New Democratic strategy: Repackage the BBB and expect a different result

The public largely disapproves of Biden’s handling of the top issues

President Joe Biden, right, appearing here on Jan. 6, 2022, with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, center, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is in negative territory with the public on its top issues, David Winston writes.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
President Joe Biden, right, appearing here on Jan. 6, 2022, with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, center, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is in negative territory with the public on its top issues, David Winston writes. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted January 26, 2022 at 6:00am

What’s worse than seeing sausage being made? Watching Democratic leaders lurch from issue to issue trying to reinvent a winning legislative strategy in the Washington equivalent of a Macy’s window. It’s not pretty. 

Anyone who doubts that assertion need only listen one more time to President Joe Biden’s destructive and divisive “voting rights” speech, the tone of which was so vitriolic that even some Democrats felt the need to disavow it. But it appears the White House and Democratic Hill leaders have only one play in their playbook.

No compromise. No unity. No centrist approach to governing despite an almost evenly divided Congress and country.  

For the past 12 months, Biden’s Washington has become “curious and curiouser,” to quote Alice, a wonderland of missteps, miscues, misinformation and what is increasingly being seen as an inability to govern.

But it isn’t entirely his fault. Biden does seem to be in a perpetual state of denial when it comes to his sinking presidency. He is saddled with Democratic congressional leaders in disarray and disagreements and a White House staff pushing him to ideological extremes. 

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is intent on passing progressive legislation, out of touch with many Americans, and calling it a win, while Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer’s strategy seems to entail moving legislation the New York Democrat knows will fail and thinking that’s progress or at least just part of the process.  

Meanwhile, White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain appears to be in charge as he stirs controversy with his penchant for tweets, while giving assurances to Democratic operatives that their progressive agenda is intact, as the New York Post put it, “even if the president doesn’t know about it fully yet.”

Rather than acknowledging the failure of almost every Democrat-generated policy over the past year, particularly Build Back Better, Biden and company ought to own up to the fact that the president’s focus on issues like climate change, voting rights and increased spending on social programs may be very important to his base, but he’s on the wrong topics with this agenda. 

These are simply not the top priorities of the American people, who have waited now for more than a year for Democrats to do something, anything, about inflation, gas prices, crime, the pandemic and education.

But despite months of legislative gridlock and failure, Biden still refuses to accept what voters were telling him and leaders of both parties last November.  Simply put: They said to focus on what we care about.

Biden has made many mistakes, but none more costly than underestimating the staying power and principle of Sens. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.  The hard truth this White House and its supporters on Capitol Hill need to accept is the fact that Manchin and Sinema won the national policy debate on BBB because they are more in tune with American sentiment than their Democratic colleagues.  

After BBB went down in flames, that would have been the time to step back and reassess the efficacy of their strategy to pass a hard-left Democratic agenda in an evenly divided Congress. But they didn’t.  

Instead of hunkering down and doing the hard work of finding compromise within their party and with Republicans, Schumer and Pelosi doubled down by pushing election “reform” bills that most people, other than progressive elites, saw for what they were —– a cynical federal takeover of elections designed to benefit the Democratic Party. 

Ignoring the polls, Biden jumped on the voting rights bandwagon with his now infamous Atlanta speech, which Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who has made voting rights her signature issue, couldn’t find the time for.  When he asserted that you were either with him on the voting rights legislation or on the side of George Wallace, Bull Connor and Jefferson Davis, he crossed a line.

This was the president who told his staff on day one, “Everybody is entitled to be treated with decency and dignity.” Tell that to Republicans and the growing list of reporters who have been on the receiving end of Biden’s temper when confronted with a tough question. 

In last week’s news conference, the second of his presidency, Biden again argued for passage of the Democrats’ voting rights legislation and seemed to suggest that if the voting rights bills did not pass, the legitimacy of the 2022 congressional elections might be in question. It was wrong when Donald Trump asserted such things and equally wrong for this president.  

If we learned anything from that two-hour presser, it is that sometimes less really is more. 

Still, as his numbers continue to dip, Biden clings to what has now become an increasingly unpopular progressive crusade, telling reporters, “It has to be acknowledged that we made enormous progress.”

But that’s not what the polls say. Biden was elected to fix two major problems: the pandemic and the economy. Two recent polls, Fox News and NBC News, showed the president has not stopped his slide of the past few months. Both news operations asked people whether they approved or disapproved of Biden’s handling of the pandemic and the economy. 

In the Fox poll, conducted Jan. 16-19, 46 percent approved and 52 percent disapproved on the pandemic; on his handling of the economy, it was 41 percent approve, 58 percent disapprove.

NBC’s results, in a survey taken Jan. 14-18, were similar. On the pandemic, it was 44 percent approve, 53 percent disapprove. And on the economy, which survey participants ranked as their overall No. 1 issue, it was 38 percent approve, 60 percent disapprove. 

The last few weeks have been nothing short of disastrous for Biden. A good first step might be to stop telling people what a great job you’re doing as the pandemic rages, inflation is blowing up family budgets, gas prices are rising and so is violent crime across the country. 

So far, it doesn’t look like either the White House or Democratic Hill leaders have learned much from 12 months of very public infighting that has delivered only bitterness and resentment and not much to run on this fall. Their new strategy seems to be centered on breaking up BBB, repackaging it, renaming it, relaunching it piece by piece and expecting a different outcome.  

But the electorate will recognize it for what it is — again.