WASHINGTON – Facing the potential of losing control of Congress, President Joe Biden entered the midterm election year on Wednesday pledging to connect more frequently with voters and present a starker contrast with Republicans aiming to blunt his agenda.
During a nearly two-hour news conference marking his first anniversary in office, Biden promised to more frequently travel the country making a case that, despite persistent challenges during the pandemic, his administration has notched notable achievements. He repeatedly said he would use those opportunities to blast the GOP as standing for little more than opposition to him.
“What are they for? What is their agenda?” Biden asked. “I don’t know what they are for now.”
The remarks amounted to a preview of Biden's election-year message. But it's uncertain whether the effort will revive prospects for Democrats, who hold the thinnest of majorities on Capitol Hill and are contending with widespread dissatisfaction with the president. Given those dynamics, it's not clear that top Democratic candidates will want to appear alongside Biden.
When he traveled to Georgia last week, for instance, Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for governor, notably didn't attend his events. An aide cited a scheduling conflict for her absence.
Biden said some contenders have already asked for his help during the campaign, and he vowed to be “deeply involved in these off-year elections.”
“I’m going to get out of this place more often. I’m going to go out and talk to the public,” Biden said, referring to the White House. “I’m going to make the case for what we’ve already done, why it’s important and ... what will happen if they support what else I want to do.”
Biden also reiterated that he plans to run for reelection in 2024 and will do so with Vice President Kamala Harris as his running mate.
As he gears up for the midterms, Biden acknowledged that the persistence of the coranavirus has left Americans fatigued and frustrated. But he insisted he'd accomplished more in his first year than most presidents — and that voters would agree with him if he just does a better job stating that case.
Biden indicated he'd make a special effort to connect with Black voters, who were critical to his victory in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary and were essential again in helping him secure the White House. Some Black leaders are increasingly vocal in expressing concern that, despite that success, Biden and the Democratic Congress haven't delivered on top priority issues, including the protection of voting rights and police reform.
“I’ve had their backs. I’ve never not had their backs," Biden said of Black voters, while conceding, “I have not been out in the community nearly enough. I’ve been here an awful lot.”
“I don’t get a chance to look people in the eye because of both COVID and things that are happening in Washington," Biden said.
His comments came as a sweeping legislation that voting advocates have argued is vital to safeguarding American democracy was faltering because Democrats can't rally all 50 of their own senators to change chamber rules and overcome a Republican filibuster.
As he geared up for the election season, Biden sometimes seemed to ponder how politics had changed in the decades since he first arrived in Washington as a senator in 1973. Noting that he had been friendly with Mitch McConnell in the past, he said the Senate Republican leader was now dedicated to obstruction.
“I think that the fundamental question is, what’s Mitch for?” Biden said.
And, without naming Donald Trump, Biden noted the Republican reluctance to cross the former president for fear of a sparking a primary challenger. He questioned how lawmakers could be more interested in pleasing a former president than governing.
“Think about it. Did you ever think that one man out of office could intimidate an entire party where they’re unwilling to take any vote contrary to what they think should be taken for fear of being defeated in the primary?" Biden asked.
Pressed about the Republicans using a similar strategy to block the Obama administration while he was vice president, Biden countered that “they weren't nearly as obstructionist as they are now."
“I honestly don’t know what they’re for. Yet I know a lot of these senators and congressmen, and I know they do have things they want to solve — whether they are things I want or not,” Biden said. “But you don’t hear much about it.”