Democrats think President Biden can get a boost from the House GOP, just as his party’s past presidents saw their political fortunes rise by virtue of battling a Republican Congress.
Both former Presidents Clinton and Obama won reelection after losing their party’s House majorities to the GOP in 1994 and 2010.
Now the White House is hoping Biden can follow that pattern, and they see an unwilling partner in the House GOP led by Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who won the post after a historic 15th ballot that laid his conference’s divisions out for all to see.
“If they’re collapsing and fighting and can’t get anything done, it speaks for itself,” said Ed Rendell, a former Pennsylvania governor and longtime Biden ally.
Rendell also argued that some of the positions taken by House Republicans, especially if they lead to a government shutdown or the failure of Congress to raise the debt ceiling, could help Biden cast himself as the adult in Washington.
“Americans are not extreme,” Rendell said.
Other Democrats see the chaos of the Speaker election as contrasting well with what Biden wants to cast as his strengths: preparation, moderation, respect for tradition and a reverence for procedures.
“It really is a perfect foil for Biden,” said Democratic strategist Eddie Vale. It “just gets better and better the more tinfoil hat conspiracy theories Jordan, Comer and Marjorie Taylor Greene spin off on,” he added, referring to GOP Reps. Jim Jordan (Ohio), James Comer (Ky.) and Greene (Ga.).
Nayyera Haq, a former Obama aide, said Biden won in 2020 by running against former President Trump, and now he can run against the emboldened House GOP.
“Usually being the party out of the White House means that you have a unified message against an incumbent,” she said of House Republicans. “They don’t have that right now.”
The Speakership election tied the House GOP further to Trump in some ways.
Initially, a group of Republicans opposed to McCarthy’s Speakership ignored Trump’s calls to back him. But by the end of the week, some of those members had supported the former president himself for House Speaker. And in the final hour, Greene was trying to connect Trump to various Republicans to get them to vote “present” and allow McCarthy to be elected Speaker.
Biden, meanwhile, appeared at a bridge connecting Kentucky to Ohio with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), highlighting his infrastructure legislation and bipartisanship.
“They looked f—— crazy last week,” one Biden ally said, pointing to the split screen of Biden and McConnell, who stood alongside one another. “I talked to so many Republicans who said ‘What the f— are we doing? This is terrible.’”
The Speaker fiasco also provided a new opportunity for Democrats to reinvigorate Bidenworld’s famous “do less” approach to the GOP.
As Republicans publicly fought within their own party, liberals and moderates alike watched the display unfold, reiterating that their side is ready to start working for the public — regardless of what the other side does.
The question going forward is whether the dysfunction that was a part of the Speaker’s vote will be a recurring theme for Republicans in the lower chamber this year. Rendell and other Democrats appear to be hoping and thinking it will be repeated.
“It’s too early [for] this incident, their pathetic display, to be remembered if they govern in a halfway reasonable manner,” said Rendell. “But people seem to think they won’t have the ability.”
“If in fact, as predicted, it becomes a battle between the MAGA people and the conventional Republicans to get anything done and we default on stuff, that’s a big help. Then you can make the case they can’t govern,” he added.
One House Democrat in touch with the administration said the “chaos” showed distinctions between the parties at a critical juncture. Democrats elected Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-Calif.) unanimously as GOP members repeatedly failed to elect McCarthy.
“We are ready to get to work and stand in stark contrast to the chaos we’ve seen from the other side,” said Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.).
Democrats’ confidence is also backed up by polling. Biden’s approval rating rose significantly after November, with voters crediting him favorably for handling issues like the economy and reproductive rights. Typically hovering in the low to mid 40s last year, and even dipping into the 30s, he’s now earning 46 and 47 approval percent in several surveys collected by Real Clear Politics.
He’s also ramped up his travel schedule to promote accomplishments like his infrastructure bill, and aides and allies are privately preparing for his 2024 campaign announcement, The Hill reported last week.
Whether Biden should openly acknowledge the GOP’s discord is being debated. Some allies believe it’s not necessary that he explicitly says how dysfunctional things appear to be among his political opponents.
“Depends on how bad it gets,” said Rendell. “If it’s really bad he doesn’t have to mention it.”
That guidance is familiar territory for Biden, who went for long stretches of the last presidential campaign without calling out Trump by name. As president, he became more comfortable using the MAGA slogan to denounce what he sees as a threatening part of the Republican Party.
Republicans are aware that Biden can use the House GOP as a target.
“It’s incumbent on the new House Republican majority to plow the ground, to offer some ideas, to be a lead vehicle for the 2024 Republican nominating field and eventual nominee and not to become a political lead balloon or political drag,” said Republican strategist Colin Reed.
“The Obama White House was very skillful at using the 2011-2012 Republican House Majority as a cudgel against Mitt Romney,” he said. “And no doubt the Biden White House will attempt to do the same thing.”
Still, Biden is not without his own recent vulnerabilities.
Republicans see fresh ammunition in the disclosure that classified documents had been discovered by attorneys for the president at a private office just days before the midterms at Penn Biden Center. The news only became public on Monday.
While Democrats were eager to point out the differences in circumstances between the classified documents found at Biden’s former office at the university and classified documents from the Trump administration kept at the former president’s Mar-a-Lago residence, Republicans quickly went on the attack and accused the White House of hypocrisy.
“Those in glass houses shouldn’t be throwing stones,” Reed said. “The Democrats, including President Biden, were so sanctimonious and holier than thou about rendering judgment on what happened in Mar-a-Lago involving those documents that are now going to have to answer the same questions.”
House Speakership vote