Before last week’s slaughter in Afghanistan, President Joe Biden was certain to lose Democratic control of Congress. That appears to be the case now. However, the impending loss of power encourages politicians to act more quickly. That also happens to be Biden’s and his party’s greatest chance of not losing the election.
How the Obama administration and Democrats plan to recover from Biden’s electoral setbacks
Last week, same dynamic was visible on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi overcame intra-party strife with the help of Vice President Joe Biden and his advisers to keep Congress on pace for approving massive investments to repair America’s infrastructure, help struggling families climb the economic ladder, and respond to climate change. The $3.5 trillion Democratic-only “human infrastructure” proposal, like the $1.2 trillion bipartisan “physical infrastructure” bill before it, passed a grueling parliamentary test in the House. The exams that lie ahead promise to be much more difficult. Despite the progress made so far on both fronts, Biden has reason to believe that an acceptable version of his “Build Back Better Agenda” will eventually cross Congress and reach his desk.
The White House and Democratic strategists see no other option but handing over control to Republicans after next year. Losses in midterm elections for the party in power have often shown to be as predictable as the tides. Republicans just need to gain five seats to take Pelosi’s gavel, a fraction of the opposition party’s recent historical average. Mitch McConnell can reclaim the majority leadership with just one more Senate seat. The Republican road is smoothed by the decennial redistricting that accompanies a new Census. They have far greater power over the drawing of congressional districts at the state level than Democrats do. Biden’s political team disregarded past trends earlier this year as irrelevant to the one-of-a-kind backdrop for his presidency: a once-in-a-century epidemic, the world’s largest economy turning off and on again, a violent insurgency instigated by a historically divisive, failed President. Quick passage of Covid relief funding, a rapid immunization ramp-up, and resurgent growth all helped maintain Biden regularly above the 50% approval mark that Donald Trump never reached. Biden’s benefits haven’t completely evaporated. Last Monday, his economic experts predicted that the economy would increase by 7% in 2021.
The Census revealed a higher-than-expected increase in the non-white population, which is a political boon for Democrats. The unpopular former president is still at the heart of Republican politics. While Trump has a poor track record of motivating Republican voters when he isn’t on the ballot, he does so when he is. However, Biden’s popularity has dwindled as a result of a series of events, ranging from growing coronavirus levels due to the Delta variety to heightened inflation fears. The hasty evacuations and military pullout from Afghanistan have added a new political burden. Last week, one Biden aide remarked, “We live in a visual world, and the visuals are quite challenging.” Then came the suicide attack at Kabul’s airport, which killed 13 US troops and a large number of Afghan civilians.
Maintaining a domestic focus
Throughout the year, White House officials have prioritized two domestic issues that affect every American: containing the pandemic and improving the country’s long-term economic trajectory. They attempted to maintain that focus last week, despite a deluge of bad news from Afghanistan and the ensuing bipartisan condemnation. Before speaking on the evacuation efforts in Kabul, Biden praised House passage of his economic investment plan in remarks at the White House on Tuesday. His pandemic response team pushed businesses and other organizations to overcome skepticism by requiring vaccinations for employment and services. Aside from their virtues for public health and economic viability, those activities have political relevance in uniting the Democratic electoral coalition, which Republicans are attempting to fracture with cultural wedge issues. Their best chance of staying in power in November is to maximize unity. “Winning a midterm election is incredibly difficult,” said Democratic strategist David Shor. “In the grand scheme of things, the Biden administration is making all the right strategic choices.” Even as the evacuation effort has transported tens of thousands out of Kabul to safety, the Afghanistan exit challenges Biden’s domestic agenda. Republicans who see immigration as a fundamental Democratic weakness have already moved to attack the possibility of Afghan supporters resettling in the United States. In tangible ways, Biden’s economic program can counteract those attacks. It includes hefty tax credits for families with children as well as new health-care subsidies that have already begun to flow on a trial basis.
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