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Democrats can’t rest on their midterm success

President Biden
Greg Nash
President Biden answers questions during a press conference in the State Dining Room of the White House on Wednesday, November 9, 2022 following the midterm elections.

By any objective standard, Democrats won the midterm elections. By defying history and political gravity, Democrats will maintain control of the Senate and potentially pick up a seat, depending on the outcome of the runoff in Georgia next month. And they’ll either keep the majority in the House of Representatives or watch as Republicans, given the makeup of their caucus, have an ungovernable, tiny, single-digit seat majority. 

While this is cause for major celebration, as we once again saw a large and diverse coalition rise up to defeat MAGA extremism for the third election in a row, Democrats should not and cannot rest on their midterm success, nor pretend the threat to our democracy has passed. 

Now is the time to double down on what got us here in the first place.

Democrats won in large part because President Biden and congressional Democrats prioritized, passed, and campaigned on one of the most successful two-year stretches of legislative victories in recent history. The policies enacted by Democrats positively impacted wide swaths of the public and not only energized the base—including the army of grassroots volunteers and activists, many people of color, who helped deliver victory on Election Day—but also appealed to Independents and even some Republicans. 

They passed the American Rescue Plan, which helped reopen schools; funded the vaccine rollout; and expanded the Child Tax Credit, which cut child poverty by 40 percent. They enacted the Inflation Reduction Act, which finally made corporations begin to pay their fair share in taxes, made the largest investment ever in fighting climate change, and delivered on prescription drug reform. They passed bipartisan legislation on gun reform, infrastructure, and increasing domestic manufacturing. And they added to these legislative accomplishments with executive actions to cancel a significant amount of student debt, rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change, protect reproductive freedom, expand LGBTQ+ rights, and reform the nation’s out-of-date cannabis regulations.

In short, Democrats delivered bold policies that will have real impact and showed they are a responsible governing party that will stand up for democracy and our basic rights and freedoms. And if they want to win in 2024, they are going to have to do the same again. 

To state the obvious, a Republican-controlled House—regardless of the size of their majority—hellbent on political revenge and more interested in investigating Hunter Biden than economic policy, will make matching the legislative success of the last two years impossible. But it makes the need for Democrats to go on offense and not allow obstructionist Republicans to define the political playing field even more important and urgent. 

So while Republicans will spend tens of millions of dollars in taxpayers’ money pursuing pointless investigations and impeachments, Democrats in the Senate must use their majority to continue to show they are serious about governing for the people and attempt to pass bold legislation to improve people’s lives. Democrats must draw the stark contrast between the two parties’ priorities and governing philosophies. 

Senate Democrats should do another large reconciliation package, continue to fight to ensure the top 1 percent pay their fair share in taxes, keep up their historic pace of confirming federal judges, and advance legislation to protect reproductive freedom, marriage equality, and the freedom to vote. Even if all or none of it can pass the House. 

Voters just rewarded Democrats’ bold strategy of the last two years. Now is the moment to keep going big and let voters see who is standing in the way of protecting their families, their freedoms, and their futures. 

President Biden needs to match this aggressive legislative strategy with equally aggressive executive action. Because the prospect of passing meaningful legislation through a Republican-controlled House is not great, the president must use the power of his bully pulpit and his pen to help drive the national narrative. He must both define Republicans by their plans to gut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid—and by their pure obstructionism—and use executive authority to advance reproductive rights, civil rights, immigration, and LGBTQ+ rights, as well as take on corporate interests such as Big Pharma, the technology platforms, Wall Street, and others.  

While the threat from Donald Trump and Trumpism has not passed, this election proved the Republican Party and its extreme MAGA agenda represent a loud but shrinking minority. Democrats must now use their Senate majority and the powers of the presidency to ensure that the loud minority does not continue to set the terms of the debate and control the political and media narrative. The best way to do that is to repeat the winning formula of the last two years: Set forth a positive, people-centered vision for the country and our democracy, connect with people on the issues most important to them, and fight every day to improve people’s lives. 

Too often, Washington’s reaction to split government is inaction. Democrats can’t let that happen. And they can’t rest on the success of this election. 

The 2024 election is not coming; it is here now. And Democrats need to deliver—again. 

Epting is executive director of MoveOn, and Praeli is co-president of Community Change Action

Tags divided government Hunter Biden MAGA midterm election

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