Neither US President Joseph Biden nor Vice-President Kamala Harris is taking things easy, as the duo dropped ample hints that suggest the Democrats are already in the preparation mode for the elections of November 8, 2022.
The Biden-led White House does not have the luxury of resigning to the customary thinking that a sitting President loses an off year Congressional race, meaning that Biden will come away short half way through his first term in office.
Democrats won the White House, still have a majority in the House of Representatives after dropping a few seats in November 2020 and a slim majority in the Senate, thanks to Harris’ tie-breaking vote. If Biden loses control of the House and Senate in the November 8 elections next year, 2024 will be an uphill battle, irrespective of who is running for the Presidency on a Democratic ticket.
The situation is far dicey in the Senate where Democrats know that this 50-50-tie breaker vote may not sustain for long. First, the actual number of Democrats is only 48 and the tally moves up to 50 only with two Independents caucusing with them. Second, on major issues when a filibuster takes place, 60 Senators are needed to break the procedure. If the impeachment of Donald Trump and the recent passage of the massive stimulus package — the American Rescue Plan — are any indication, getting even a single Republican to cross over is not going to be easy. And third, it is never certain that 50 Democrats will be together. Left of centre and progressive Democrats have already started feeling uneasy on the directions of the Biden administration.
Biden and Harris have been just 60-odd days in office, but given the seriousness of the political situation, both have started pounding the pavement, convinced that Democrats cannot afford to fall short of majority in the November 2022 polls. Vice-President Harris has already started campaigning in critical places like Nevada, Colorado and Georgia while President Biden is expected to be in Chester and Pennsylvania this weekend. All these four states are critical to Democrats, which is looking to pick up additional seats in Senate to increase their strength.
The first task of the Democrats is to sell their stimulus package of $1.9 trillion, which will depend on the extent of vaccine rollout and the infected levels dropping together with the death rates. With some state governors raring to open up all sectors, the White House has been urging people to follow medical and social distancing norms. It has not yet sounded the panic button on a second wave of COVID.
On the other hand, Republicans are working to sell the idea that the new stimulus package is a waste of money, that it is the wrong hands targeted on wrong projects and to pump up a bureaucracy that is already bloated.
Right wing conservatives and supporters of Trump have already raised the slogan that the Biden administration has only given finishing touches to what was started by the 45th President, Mr Trump.
Democrats, the argument goes, have to step up and sell the stimulus package vigorously or it will meet the same fate as that of Barack Obama’s 2009 stimulus plan. President Obama, at first, let the Grand Old Party take the lead, but in the final analysis did not speak for the plan forcefully enough, resulting in a political disaster for the White House in the Congressional elections of 2010. The Obama-led White House lost the House of Representatives and a good many seats in the Senate in what was then billed as the worst Democratic performance in several decades.
Democrats also realise that the stimulus package is not the only item on the November 2022 elections agenda. Republicans and supporters of Trump are bracing for a showdown over a Voting Rights Bill that many hope to get passed at the state level. Democrats are working at the federal level and in the House and Senate in Washington, hoping to tear down existing impediments to voting, especially as it pertains to the minorities. The Democrats are hoping to get through at least two voting rights bill that will negate anything done at the states’ levels. Republicans, on the other hand, are looking at curtailing voting hours, limiting the number of days for mail in balloting, and generally for ways to come to terms with a perceived voting of illegals. In fact, conservative Democrats, too, are apprehensive over the potential abuses of the voting system, something that the Biden White House would have to factor in.
The Biden team will have to make the point that while getting tough on voting rights and ensuring that there is no fraud is fine, the process should not lead to disenfranchisement.
By mid-term elections of 2022, Biden, too, will have the minimum wage bill, legislation on a huge infrastructure spending and perhaps an immigration bill to contend with. The minimum wage bill, which was tucked into the stimulus plan, was rejected on procedural grounds much to the dismay of the progressives; and Biden will have to come clean on the $15 per hour minimum wage if left of center and progressive Democrats are to stay with Biden and Harris all the way.
It is easy to argue that a Washington insider, like President Biden, would know how to manoeuvre this difficult path, but Biden himself knows too well from his time in the Senate that at times it is difficult to keep the flock together, let alone getting into the poaching business!
A former senior journalist in Washington D.C. covering North America and the United Nations, the author is currently a Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication at the College of Science and Humanities, SRM Institute of Science and Technology, Chennai.