Frustrated Democrats call for ‘reset’ ahead of US mid-term elections

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WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) – With the White House legislative agenda in shambles less than a year before the mid-term elections, Democrats are sounding alarms that their party could face even deeper losses than anticipated without a major shift in strategy led by the President.

The frustrations span the spectrum from those of the party’s liberal wing, which feels deflated by the failure to enact a bold agenda, to the concerns of moderates, who are worried about losing suburban swing voters and had believed Democratic victories would usher a return to normalcy after last year’s upheaval.

Democrats already anticipated a difficult mid-term climate, given that the party in power historically loses seats during a president’s first term.

But the party’s struggle to act on its biggest legislative priorities has rattled lawmakers and strategists, who fear their candidates will be left combating the perception that Democrats failed to deliver on President Joe Biden’s central campaign promise of rebooting a broken Washington.

“I think millions of Americans have become very demoralised – they’re asking, what do the Democrats stand for?” said Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent in charge of the Senate Budget Committee.

In a lengthy interview, he added, “Clearly, the current strategy is failing, and we need a major course correction.”

Representative Tim Ryan, a Democrat from a blue-collar Ohio district who is running for the state’s open Senate seat, said his party is not addressing voter anxieties about school closures, the pandemic and economic security.

He faulted the Biden administration, not just for failing to pass its domestic agenda but also for a lack of clear public health guidance around issues such as masking and testing.

“It seems like the Democrats can’t get out of their own way,” he said. “The Democrats have got to do a better job of being clear on what they’re trying to do.”

The complaints capped one of the worst weeks of the Biden presidency, with the White House facing the looming failure of voting rights legislation, the defeat of their vaccine-or-testing mandate for large employers at the Supreme Court, inflation rising to a 40-year high and friction with Russia over aggression toward Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Biden’s top domestic priority – a sprawling US$2.2 trillion (S$2.97 trillion) spending, climate and tax policy plan – remains stalled, not just because of Republicans but also opposition from a centrist Democrat.

“I’m sure they’re frustrated – I am,” said Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, when asked this week about the chamber’s inability to act on Mr Biden’s agenda.

Discussing the impact on voters before the mid-term elections, he added, “It depends on who they blame for it.”

The end of the week provided another painful marker for Democrats: Friday (Jan 14) was the first time since July that millions of United States families with children did not receive a monthly child benefit, a payment established as part of the US$1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan that Democrats muscled through in March without any Republican support.

Plans to extend the expiration date for the payments, which helped keep millions of children out of poverty, were stymied with the collapse of negotiations over the sprawling domestic policy plan. And additional pandemic-related provisions will expire before the end of the year without congressional action.

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