Biden’s political standing raises Democrats’ concerns about 2024
Columbus, Ohio It was supposed to be a moment of victory for Joe Biden.
The Democratic president just signed into law the most important infrastructure package in generations. And he did so by bringing Democrats and Republicans together, just as he promised during last year’s campaign. But when Biden arrived in New Hampshire last week to promote a trillion-dollar package at the foot of a dilapidated bridge, not all of his important guests were in the mood to celebrate.
“Democrats are concerned,” former House Speaker Steve Shortliff, a longtime Biden supporter who attended the ceremony, told The Associated Press when asked about Biden’s political standing. “I’m worried about where we might be in another two years when people really start getting ready and start taking trips to New Hampshire.”
Shortleaf was publicly saying what a growing number of Democrats have been whispering for months: Biden’s political standing is so weak after less than a year into his presidency that he may not be able to win re-election in 2024 if he were to run again. Such troubling games are common among Washington’s political class, but the game has spread to the states and constituencies that will play a central role in the upcoming presidential election.
Vice President Kamala Harris faces a political dilemma of her own as polls suggest she may be less popular than her unpopular president. A dynamic leader who made history by becoming the first black woman and the first person of South Asian descent to take office, Harris has been given few opportunities to shine by the Biden White House.
She delivered her first solo address to promote the new infrastructure law Friday in the Ohio capital, addressing a mostly empty union hall largely absent of prominent political figures around the same time Biden issued the annual White House pardon for Washington turkeys.
“In America, we have the courage to see beyond the crisis — to believe that the future and the future we imagine is possible — and then build it,” Harris said to polite applause in Columbus.
At least for now, there’s not much to suggest that the legislation, which will boost infrastructure in every state and potentially create hundreds of thousands of jobs, will quickly improve Democrats’ political standing.
As Biden struggles, speculation has intensified over the shortlist of potential heirs if Biden does not seek re-election, even though the 79-year-old president has said publicly and privately that he will. Topping the list is Harris, of course, but it includes other 2020 presidential candidates such as Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. Just last week, Booker announced plans to appear at a fundraiser for the party next month in New Hampshire, which traditionally hosts the country’s first presidential primaries.
Booker’s team has sought to dampen talk that it was grooming itself to run in 2024, and allies say he is too close to Harris and won’t challenge her if Biden retires. However, the mere fact that such talks will soon be having a new presidency is unusual.
The frustrations that simmer now may be forgotten for so long by the time Biden – or another Democrat – leads the party in the 2024 presidential election. The truth is, no one knows what Biden or Harris’ standing will be next year, let alone three years away. While Biden’s approval ratings falter in the low 40s, they are better than Donald Trump’s approval ratings at the same time as his presidency.
Barack Obama also faced headwinds towards the end of his first year in office. His party will continue to suffer historic losses in the 2010 midterm elections. But Obama recovered in time to win a second term. Similarly, Bill Clinton overcame setbacks, including a devastating mid-term cycle in 1994, to win re-election in 1996.
Democratic strategist Bill Burton, who worked in the Obama White House, pointed out that any number of factors could upend the political climate altogether, such as Trump’s re-emergence, a Supreme Court decision ending or significantly limiting abortion rights, an improving economy and the end of pandemic.
There is consensus around the idea that Democrats are completely doomed. “These are the same people who brought us President Hillary Clinton,” Burton said. “Maybe things aren’t as bad as the whole gossip chapter seems to think they are.”
The White House is working to stamp out speculation that Biden may not seek re-election in 2024 in light of his current struggles.
Noting that Biden has publicly and privately announced his intention to run, aides say the Democratic National Committee and Biden’s political team inside the White House are actively moving forward with the assumption that he will seek a second term.
They believe Biden’s position will improve as voters absorb the new infrastructure law and the $2 trillion Social Spending and Climate bill currently being passed through Congress. Already, the DNC and its allies are focusing significant resources on selling Democrats’ accomplishments in key states ahead of the 2022 midterm elections — states like Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that will also be top battlegrounds in the United States. 2024 presidential election.
Despite their optimism, tensions within the White House are real as the new leadership team learns to work together.
Harris’s allies are particularly frustrated that Biden appears to have narrowed the vice presidency to a low-profile role with a tough political portfolio — driving voting rights and immigration.
She was traveling with reporters in Ohio on Friday when Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of all charges in last year’s deadly shootings in Kenosha, Wisconsin, which have become a flashpoint in the controversy over guns, vigilance and racial injustice. But she had to wait for Biden to address the issue before she could intervene, saying “the verdict really speaks for itself.”
And when she gave her speech on the Infrastructure Act, there was little sign of Democrats’ enthusiasm.
The crowd of invited guests barely filled a quarter of the local guild hall. Almost no senior Ohio Democrats, including Senator Sherrod Brown, or the leading Democrats vying for the governor’s office attended the event. Representative Joyce Petty, who represents the district in which Harris spoke, was the only congresswoman present.
“Thanks to our work together, America is moving forward,” Harris stated, explaining that the Infrastructure Act “will make the most significant investment to repair our roads and bridges in 70 years.”
But as in New Hampshire, the White House message was clouded by disappointment over the Biden presidency.
“Nothing has changed” for the poor and middle class since Biden replaced Trump, said Ohio Democrat Nina Turner, who served as the co-chair of Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign. She said the infrastructure bill doesn’t change that, and she criticized Biden’s social spending package as “building back less better.”
Turner said of Biden: “The question becomes, ‘Why am I helping you hold on to power, when the power that you have now is not using on my behalf?'” “It’s called insanity – asking me to vote for you, asking the black community to come out to you in 2022 or 2024 when you do nothing in 2021.”
Indeed, Reverend Al Sharpton, a civil rights activist who attended the White House’s infrastructure bill signing ceremony, warned that Biden is approaching the “red zone” with black voters.
At the end of the infrastructure event, Sharpton said he urged Biden to use his bullying pulpit to further fight back to enact sweeping police reform and protect voting rights under attack in Republican-led states.
“They have to do it between now and the end of January or they’re going to have real problems,” Sharpton said.
Julie Carr-Smith, a staff writer for the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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