President Joe Biden returned from Europe on Wednesday with a wake-up call for warring Democrats to delay his sweeping internal reforms in Congress – after a humiliating electoral defeat in the state that many have blamed on inertia and infighting between party lawmakers.
“I know people want us to get things done,” he told reporters as he asked for his opinion on longtime frontrunner Terry McAuliffe’s loss to a Republican newcomer in the gubernatorial election. of Virginia on Tuesday.
“And that is why I continue to press very hard for the Democratic Party to move forward and pass my infrastructure bill and my Build Back Better bill.”
Amid plummeting approval ratings and frustration over his stalled economic program, Biden returned home with a Republican red wave that swept through the eastern United States on Tuesday, from Virginia Beach to Long Island and beyond.
Republicans pulled off a landmark shake-up in the gubernatorial election in otherwise blue-leaning Virginia, with untested multimillionaire Glenn Youngkin defeating McAuliffe, while Democratic governor of New Jersey was narrowly re-elected.
There have also been Republican gains across New York City and a conservative backlash to a Liberal proposal in Minneapolis – the city where George Floyd was murdered by police – to dismantle the local force.
Hours before the polls closed, Biden had expressed confidence in the votes in Virginia and New Jersey, rejecting anyway suggestions that it was a verdict on his presidency.
When asked several times on Wednesday whether he took responsibility for the bloodshed in local elections, he avoided responding directly.
But he told reporters at the White House: “People are upset and unsure about a lot of things – from Covid to school, to jobs, to a whole range of things and the cost of a gallon. of gasoline.
“And so, if I’m able to sign my Build Back Better initiative into law, I’m in a position where you’re going to see a lot of these things improve quickly and quickly. So it needs to be done.”
Biden, who campaigned as a centrist but ruled on the left, faces a thorny path to the November 2022 midterm elections as he plays the role of peacemaker between increasingly polarized Democratic factions that he failed to bring together.
The president proposed bold climate action in Glasgow this weekend, but the lack of tangible progress in Washington on its environmental goals spilled over to the COP26 summit, underscoring the damage inflicted on its agenda by months infighting.
Amid a record-breaking turnout, Youngkin crushed McAuliffe’s comeback by capitalizing on parents’ fears over a public school curriculum they consider too liberal and growing frustration with Biden, who swept the state by 10 points he only a year ago.
Democrats have privately warned for weeks that a loss of McAuliffe could scare already cautious moderates over the scale of Biden’s $ 3 trillion two-pronged plan to transform infrastructure and expand the social safety net .
While Biden’s press conference may prompt grassroots lawmakers to deal more urgently with reviewing his priorities, it is far from clear that they are united on what lessons they should learn from setbacks. Tuesday.
West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, a centrist holdout over much of Biden’s agenda, on Wednesday called for a handbrake on spending negotiations so lawmakers can “take the time and do the right things.” things”.
But progressives came to the opposite conclusion, arguing Virginia was lost by middle-of-the-road Democrats blocking child care, prescription drug reform and paid family leave provisions of the Build Back Better welfare program. by Biden.
“Terry McAuliffe has been saying for weeks that his fate was tied to the progress of negotiations here on Capitol Hill,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin told reporters, echoing Biden.
“And there should be a clear message to my party and all those who support it to get the job done.”
In reality, Congress had nothing to do with perhaps the most damaging blunder in McAuliffe’s campaign, when he said in a Sept. 29 debate with Youngkin: “I don’t think parents should tell schools what they should be teaching. “
The remark became a rallying cry for conservatives who were bitter about mask mandates in schools and misled by the Republican false notion that their children were being taught “critical race theory”.
Peter Loge, professor of public affairs at George Washington University, offered a crumb of consolation to those who feared the party’s death, pointing out that the election of the governor of Virginia is almost always the first opportunity for voters to club the party of the new president.
“What I think the White House needs to do now is go to the Congressional Democrats and other Democrats across the country and tell them, look, here are the details of the votes,” Loge said.
“Here’s what voters were telling us… Let’s focus on what matters – and it’s families, it’s schools, it’s jobs, it’s inflation.”
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