President Joe Biden took a victory lap in a speech to the winter meeting of the Democratic National Committee in Washington on Thursday night, hailing his record on COVID-19 and the economy as his party braces for losses in November.
Biden vowed that Democrats could defy history if they replicate their 2020 enthusiasm. “If we do that, we’re going to keep the House and keep the Senate — and add seats,” he said.
DNC Chairman Jaime Harrison noted in his introduction of the president that it was their first in-person meeting in two years, with over 400 committee members present, giving Biden the credit.
“We are back together because Democrats delivered,” he said. Harrison then led a call and response with that catchphrase, noting everything from the rollout of the vaccine to the nomination of the first black woman to the Supreme Court.
“Jaime just gave my speech,” Biden quipped, before pretending to walk away from the podium. His remarks were delivered on the eve of the anniversary of the nearly $2 trillion American Rescue Plan being signed into law. He pointed out that the measure did not receive a single Republican vote in either chamber of Congress, though it was passed through the reconciliation process to avoid working with GOP lawmakers.
As Russia continued its war in Ukraine and the Bureau of Labor statistics reported the highest inflation rate in 40 years, Biden proclaimed we were in the “strongest position we’ve been here in months.”
Biden again said Russian President Vladimir Putin was responsible for skyrocketing consumer prices, not his own policies. He repeated the line that this was “Putin’s price hikes at the pump,” a contention disputed even by some Obama administration alumni.
In a similar vein, Biden argued that oil companies and “the bankers on Wall Street” were the real obstacles to domestic energy production, not his administration’s regulations. He repeatedly tied the infrastructure law and the American Rescue Plan to gross domestic product growth, job creation, and deficit reduction that followed the economic reopening.
Biden spoke as Democrats girded themselves for a difficult midterm election. The party controls the House by just five seats. The Senate is split 50-50, in Democratic hands thanks solely to Vice President Kamala Harris’s tiebreaking vote.
The party that occupies the White House frequently loses congressional seats in the first midterm election. Democrats lost over 50 House seats in 1994 under former President Bill Clinton and more than 60 in 2010 under former President Barack Obama.
Republicans lead in the generic congressional ballot, which tests which party voters prefer to control Congress, by 3.4 percentage points in the RealClearPolitics polling average. Biden’s job approval ratings are stuck somewhere between the high 30s and mid 40s, depending on the poll, and he is underwater by bigger margins on the economy and foreign policy. Anywhere from 58% to 66% believe the country is moving in the wrong direction.
Last year, Republicans swept the statewide offices in Virginia, where Biden had won by 10 points. The GOP was competitive in the New Jersey governor’s race and made some inroads in the statehouse despite an even bigger Democratic tilt.
Biden nevertheless maintained that Democrats could retain their narrow majorities by celebrating their two main legislative victories, even as the rest of their agenda remains stalled, and running on a platform of lower childcare costs, cheaper pharmaceuticals, and a steep reduction in cancer deaths.
“One side wants to make you poor — the other side wants to solve the problems that keep you up at night,” Harrison said.
While Biden has touted infrastructure as a bipartisan achievement, he downplayed the number of Republicans who voted for it, dismissing the 19 GOP senators who did so, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, as “handfuls.”
Harrison said Republicans who voted against the legislation should not be allowed to take credit for the local projects it funds. “If you voted no, you can’t take the dough,” he said.
“As long as Democrats push Biden’s failed agenda, they can expect to keep losing,” Republican National Committee spokeswoman Emma Vaughn said in a statement before the president spoke. “Democrats up and down the ballot are in lockstep with Biden and will be held accountable for his failures in November.”
Despite Biden’s focus on pocketbook issues that poll relatively well for Democrats, the DNC brought up some of the culture war flashpoints that have hurt liberals in recent elections.
“In the states, they’re too busy attacking trans and queer kids,” Harrison said of Republicans, “too busy telling teachers what history they’re allowed to teach.”
These are references to a Florida bill that curtails instruction on sexuality in early elementary education and various state-level attempts to ban the teaching of critical race theory in public schools.