May 10

By Susan Milligan

For more than a year, President Joe Biden acted like former President Donald Trump didn’t exist. Biden wanted to move on and move past the drama and divisiveness of his predecessor’s term, instead laying out what he had hoped would be a return to bipartisan cooperation that would serve as a political salve to heal the nation’s wounds.

That hasn’t worked for the sitting president, whose low approval ratings threaten to make things even harder for Democratic members of Congress struggling to hang onto their seats in this fall’s midterm elections.

In the last week, Biden has pivoted back to an us-or-them message, telling voters anxious about their pocketbooks that things would be dramatically worse if Republicans took back control of the House and Senate.

“I know you’ve got to be frustrated” about 8.5% year-on-year inflation, escalating gas prices and gridlock in Washington, Biden said in remarks at the White House. “I know, I know. I can taste it. … Believe me, I understand the frustration,” said Biden, calling the fight against inflation his “top domestic priority.”

“But congressional Republicans – not all of them, but the MAGA Republicans – are counting on you to be as frustrated by the pace of progress, which they’ve done everything they can to slow down, that you’re going to hand over power to them, so they can enact their extreme agenda,” Biden said.

The president ticked off a side-by-side scenario of what would happen if Democrats retained their narrow majorities in Congress and what would happen if the GOP took over, as polling indicates they are favored to do.

Pointing to a campaign strategy memo by National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, Biden warned that popular programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid would be imperiled. Scott’s plan calls for all federal programs to be subject to renewal every five years.

Even if Republicans didn’t kill off the programs created by Democratic presidents under the New Deal and the Great Society plans, “you know what they’re likely to do,” Biden warned. “Use them as hostages every few years to get their way on other things.”

Democrats have increasingly brought up the Scott memo, which also says all Americans should pay something in taxes – a proposal that would hike taxes on low-income Americans.

A Navigator poll released earlier this month found that voters’ views of Democrats’ approach to the economy and inflation improved once they were told about Scott’s proposal.

For example, with no information about Biden’s plan or Scott’s memo, 47% of voters said they trusted Republicans more to deal with inflation, compared to 38% who felt that way about Democrats. Once the respondents were told about the Scott plan, the numbers flipped, with Democrats trusted by 43% of voters and Republicans more trusted by 40% of voters.

Per tradition, Biden didn’t mention Trump by name, referring to him only as “my predecessor.” But the sitting president – who has been loath to make his presidency an ongoing battle between himself and the man he beat in 2020 – said Trump’s followers in Congress would take the country back to a Trump era if they win this fall.

“The bottom line is, Americans have a choice right now between two paths, reflecting two very different sets of values,” Biden said. “My plan attacks inflation and lowers the deficit. … The other path is the ultra MAGA plan.”

Biden touted his record on reducing the deficit and blamed inflation on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine and lingering supply chain issues from the pandemic.

Asked why he thought so many Americans think he has not done enough to control inflation, Biden said, “I don’t blame them. I really don’t blame them. There’s a lot we have to do. What I have to do is explain in simple, straightforward language, what’s going on.

“I think our policies help not hurt,” Biden added.

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