Saturday, October 2, 2021

Democratic Clashes Hold Up Biden’s Agenda After Rocky Month

Democrats are fucking up --- and it's glorious!

At WSJ, "President weathered fallout from Afghanistan exit, migrants at the Texas border and the Covid-19 pandemic":

WASHINGTON—President Biden’s political standing tumbled in September amid the fallout from the messy Afghanistan withdrawal, the flood of Haitian migrants at the Texas border and the continuing Covid-19 pandemic. The month ended with his legislative agenda caught between clashing Democratic factions, fueling the party’s anxiety about the path forward and their prospects in elections this year and next.

Mr. Biden traveled to the Capitol on Friday afternoon to try to advance his roughly $1 trillion infrastructure plan and a separate healthcare, education and climate package, as leaders expressed optimism for a legislative breakthrough that would unite Democratic lawmakers. Administration officials acknowledged privately that the past few weeks had been the most trying of Mr. Biden’s presidency, but they are holding out hope that the agenda will clear Congress.

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s in six minutes, six days or six weeks, we’re going to get it done,” Mr. Biden said after meeting with lawmakers Friday in which he called on House Democrats to delay voting on the infrastructure bill until they reach agreement on the separate spending package.

The clash in Congress followed efforts by Mr. Biden to bridge divides between moderate and progressive Democrats over trillions in infrastructure and social spending, with the roughly $3.5 trillion reconciliation price tag expected to drop. He delayed a planned trip to Chicago this week to keep his focus on talks on Capitol Hill and has held meetings and calls with lawmakers, in particular two moderate Democrats—Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona—who have objected to parts of the program.

The negotiations have brought long-simmering intraparty tensions into the open, with progressives publicly criticizing Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema, and the White House huddling behind the scenes with Democratic congressional leadership. Some progressive lawmakers grumbled earlier in the week that the White House had been paying too much attention to the two senators, but others said the talks were the only way to clinch an agreement that would move both packages forward, an outcome that is the priority for liberals.

Many Democrats see passage of Mr. Biden’s legislative agenda as vital ahead of next year’s midterm elections, which typically favor the party that doesn’t hold the White House. Anxiety has been rising among some in the party, particularly as Mr. Biden’s approval ratings slipped below 50% last month.

“You’ve got to give the enthusiasm gap a real consideration,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, a civil-rights leader who has raised concerns that Mr. Biden’s handling of voting rights, immigration and police reform—Democratic proposals that have stalled in Congress—may depress turnout among Black voters in next year’s midterms. “I don’t think anybody expects him to walk on water, but we do expect that he can swim.”

Mr. Biden’s struggles have coincided with the stretch of this year’s most prominent campaign, in Virginia, where former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, is seeking a return to office against Republican Glenn Youngkin, a political newcomer. The state’s gubernatorial campaign, held in the year after the presidential election, is often a leading indicator of the national political climate heading into the midterms.

Republicans view the Democrats’ legislative plans as an overreach of excess spending and have accused Mr. Biden of careening from one crisis to another, saying both will debilitate the party’s midterm message next year. “Vulnerable Democrats are going to be forced to retire, or they’re going to lose reelection,” said Rep. Tom Emmer (R., Minn.), who leads the House Republicans’ campaign arm.

Heading into the 2022 midterm elections, some Republicans also see potential risks ahead for their party. Among them: that centrist GOP voters and independents may be turned off by efforts to investigate and validate former President Donald Trump’s false claims of widespread election fraud, and that laws introduced by Republicans to tighten voting rules may depress voter participation in both parties.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D., N.Y.), who heads the House Democratic campaign effort, said his party is tackling tough problems that Republicans didn’t when they were in power.

After eight months on the job, Mr. Biden is contending with thorny issues that have frustrated past presidents, and questions from both parties about his leadership decisions. The legislative challenges ended a month that was a roller-coaster ride for Mr. Biden’s presidency. The Pentagon’s top military official called the recent Afghanistan exit, which included a drone strike that killed civilians, a “strategic failure,” hampering White House hopes of moving on from questions about the withdrawal. French officials accused the U.S. of betraying a longtime ally after leaving France in the dark over a secret nuclear submarine deal with Australia and the U.K. Democrats and Republicans slammed the handling of Haitian migrants at the Texas border. And mixed messages on booster shot eligibility fueled public frustration with the long-lasting Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking at a Senate hearing on the Afghanistan exit, Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that “from an operational and tactical standpoint, [the evacuation] was successful. Strategically, the war was lost. The enemy is in Kabul.”

The surge of Haitian migrants in Del Rio, Texas, drew bipartisan criticism and tested Mr. Biden’s promises of a more humane immigration policy. During a meeting last week with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, lawmakers pressed top White House aides about the administration’s immigration policies, including the president’s decision to turn back many migrants at the border and deport Haitians to their home country, according to people in the meeting.

“We were very candid. No one bit their tongue,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D., Calif.), one of the attendees. A White House official acknowledged that public frustration with the Covid-19 pandemic and the Afghanistan exit have taken a toll, but said that they continue to make progress with increasing vaccinations and view the public as supportive of the withdrawal overall. Passage of the president’s legislative agenda, Mr. Biden’s advisers hope, will boost the president’s political fortunes, noting that the bills have public support in recent polling.

Mr. Biden told lawmakers last week in a private meeting that he wants the public to see benefits from the spending packages quickly if they pass, according to a person there.

About half of the country supports the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the separate package for spending on healthcare, education and more, according to a September poll by the Pew Research Center. Far fewer oppose the legislation: 20% for the infrastructure package and 25% for the broader one. About a quarter of those polled were unsure about where they stood. Other surveys, including a September Fox News poll, have shown slightly higher support for the bills.

John Anzalone, Mr. Biden’s chief campaign pollster, said he believed the popularity of the policies the president has proposed in the infrastructure and reconciliation packages will help fend off any midterm losses...

Still more.