Democrats are in retreat as they head into this election year. In a stark display of the party’s lack of confidence in its prospects in November’s midterms, 29 House Democrats have announced that they won’t be running for reelection. Given the party’s razor-thin majorities, Joe Biden’s sinking popularity, and the fact that the party of the sitting president almost always suffers losses in midterm elections, it looks as though the Democrats are going to get eviscerated if they don’t quickly change course.
Some prominent lawmakers, like Senator Bernie Sanders, have publicly called for a change in strategy, saying that the Democratic Party has “turned its back on the working class.” But the Biden administration remains deeply in denial about its failures, which range from the death of the Democrats’ signature Build Back Better plan to their doomed year-long push for federal voting rights legislation. The pandemic, which Biden promised to manage—his core campaign promise—has spiraled even further out of control. The number of Covid cases has reached record highs under his watch, soaring into the hundreds of thousands. Hospitals are overwhelmed, and schools are still in crisis.
The monthly child tax credit payments, which Democrats promised would cut child poverty in half, have ended. Biden has been telling people burdened with student debt to prepare for their payments to resume in May, and debt forgiveness is off the table. Other popular pandemic-related relief programs are being phased out as well. And the White House’s attitude has been to double down on condescension, expressing contempt for the American working class, the very voters the Democrats should be courting.
At a briefing with reporters in December, White House press secretary Jen Psaki boasted that the US would soon require private insurance companies to reimburse customers who buy rapid at-home Covid tests. When an NPR reporter asked why the United States doesn’t send free rapid tests to everyone, as other countries have been doing, Psaki scoffed at the idea. “Should we just send one to every American?” she replied, clearly irritated. “How much does that cost?”
Life comes at you fast. It took about two weeks’ worth of public outcry for the administration to reverse its position and announce that the federal government will be shipping a half-billion free at-home tests to anyone who wants them. But the experience didn’t prompt any sort of introspection.
About a month after Psaki’s comments, Vice President Kamala Harris appeared on NBC’s Today and offered guidance for people struggling to find a place to get tested: “Google it.” And recently, when a reporter asked about the administration’s stalled agenda and whether it was time to reconsider its approach, Psaki gave another derisive response. “We could certainly propose legislation to see if people support bunny rabbits and ice cream, but that wouldn’t be very rewarding for the American people,” she said.
With just months remaining until the midterm elections, the White House’s political operation has been unresponsive to Democratic campaigns. According to a CNN report, the president and his political team haven’t been providing much support for Democrats seeking reelection, failing to respond to “basic requests for help or information.”
Republicans need to win only five additional seats in November to gain control of the House. In the Senate, which is split 50-50, Democrats need to defend 14 seats, including from states like Arizona and Georgia where Biden won by narrow margins. Republicans have to hold on to 20 Senate seats and face potentially vicious primaries in states like North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Georgia.
Since the 2020 election, GOP lawmakers have passed voting restrictions in states across the country. It’s that onslaught, combined with the already bleak electoral landscape, that recently led Democrats to make one last push for voting rights reform. But when their effort fizzled in the Senate, Biden blamed Republicans for obstructing his agenda, highlighting his own political impotence.
As a result of the administration’s back-to-back failures, Biden’s support is crumbling among all Americans, including some of the most crucial groups in his base: Black and Latino voters and young people.
Some party leaders, like House majority leader Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the chamber, are still optimistic despite Biden’s approval ratings. “I think we’re going to hold the majority in the fall,” Hoyer told reporters. “I know that’s contrary to what some people think.”
Democrats, Hoyer added, will have “a very solid agenda to run on.”