BALTIMORE — President Joe Biden will huddle here with House Democrats on Wednesday as they work to develop a messaging strategy to help them hold the White House and flip the five seats needed to take back the House in 2024.
Given the divided government, there’s only a very slim chance that Congress will pass any meaningful legislation during the next two years.
So a big piece of the party’s messaging puzzle will be focused on implementing the legislative successes of the first two years of Biden’s presidency: a massive infrastructure package, the most significant gun reform law in a generation, funding to boost domestic computer chip manufacturing and a landmark climate and health care law.
"Implementation" isn't the sort of rallying cry that's apt to excite voters ahead of the 2024 elections. The challenge for Biden and congressional Democrats is persuading Americans that the new laws will make a meaningful difference in their daily lives.
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“It’s about Democrats delivering for the American people when we talk about implementation,” Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., who heads Democrats’ policy and messaging operation, said in an interview. “What do we mean? We mean lowering costs for senior citizens, we mean bridges and highways that are being rebuilt across the country for the first time in 60 to 70 years.
“So, to me, that’s what the message is focused on. It’s delivering for the American people, and a big part of that is implementing these laws.”
During the three-day issues retreat at a hotel in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, House Democrats also will hear from Vice President Kamala Harris and top administration officials, including Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan and Biden’s new infrastructure czar, Mitch Landrieu.
Wes Moore, Maryland’s new Democratic governor and a rising star in the party, will also address Democrats.
The following day, Biden will head to his old stomping ground — Capitol Hill — to convey his message to Senate Democrats.
'Finish the job'
The president’s pair of meetings come as his focus is turning more and more to the reelection campaign he is preparing to wage. Polling shows that few Americans are either aware of or particularly impressed by Biden’s legislative accomplishments to date.
He wants to change that.
At a White House event Monday celebrating Black History Month, Biden told the scores of guests in attendance that, “Even in your communities, they don’t know what we’ve done.”
“So we’ve got to talk about it,” he continued. “Spread the word. Defend our progress. Finish the job.”
That’s a message he likely will deliver at the Baltimore retreat, while spelling out his differences with Republicans who are refusing to raise the debt ceiling without billions in budget cuts.
One White House official said the president will use the appearance in Baltimore to “speak to congressional Democrats about building on the progress they have achieved making the economy work from the bottom up and the middle out, as well as combating Republicans’ top-down policies that hurt working Americans.”
“He will thank them for the strength of their unified caucus on both of those core priorities,” the official continued. “The president will discuss how to keep bringing jobs back to America at an historic rate, keep lowering costs like prescription drugs and energy, and further cutting the deficit by having rich special interests pay their fair share."
Echoing the White House, Democratic Vice Caucus Chairman Ted Lieu, D-Calif., said the party will show voters that Democrats will “stop stupid stuff from happening.”
“We need to make sure that the debt limit is increased so we don’t default on our debts. We have to make sure they don’t pass a national abortion ban,” said Lieu, who organized the retreat with Democratic Caucus Chairman Pete Aguilar, D-Calif.
First, though, Democrats need to get on the same page. House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries recently tapped Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., to lead a new group, the Regional Leadership Council, to ensure top Biden officials inform Democratic lawmakers when they are visiting their districts or states to announce new infrastructure projects or deliver federal grants.
Congressional Democrats have been frustrated at missed opportunities when some Cabinet members made trips to swing states without giving a heads-up to local lawmakers. Jeffries raised the issue on Tuesday during two closed-door meetings with Democrats, lawmakers said.
"Administration officials SHOULD be including the ones who did the work when any project funding is announced. There isn't an excuse for it," one House Democrat said in a text message, adding, "The president wants us to focus on implementation. So we are. All Cabinet officials need to get the message."
20,000 projects funded
Major highway, port and public transit projects take time to complete. The $1 trillion infrastructure bill that Biden signed into law in 2021 won’t be fully implemented until long after his presidency ends. Still, White House officials are confident that Americans will see improvements ahead of the 2024 presidential election. Signs are going up reminding people that the money being spent on new highway and bridge projects under construction came from the Biden administration.
Landrieu, the former New Orleans mayor who is now a senior White House adviser coordinating the infrastructure plan, said that 20,000 projects have already been funded and “there are projects coming out of the ground as we speak.”
Americans, he said, “are not driving around going, ‘I’m so happy that the president turned that piece of concrete.’ But when, all of a sudden, the street is better or you’re getting to work faster, or you have high-speed internet, or you have clean water, you go, ‘Wow, that Biden guy did pretty good!’”
Biden has not officially announced his candidacy, but he is acting and sounding like he wants a second term. His wife, Jill Biden, has made clear that she wants him to run. When asked in a recent interview with the Associated Press if her husband would run again, she said: “How many times does he have to say it for you to believe it?”