WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden is signaling a shift in the center during the election year, adopting a strategy that hopes to protect the fragile Democratic majorities in Congress. But he risks being revolted by key voices in his party’s growing coalition.
In his first address on the state of the Union on Tuesday night, the Democrat president embraced Republican calls for strengthening the nation’s southern border and made little mention of climate change. He silenced concerns about the right to vote and spent little time announcing his historic decision to nominate the first black woman to serve on the Supreme Court. On domestic issues, he was perhaps most outspoken in denying pressure from some Black Lives Matter activists to “free up police funds.”
The calculated messages in one of Biden’s young presidency’s most important speeches marked a clear effort to reset the political climate for Democrats. Polls show the party is losing support from almost all demographics at the start of the 2022 campaign. But Biden’s efforts to stabilize the party could repel the coalition of blacks, young people, progressives and independents who secured him the presidency in 2020. , and will be needed again this year.
His address intensified the party’s debate over how best to proceed this year, with many veteran MPs embracing Biden’s tone, while younger, more progressive critics on the left warned that he was not contacting the most loyal voters. democrats.
There was particular disappointment with Biden’s statement that the national police needed more funding, seen by some as a deafening overture to white voters at the expense of millions of black Americans still waiting for the president to implement promised police reforms nearly two years after George’s assassination. Floyd.
“Our party is often targeting white moderates, we are targeting white independents. And I understand, right. These are the voters and we want to take them. But we continue to underestimate blacks and browns, “said DNY spokesman Jamal Bowman. “I liked 95% of the speech, maybe even 97%, but he missed the opportunity to attract more black voters and more colored voters.”
Beyond Washington, Melina Abdullah, the mass director of Black Lives Matter, was more outspoken in her criticism. Hitting those on the left who want to “release” funds from the police, Biden called for funding three times, while Democrats and Republicans applauded.
“It is appalling that he will say it, that he will repeat it and that he will say it in such abundance,” Abdullah said, warning of dire political consequences. “They think we have no choice. We may not vote for Republicans, but we will stay at home. And that’s something Democrats can’t afford to happen. “
For now, the White House says Democrats can make more money by siding with voters who are worried about rising crime rates in the nation than those focused on police brutality. And public opinion polls show that a significant proportion of black voters support increased funding for law enforcement.
A third-place Democrat in the House of Representatives, James Clayburn of South Carolina, a member of the black group in Congress, defended Biden’s arrival at the center.
“I think he knows what the country needs and outlines exactly what we need to do to get the country back together,” Clayburn said.
House Majority leader Stenny Hoyer, MD, praised Biden’s explicit opposition to calls for police release: “I think he is speaking on behalf of all of us,” Hoyer said.
“He was trying to dispel the false scenario that the Republicans were trying to create, as several of our 223 or 4 members said they were for police deprivation,” he added. “Democrats are not in favor of depriving the police.”
But some of the most prominent progressives in Congress have insisted that Biden does not speak on their behalf when it comes to the police.
“I’m not going to change my feelings,” spokeswoman Corey Bush told D-Mo on Wednesday. “I will not stop saying to release the police at all.”
Only 34% of Americans say the things Biden did in office are good for Americans, according to a February AP-NORC survey. Almost as many – 29% – say it was bad for black Americans. Another 36% say it was neither good nor bad.
This is a drop from the first few months of his presidency, when 50% said in a poll in late April and early May that the things he was doing were good for black Americans.
With the start of the interim campaign, such tensions in the Democratic Party are unlikely to ease. In a potential preview of what lies ahead, nine-term Texas incumbent Henry Cuelar failed to break the 50 percent threshold in the Democratic primary on Tuesday and will face progressive candidate Jessica Cisneros in the May run-off.
Despite the energetic progressive wing, Democrat sociologist Jeff Pollock suggested Biden’s focus on the center was smart politics.
“The data shows that if there is a softening in Biden’s numbers, it comes from the middle: centrist republicans, centrist democrats, independents who are in the middle,” he said. “And they are also the ones who accidentally wave the election, including the interim terms.”
“If Joe Biden is aiming for the center, that’s what I’m for,” Pollock added.
Even under the best of conditions, history suggests that Biden’s party is likely to lose its majority in the House and Senate in November. If the Democratic Party cannot unite its disparate factions, the losses could be staggering.
And even as Democrat strategists applauded Biden, younger African Americans and progressive activists said his strategy made them feel angry and alienated.
John Paul Mehia, a spokesman for the Sunrise Movement, a national youth organization focused on climate change, criticized Biden for largely ignoring the issue and other priorities for young people, including student loan debt.
“Biden must have some respect for the people and the problems that brought him to power,” he said.
And like other activists, Paul Mehia said he was most concerned about Biden’s call to fund the police. He called it “absolutely disgusting.”
“I understand the tactics of sending messages there,” he said. “But I don’t think Biden should nail the backs of many organizers and activists who took part in the uprisings over the summer and directed him to the post.”
People reported from New York. Associated Press writer Hannah Fingerhat contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to reflect that the name of a national youth organization focused on climate change is the Sunrise Movement, not the Sunrise Foundation.
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