Vulnerable, Moderate Dems Breaking With Biden More Frequently as Midterms
By Joseph Lord
December 8, 2021
As the 2022 midterms draw nearer, several Democrats are distancing
themselves from President Joe Biden, whose popularity has dwindled since
At the beginning of Biden's presidency, congressional Democrats marched
largely in lockstep with the president. But as his first year in office
approaches its end, that situation has changed drastically.
Still reeling from the public opinion hit incurred by the Afghanistan
withdrawal, and faced with ongoing supply chain, inflation, and energy
crises, Biden has become far less popular with voters-a fact that has not
gone unnoticed by congressional Democrats, who have started to break with
Biden more and more frequently.
At the end of May, Biden's approval rating hit a peak of 55 percent
according to Rasmussen's Daily Presidential Tracking Poll. This popularity
would be short-lived and would fall sharply following Biden's
controversial Afghanistan withdrawal.
On Aug. 9, before the Afghanistan fiasco began, Biden's approval rate was
still at 49 percent. But after the fall of Afghanistan left hundreds of
Americans trapped in the country, public support for the president
Polling at the time showed that nearly three-fifths of the country-59
percent-felt that the Biden administration was not doing enough to save
Americans trapped in the country.
Afghan Withdrawal Prompts First Signs of Trouble
By Sept. 1, the tide of public opinion had turned substantially against
the president, with only 42 percent of likely voters approving of Biden.
This sudden drop in public support prompted the first wave of defections
among vulnerable Democrats, who rushed to distance themselves from the
Rep. Crissy Houlahan (D-Penn.), whose seat has been rated vulnerable by
the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), was one of the
first to criticize the president in a public statement.
In her statement, she contended that she and others had warned Biden of
the danger but said that those warnings "fell on deaf ears."
Several other vulnerable House Democrats quickly followed suit.
In the Senate as well, some Democrats began to distance themselves from
the president: Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Mark Kelly
(D-Ariz.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), and others made a point of
criticizing the withdrawal and promising action and oversight.
Since then, things have only gotten worse for President Biden, prompting
more and more Democrats to jump ship in an effort to save their seats in
Biden Unable to Bridge House Progressive-Moderate Disputes
Beginning in September, House moderates and progressives descended into
open conflict over Biden's plans to force passage of both the budget bill
and the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill at the same time.
Progressives argued that if the moderate-preferred infrastructure bill was
passed, progressives would have no leverage to force moderates to vote on
the much more controversial budget bill. Moderates, for their part, argued
that the Senate's passage of the infrastructure bill was "a bipartisan
victory for our nation" that should not be linked to the far more partisan
One moderate, Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) went so far as to suggest
that "[Democrats] can't afford to do everything" in the budget bill,
despite Biden's contention that the bill would be fully paid for by
increased taxes on the wealthy.
Two closed-door visits by Biden to Capitol Hill-an exceedingly rare
event-were insufficient to bridge these gaps, and neither the moderate
faction nor the progressive faction yielded to Biden's plea to pass both
Eventually, both bills were passed through the House, but the reasons for
both sides relenting in their demands are not entirely clear; The bills
passed weeks after Biden's second visit, making it unlikely that he played
a significant role in the change.
Whatever the cause for this eventual success, one member of the moderate
faction, Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine), voted with Republicans against the
legislation. Like so many others distancing themselves from Biden,
Golden's seat is considered vulnerable to a Republican takeover.
Vaccine Mandate Challenged By Some Senate Democrats
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.), a self-described "conservative
Democrat," announced on Dec. 3 that he would join Republicans in a motion
to strike down Biden's unprecedented private sector vaccine mandate.
Though Manchin often stands alone in opposing his party's proposals, he
has been joined by another Senate Democratic colleague, Sen. Jon Tester
The mandate, announced by Biden in September, would be enforced by the
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and has faced strong
criticism from Republicans, business leaders, and others.
Under a 1990s piece of legislation, Congress can overturn OSHA rules
through a filibuster-proof simple majority vote; Manchin's and Tester's
decision to join all 50 Republicans in this endeavor all but guarantees
that the rule will be overturned in the Senate.
The motion will nevertheless still need to pass through the House, where
Democrats will face another litmus test to gauge lawmakers' support for
the Biden rule.
Vulnerable Rep. Axne and Others Call on Biden to Address Inflation
For the past several months, Democrats in both chambers of Congress and
the Biden administration have insisted that the extreme inflation facing
the country is only transitory, even as projections show that it will
continue to rise.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki and Biden himself have been
especially supportive of this argument, insisting that the inflation is
merely the short-term result of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus
But as inflation begins to squeeze middle America's pockets and with the
looming threat of midterms on the horizon, this is a narrative that many
Democrats facing reelection can no longer afford to parrot.
In a Dec. 2 letter, Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa) led a petition signed by 21
other House Democrats calling on Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi
(D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) to address
"We are concerned about the ongoing disruptions to our nation's supply
chain, which are causing delays and increasing inflation for our
constituents," the letter begins.
"Congress must do more," the letter continued."We urge additional action
by the House of Representatives to further address the disruptions and
higher costs our constituents are experiencing."
Only a few of the Democrats who signed the letter are not considered
vulnerable by the NRCC.
While the letter's signatories were careful not to place the blame on
Biden himself, the mere recognition of inflation as a problem requiring
congressional intervention is a break from the White House's position.
Biden's Many Crises May Make Him a Liability in 2022
As an inflation crisis, an energy crisis, and other economic woes continue
to plague the first year of Biden's presidency, sticking close to the
president may not seem as safe a strategy as it has been in the past.
Historically, presidential endorsements of tight congressional or
state-level races have carried considerable influence; in fact, former
President Donald Trump continues to exert considerable influence over the
outcome of some races.
But Virginia's recent gubernatorial election showed the cracks in Biden's
ability to sway elections.
Despite the efforts of Biden, former President Barack Obama, Vice
President Kamala Harris, and others, Republican Glenn Youngkin handily
defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe in what some predicted would be a tight
Observers argued that the race was a litmus test to gauge public support
for Biden as he approached the end of his first year, a fact that
encouraged Democrats to throw millions of dollars and a slate of
high-profile endorsements into the race. Still, Youngkin, who said that "a
vote for me is a vote for Donald Trump," won by safe margins.
In another surprise, the gubernatorial race in New Jersey was extremely
close, with Republican Jack Ciattarelli losing by extremely thin margins
for the historically blue state.
Some Democrats, like former Hillary Clinton running mate Sen. Tim Kaine
(D-Va.), doubled down on their support for Biden's policy goals after the
"A lot of politics is about timing," Kaine said. "And there was a time to
[pass Biden's spending bills] that would have helped in both [Virginia and
Moderates in the party disagree, however.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), a relatively moderate Democrat, told reporters
that the fault lies with McAuliffe.
"You can't win in Virginia if you only appeal to very liberal voters,"
But the message to vulnerable Democrats is clear: An endorsement from
Biden cannot guarantee victory, even in states that have been historically
blue or states that went blue in both 2016 and 2020.
And the president's poll numbers have continued to drop, with Rasmussen
showing that on Dec. 8, only 42 percent of voters think Biden is doing a
good job. According to another Rasmussen poll, only 31 percent of likely
voters think that the country is headed in the right direction under Biden
and the Democratic Congress.
Now, with midterms drawing nearer and no end to the supply chain,
inflation, energy, and other crises in sight, even more Democrats may find
themselves faced with the decision to distance themselves from the
president or be defeated in 2022.
... After all is said and done, a lot more has been said than done.
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