Democrats Ready For Biden’s Midterm Closeup ‘Reset’

The New York Times ran another “Democrats think Joe Biden needs a reset” article. This one came out just before Daylight Savings Time, when everyone resets their clocks, an annoying chore but one that’s actually achievable. Resetting political reality is harder.

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Democrats had a party retreat in Philadelphia last week where they reportedly hoped Biden "would offer a winning strategy heading into a challenging midterm election season.” Here, I was worried, but at least Democrats know a “winning” strategy is preferable to a losing one.

Last week was already difficult because congressional Democrats were forced to ditch $15.6 billion in COVID-19 aid from a broader spending bill because Republicans are done with the pandemic. This is bad news because the Biden administration is now getting hit from both the right and left on its pandemic response.

The retreat was held on the one-year anniversary of Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan, which kept food on the table of millions, but no one will remember in November. It’s annoying as hell.

From the Times:

Democrats are toiling to retool their message and refocus their agenda. They are worried that the accomplishments they helped deliver to Mr. Biden are being drowned out by concern over the rising price of gas and a focus on their legislative failures.

And they are looking to the president, who addressed them at the retreat on Friday, to help them reframe the conversation.

C’mon, Joe, “reframe the conversation” so Americans stop whining about inflation and rising gas prices.


Biden told Democrats at the retreat Friday that this "may be the most important off-year election in modern history.” If Republicans rout Democrats and regain control of the House and the Senate, “the only thing I’ll have then is a veto pen.” They don’t have the votes in the Senate to remove him, but the MAGA GOP isn’t big on counting. They’re just happy to make Biden’s life miserable.

The Times didn’t seem convinced that Biden would help Democrats “refashion [their] message before November.” Of course, he’s the president, not Don Draper selling Heinz ketchup.

Gone was the talk of a transformative agenda to remake the country’s social safety net, which was once a centerpiece of Democrats’ sales pitch to voters. The words “build back better” were all but forbidden among the groggy lawmakers who arrived in Philadelphia in the wee hours of Thursday morning.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal from Washington, who leads the Congressional Progressive Caucus, joked that “Build Back Better” had become like Voldemort in Harry Potter -- that which must not be named. Senate God King Emperor Joe Manchin really sucked the life out of the party, didn’t he?

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Democrats have encouraged Biden to make executive actions that could help Americans prior to midterms. Jayapal suggests executive action to cap the price of insulin and raise the overtime eligibility threshold. Rep. Jim Clyburn from South Carolina has discussed executive actions to protect voting rights and reform policing. Rep. Raul Ruiz from California, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, would like Biden to raise the cap on the number of refugees who can be resettled in the US this year.

Conversely, some Democrats advise a thrilling move to the center that focuses on “kitchen table issues.” It often seems like no one discusses anything interesting at their kitchen tables.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Democrats should speak to voters in a way that’s not preachy or condescending. Vulnerable Democrats should instead tell voters, "You may not like everything about my political party, but I’m getting it done.” The “it” here remains unclear, and it’s probably not a great selling point to lead with “OK, you probably aren’t crazy about Democrats, but ...”

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries offered more compelling message: Democrats “care about everyday Americans” and Republicans don’t. It’s simple, straightforward, and has the benefit of truth. However, Democrats from more conservative districts are still pushing bipartisan unity.

“Veterans, opioids, these are things we can come together on,” said Representative Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, one of the 32 Democrats identified by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee as running for re-election in a competitive seat. “Ukraine is part of the unity message. That is what I think our caucus is hungry for, especially those of us who believe in the value of reaching out to Democrats and Republicans, and it’s certainly what we’re hearing back at home.”

This is why we’re glad Jeffries is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s successor, not Josh Gottheimer. Republicans will never truly come together with Democrats on anything meaningful. The bipartisan infrastructure bill had limited GOP support, and Republicans have cruelly tried to derail recovery from a pandemic. Some Republicans appear to be rooting for Vladimir Putin over Ukraine.

The best midterm message for Democrats is to clearly define the threat to America, and that’s spelled "GOP."

[New York Times]

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."

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