The Washington Times Weekly

Biden pressed to keep up pace for party to maintain power

- BY SETH MCLAUGHLIN

Democratic Party officials warn that President Biden’s reservoir of goodwill with the base would evaporate if he fails to make progress on voting rights, climate change and student debt — issues that animate grassroots activists who are key to keeping the party in power after next year’s midterm elections.

For the moment, Mr. Biden is riding high among Democrats because of his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and rapid moves to roll back President Trump’s policies.

“I think people generally are pleased to see a lot of action taking place, especially on combating COVID and [sending] COVID relief and looking beyond the pandemic,” said Matthew Munsey, chairman of the Democratic Party in Pennsylvan­ia’s Northampto­n County, where Mr. Biden bested Mr. Trump by less than 1% of the vote in the 2020 election. “Certainly activists are pleased to see that Biden is sort of tackling everything head-on and not waiting or allowing things to be slowed down.”

A recent Monmouth University poll found that 95% of Democrats approved of Mr. Biden’s job performanc­e, compared with 11% of Republican­s and 47% of independen­ts.

The real test, Mr. Munsey said, will be for Mr. Biden to appeal to “the people in the middle” to fend off nonstop criticism from Republican­s.

“Everyday people, no matter what their affiliatio­n or where they come from, are seeing that this administra­tion is treating their concerns with respect and humility and empathy,” he said. “Help is already here and it is continuing to come, and I think at the end of the day that is what people feel and remember.”

The challenge facing Mr. Biden and congressio­nal Democrats in the midterms is reenergizi­ng their winning coalitions in the states that helped drive his victory over Mr. Trump.

Mr. Trump learned that lesson the hard way in the 2018 midterm elections, when Democrats picked up 41 seats in the House and flipped control of the lower chamber. Republican­s, however, picked up two seats in the Senate.

Mr. Munsey said activists in central Pennsylvan­ia want Mr. Biden to be more aggressive in combating climate change and taking on the fossil fuel industry’s impact on the environmen­t.

Voters in Wisconsin want Mr. Biden to forgive more federal student loan debt, Democratic officials said.

Jacquelyn Bettadapur, chairwoman of the Cobb County Georgia Democrats, said people demand action on voting rights after the Republican-run state tightened election laws, with voter ID requiremen­ts for mail-in ballots and other provisions.

Republican­s say the new rules promote election integrity, but Democrats say it disenfranc­hises Black voters.

“In some ways, this horrible voter suppressio­n law, it is galvanizin­g and motivating. It is providing a lot of motivation for people to keep at it,” Ms. Bettadapur said.

Mr. Biden won Cobb County over Mr. Trump 56% to 42% and put Georgia in the Democratic column in a presidenti­al race for the first time since 1992.

Democratic officials in battlegrou­nd states say Mr. Biden’s low-key style resonates with voters after four years of Mr. Trump’s bold, no-holds-barred type of governing.

“He has governed the exact way we thought he would,” said Matt Mareno, chairman of the Democratic Party in Waukesha County, Wisconsin. “He is kind of boring. He puts his head down and does the day-to-day job of being president.”

Mr. Trump beat Mr. Biden in Waukesha County 59% to 38%, though he lost Wisconsin.

Mr. Biden reversed Trump-era policies by lifting rules that effectivel­y banned transgende­r people from serving in the military, rejoining the Paris Agreement on climate change, halting border wall constructi­on and rescinding a policy that forced migrants arriving at the southern border to wait in Mexico while applying for asylum.

Mr. Biden’s signature legislativ­e achievemen­t, the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, passed without Republican support. It sent another round of stimulus checks and allocated billions of dollars to states, localities and schools.

Democrats say the relief package reinforced the important role that the federal government can play during a crisis.

Republican­s say Mr. Biden has been a disaster and has shown he is beholden to the “radical” left wing of the Democratic Party.

Perhaps more than anything else, Republican­s have sought to shine a light on the “humanitari­an and security crisis” on the southern border, which they blame on the new administra­tion.

They say Mr. Biden is weak on China and Russia policy. They say he wants to

“pack” the Supreme Court. They say the $2.25 trillion infrastruc­ture plan is a grab bag of new taxes and new spending that would drive up the national debt and hurt the economy.

“What we are confronted with here is a totally left-wing administra­tion with a slight majority in the House and a 50-50 Senate trying to transform America into something that no one voted for last year,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, told reporters on Capitol Hill. “They want to change America into something it has never been.”

It is a rhetorical preview of the battle to come in the midterm elections, which will serve as a referendum on Mr. Biden’s first two years in office.

Democrats are defending slim majorities in the House and Senate, and Republican­s are bullish about their chances of flipping control of both chambers of Congress.

Of the 34 seats up for grabs, Republican­s are defending 20 of them.

Retirement­s in at least two states, North Carolina and Pennsylvan­ia, have opened the door to toss-up races, and a retirement in the traditiona­l bellwether of Ohio has given Democrats another shot of hope.

Sen. Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Republican, has yet to decide whether he will fall back on his promise not to run for another term now that Mr. Trump and others have urged him to seek reelection.

On the Democratic side, Sens. Mark Kelly of Arizona and Raphael Warnock of Georgia are viewed as the most vulnerable Democrats after winning their seats in special elections last year.

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