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Biden leaves Democrats hanging as midterms burst into full swing

President Joe Biden spotted Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney on the White House campus last June and called out to the House Democratic campaign chair loudly enough for several others to hear: “I really want to talk to you about the races!” he shouted.

A week later, at the cherry festival in Traverse City, Michigan, Biden leaned into Sen. Gary Peters, who’s in charge of Democratic Senate campaigns, with the same promise. He’s always cared most about Senate races, Biden told the Michigan Democrat, and he wanted to have a meeting, an hour at least, to talk about helping his party hold the chamber in 2022.

Maloney’s staff eagerly followed up. So did Peters’. Then they followed up again. And again. Seven months later, there are still no meetings on the books.

They’re not the only ones who’ve been left waiting. In three dozen exclusive interviews with WEBICNEWS, top Democratic politicians, campaign officials and operatives say the White House political operation is heading into the midterms unprepared and unresponsive even to basic requests for help or information.

Biden advisers say that the President talks politics with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, but people familiar with both leaders say any campaign talk has been brief, and Democratic leaders have significant concerns with the White House’s approach to getting the President to break through. It’s not just that Biden’s approval ratings have tumbled. Those in charge of keeping Democrats in power doubt that Biden’s team understands how to improve his political fate — and with it, theirs.

“It’s hard for me to believe that the President knows how little his political shop is doing to support Democratic majorities in the Senate and the House. All of us believe that the President would be shocked to learn how little the White House political team is doing,” said one senior Democratic elected official in Washington, voicing widespread worries about the midterms. “We just know Joe Biden, and we know how much he cares about this stuff.”

Senior Democrats, including some White House aides, describe a West Wing lacking both a political strategy and the discipline to execute one. Focus groups are giving party operatives nightmares. Biden is coming across as old and absent, they say. Real and perceived fumbles play into deep fears that he’s not up to the job and that Democrats are incompetent. Few Americans can say what was in the massive bills he’s signed, though many have heard about Democratic infighting and failure in what he hasn’t signed.

“What is the plan to fix that?” asked one operative in touch with the White House. “They can’t tell us what they’re talking about next week.”

Though most Democrats in power believe there’s still ample time for a turnaround, several top operatives are already talking triage. They’re fearful of discussing all of this publicly because they don’t want to create more problems. But privately, they are petrified that a Republican majority would end Biden’s agenda and swamp them with endless investigations and subpoenas, promise impeachment and potentially endanger fair certification of the next presidential election. All this comes as former President Donald Trump has begun assembling a stricter political operation from Mar-a-Lago, aiming to use a strong presence and win record in 2022 to potentially bulldoze his way through 2024.

“It doesn’t strike me as they’re dealing with the politics with the urgency of what’s currently at stake,” said one high-level operative working on House campaigns.

White House aides downplayed these complaints. The President has been more focused on addressing the pandemic and global economy than helping plot campaign strategy. They chalk much of the grumbling up to officials upset that they’re not getting everything they want, including Maloney’s unprecedented request last year for the Democratic National Committee to transfer $20 million to House Democrats’ campaign committee. (So far, $0 has been transferred). The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee declined to comment for this story.

Biden and his aides are currently in a natural shift to campaign mode, they argue, with one Biden adviser telling WEBICNEWS the President and those in his orbit believe there’s ample time for his numbers to climb back to a strong position before November.

“History is against us, and we have work to do here,” the adviser said. “But I am not over-torqued by where we are, because we have the right story, we have the right person who can connect with people. … We have to work harder, but we have the ingredients and the pieces.”

Part of what’s happening, Democrats acknowledge, is that some of their colleagues are blaming Biden for all their political problems.

“We haven’t talked about our accomplishments near enough. The accomplishments by definition will delineate who’s for what, and who’s not for what,” said Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat and former DSCC chair. “I point the finger at myself as much as everybody in the Senate, as much as everybody in the House, as much as everybody in the executive branch.”

The Biden adviser dismissed the worst poll numbers floating around and pointed out that Biden’s polling average is around 43% – still a devastating number in the eyes of many Democrats.

“We want our numbers to get better, of course,” the adviser said. “But we have time.”

It’s how they’re using their time that worries people, though, with less than nine months to go until the midterms. In early December, Biden sent two very senior staffers — his communications director and his National Economic Council director — to the Hill to meet with the Democratic senators in charge of steering their caucus agenda. Kate Bedingfield and Brian Deese delivered a PowerPoint presentation, urging the lawmakers to craft a “Whose side are you on?” appeal to voters.

Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan ripped into the White House suggestions. They wanted stronger contrasts, a clearer case. They wanted Biden to call Republicans out as “shills” for corporate interests and blame them for endangering public health and the economy.

“This is not strong enough,” Stabenow told the White House delegation, according to several sources in the room.

Bedingfield and Deese listened. “This is helpful feedback,” said Bedingfield.

The White House followed up with updated talking points. The senators were left unconvinced that they’d been heard.


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