rating remains underwater, as well as for House Democrats, who are facing a tough path to keeping the majority in November’s midterm elections.
While Democrats were able to enact a number of big policy priorities in Biden’s first year — including a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package and more than $500 billion in new infrastructure funding — the third leg of the president’s agenda, originally known as the Build Back Better Act, is on life support.
This week’s retreat, which will run from Wednesday to Friday in Philadelphia, will almost certainly feature plenty of discussion over how to resuscitate the package.
Other speakers slated for the event include some of the leading advocates for the Build Back Better legislation, including Liz Shuler, president of the AFL-CIO; Teresa Romero, president of the United Farm Workers; and Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association.
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