Biden Touts Debt Relief, Climate Wins in Test of Midterm Message

Biden Touts Debt Relief, Climate Wins in Test of Midterm Message

Jordan Fabian and Nancy Cook

Fri, 26 August 2022 at 1:42 am

(Bloomberg) — President Joe Biden cast Republican congressional candidates as committed to “destroying America” and said he had no respect for adherents of former President Donald Trump, as he kicked off his midterm campaign effort with a rally in suburban Maryland.

In critiques of the GOP that were sharper than those in the past, Biden touted a recent stretch of legislative achievements during a rally in Rockville, Maryland, a deeply Democratic suburb of Washington, D.C., and told voters they needed to turn out in this year’s elections to protect those policies.

“I want to be crystal clear about what’s on the ballot this year: your right to choose is on the ballot this year. The Social Security you paid for from the time you had a job is on the ballot. The safety of your kids from gun violence is on the ballot. No hyperbole, the very survival of our planet is on the ballot,” said Biden.

The event — a day after the president unveiled a sweeping student loan relief package aimed at wooing progressives and younger voters — allowed Biden to test his message ahead of what White House aides say will be an active two months of touting achievements and aiding Democratic candidates.

Democrats’ prospects for retaining their slim House and Senate majorities have been boosted by a string of policy wins this month, including passage of a massive climate, health care and tax package aimed at combating soaring inflation, a major political liability for the party.

Widespread backlash to the Supreme Court decision in June overturning nationwide abortion rights also has strengthened Democrats’ chances of limiting their losses in congressional races.

“MAGA Republicans don’t have a clue about the power of women. Let me tell you something, they are about to find out,” said Biden.

Read more: Democrats Sense New Optimism for Blunting GOP’s Midterm Gains

But the president remains unpopular, raising questions about his political value to Democrats in November. Just over 41% of Americans approve of his job performance, according to a FiveThirtyEight polling analysis. That’s up, however, from his 37.5% approval rating in July.

Biden cited bipartisan infrastructure, gun safety and domestic chip manufacturing laws, along with the landmark health, tax and climate measure that passed along party lines, as proof that Democrats can deliver for Americans even with narrow margins in Congress.

“In 18 months, Covid no longer controls our lives. A record number of Americans are working — 10 million since I came to office. Businesses are growing. Our schools are open,” he said. “It took a lot of hard work, took a plan that we stuck to even in the face of unrelenting attacks from those powerful special interests in the country.”

He drew a contrast with Republicans by painting them as extreme and beholden to former President Donald Trump.

“In 2020, you and 81 million Americans voted to save our democracy. That’s why Donald Trump isn’t just a former president, he is a defeated former president. And this is not hyperbole now: You need to vote to literally save democracy again,” said Biden. “Trump and the extreme MAGA Republicans have made their choice to go backwards, full of anger, violence, hate and division, but we’ve chosen a different path — forward.”

Read More: Biden, Democrats Get a Rare Chance to Crow Heading Into Midterms

Earlier this summer, Republicans appeared poised for landslide victories in November as inflation reached a four-decade high and Biden’s agenda stalled in Congress. But last month’s inflation report showed a leveling off of the increase in consumer prices as well as a continued drop in gas prices.

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report this week projected Republicans would pick up 10-20 seats in the House, while not ruling out the possibility that Democrats keep control of the chamber. That’s down from a 20-35 seat gain for Republicans that the outlet estimated in May. Cook rates Senate control as a toss-up, citing under-performing GOP candidates.

Biden fulfilled a campaign pledge Wednesday with his decision to forgive as much as $20,000 of student-loan debt for Americans making less than $125,000 per year. Democrats contend the move could motivate minorities and young voters to turn out in November.

“Thanks to our historic deficit reduction, we can afford to cancel $10,000 in student debt and $20,000 if you’re on a Pell Grant, for tens of millions Americans,” said Biden, calling it a “game changer.”

Republicans have criticized Biden’s student-loan initiative, as well as his health, tax and climate law as financially reckless and potentially inflationary.

“As hardworking Americans struggle with soaring costs and a recession, Biden is giving a handout to the rich,” the Republican National Committee said in a statement Wednesday.

The White House responded on Twitter by highlighting Republican members of Congress who had Paycheck Protection Program loans forgiven, including Florida Representative Matt Gaetz and Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Biden, in turn, has labeled Republicans who have supported conservative policies on abortion and entitlement programs as well as Trump’s false claims about fraud in the 2020 election as members of the “ultra MAGA” party, a riff on Trump’s Make America Great Again slogan.

Read more: Biden Compares Trump’s MAGA Ideology to ‘Semi-Fascism’

Democrats were heartened Tuesday, when Democrat Pat Ryan won a race to fill an open House seat in a New York swing district that Republicans would have likely won in a wave-election year. Ryan campaigned on enacting nationwide abortion protections, while his Republican opponent Marc Molinaro said the issue should be left to the states.

Still, Biden hasn’t been a major draw for Democrats running in competitive races. Senate candidates running in purple or red states — including Georgia’s Raphael Warnock and Ohio’s Tim Ryan — have distanced themselves from the president. Ohio Democratic Representative Marcy Kaptur, who is in a tough re-election race, criticized Biden in a campaign ad just weeks after appearing with him in Cleveland.

Biden at Thursday’s rally praised Maryland’s two Democratic senators, Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin.

Biden joked that he told Van Hollen, “I’ll come campaign for him or against him, whichever will help the most.”

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