Rancorous debate among Democrats in Congress over the fate of President Joe Biden’s policy agenda has steepened an already uphill climb for the party as it seeks to maintain narrow House and Senate majorities in 2022, two years after it lost seats in the House despite Biden’s victory over then-President Donald Trump.
The inaction on Capitol Hill, along with Americans’ concerns over the economy, Covid-19 and the traditional headwinds faced by the president’s party in midterm years, has triggered retirements in the House and put Democratic swing district members on the backfoot with a little more than a year until voters head to the polls.
In Washington, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the party’s House campaign arm, has already selected more than 30 incumbents — its “Frontline program” members — to receive bonus backing. The list from Indivisible, a grassroots organization with groups across the country, overlaps in part with the campaign committee’s slate. The beneficiaries of its new “Give No Ground” initiative will receive an initial donation to be followed by bespoke investments, potentially including help with voter mobilization, rapid response messaging and outreach in multiple languages.
Warnock, who won a January runoff that helped secure Democratic control of the upper chamber, is joined on the special slate by Reps. Katie Porter and Mike Levin of California, Lucy McBath of Georgia, Lauren Underwood of Illinois, Andy Kim of New Jersey, Antonio Delgado of New York and Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania. In a news release, Indivisible said its independent expenditure arm plans to spend $1 million, at a minimum, on the project, which could grow to include additional members. Specifics on spending and tailored tactical plans for chosen candidates are also “in development,” the group said.
Though redistricting following last year’s decennial census could rewrite the boundaries of some of their districts, and potentially alter their prospects, all of the House members on the initial list could face serious GOP challenges next year. Despite those hurdles ahead, each of them, along with Warnock in the Senate, has been supportive of the progressive pillar of Biden’s agenda, his social spending plan.
But negotiations among congressional Democrats and the White House over legislation that could make historic expansions to the social safety net are at an impasse, with centrist and some moderate House members, along with their counterparts in the Senate, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, pushing for a scaled-down version of a package once valued at $3.5 trillion over a decade. In the meantime, Republicans and other GOP-aligned groups are seizing on the stasis, hammering vulnerable Democratic incumbents over the cost of a bill that the party might not be able to pass.
Lucy Solomon, Indivisible’s national political director, said the biggest favor Democrats in Congress can do for their political futures is to deliver on the promises baked into the legislation and start selling its benefits to the public — something that, with its provisions still in flux, is currently impossible.
The group’s new program is designed to give exasperated Democratic voters, upset over the situation on Capitol Hill, a clearer reason for engaging with the broader effort to defend the party’s majorities.
“We’re hearing from our folks a lot of frustration with some candidates and members who will pitch themselves just as majority makers — and the only focus will be the ‘D’ next to their name,” Solomon said. “We’ve all been tracking the conservative Democrats trying to actively torpedo our agenda in Congress. So this is a group of folks that we know are in really competitive districts, but are also closely aligned with the President’s agenda.”
With the exception of Porter, already a liberal favorite and deputy chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the program is also designed to highlight the work of lower-profile Democratic members who, amid the intraparty fight over the size and scope of Biden’s agenda, have been committed to passing party-line legislation that includes broadly popular provisions like universal child care and lowering prescription drug prices.
“Progressives are working to be strategic. The broader progressive movement is really looking to be strategic,” Solomon said. “Indivisible can help direct (Democratic voters) to really focus on some people who may not be the flashiest members, but who we know have been doing really strong work in Congress, being responsive to their constituents and working to enact the Biden agenda.”