I’m on maternity leave, enjoying these first few months with my daughter and trying to ignore politics as much as possible. That said, it just so happens that her nap — well, at least most of it — coincided with a news conference by President Biden last week.
As a new mom, the importance of programs such as paid family leave, universal pre-K, and the child tax credit are put into stark relief. I was a supporter before parenthood and am even more so today. But that’s a piece for another time.
During the news conference, I found myself particularly interested in the president’s comments on his administration’s successes. “It’s been a year of challenges, but it’s also been a year of enormous progress,” he said, adding that his administration has “outperformed” expectations.
Public opinion polling indicates that Biden was off the mark with his assessment. His approval rating is hovering in the low 40s, more than 60 percent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track, and voter concerns about inflation are only increasing. There are also steep declines in support from key Democratic constituencies, including Blacks, Latinos, and independents to contend with.
It isn’t a pretty picture. But, at the same time, Biden isn’t wrong. Passing the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan and $2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill — both chock full of hugely popular policies such as fixing our crumbling roads and bridges, upgrading broadband, and sending checks to families when they needed it most — are tremendous accomplishments. Biden may get poor marks on the state of the economy, but he has delivered unemployment below 4 percent, large job increases, and a gangbusters stock market.
So, what’s the problem?
For one, Democrats are paying far too much attention to Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).
I’m not naïve — I know these two stand in the way of getting proposals such as Build Back Better and voting rights legislation across the finish line. But they also are the reason that Democrats haven’t been able to tell the real story of politics today: Republican obstructionism.
Every minute that Democrats don’t neutralize the influence of Manchin and Sinema, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wins. As Greg Sargent argues in the Washington Post, McConnell laid out his plan in 2011 and has stuck to it since. In discussing the 2010 Affordable Care Act, McConnell said, “We worked very hard to keep our fingerprints off of these proposals. Because we thought — correctly, I think — that the only way the American people would know that a great debate was going on was if the measures were not bipartisan. When you hang the ‘bipartisan’ tag on something, the perception is that differences have been worked out, and there’s a broad agreement that that’s the way forward.”
The success of McConnell’s approach is quite obvious. Political articles and TV commentary have been brimming with discussion of the “Democrats in disarray” narrative. We spent months hanging on every word out of Manchin’s and Sinema’s mouths when it came to BBB and doing away with the filibuster to get voting rights legislation passed, to arrive at the outcome that seemed the most obvious: failure.
This begs the question, what do Democrats have to lose by changing course? Analysis in Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball finds that Republicans could win “perhaps their biggest [majority] in nearly a century.” It doesn’t look like it can get much worse.
The answer is to flip the playbook on McConnell. Give up on anything that needs less than 60 votes to pass and get as much done in the House as possible. If there’s someone on whom Biden can rely it’s House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who is an expert at corralling her caucus. Then, when the legislation reaches the Senate floor, let the Republicans be the ones to vote down policies that the American people favor and give Democrats the opportunity to run on a “do-nothing Senate” come November.
With reports that Democrats are looking to salvage pieces of BBB and bring the bill to the floor, either as a truncated version or in individual pieces, there’s great opportunity to marry that tactic with a renewed focus on holding Republicans’ feet to the proverbial fire.
Forcing their hand on priority issues such as the child tax credit, tackling inflation, and further COVID-19 relief will highlight who the real obstructionists are. And it will save us the trouble of enduring more news cycles spent analyzing what Manchin and Sinema are willing to support. Democrats will be in a much better position to capitalize on their many accomplishments if we take our fates out of the hands of two senators who cloud perception of Biden and those who are working with him.
Jessica Tarlov is head of research at Bustle Digital Group and a Fox News contributor. She earned her Ph.D. at the London School of Economics in political science. Follow her on Twitter @JessicaTarlov.