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The leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus is sounding the alarm that the Democratic base might not turn out this November unless Democrats can notch more policy wins.
Chair Pramila Jayapal, who’s already hit the campaign trail to help candidates in Texas, said in an interview that voters are disheartened with Democrats’ failure to pass major legislation on voting rights and the broad-ranging social policy and tax plan, Build Back Better.
Motivating the base is a significant reason why the progressive caucus on Thursday unveiled 55 executive action requests for the White House to address issues such as health care costs and climate change. It’s part of a bid to assure core Democratic voters that the party can deliver on their priorities.
“Show us that you care about us as the base,” the Washington state Democrat said. “That’s why I think the executive actions are really important.”
The slate of requests includes eight policy areas in all, including immigration, student loan debt, and labor.
Lawmakers say they haven’t abandoned their push to pass legislation on lowering drug prices or addressing climate change, but there’s been no momentum since December when Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) effectively killed Build Back Better. The House is now focused on a number of other issues, including responding to the war in Ukraine, additional Covid-19 aid, and a bill to boost U.S.-China competition.
Democrats face challenging electoral circumstances: President Joe Biden’s low approval rating, a five-seat majority, and the historical precedent that the party in the White House almost always loses seats in midterm elections.
They have numerous vulnerable districts to defend, including some that might not be targets for Republicans in a more favorable political environment. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has added several lawmakers to its Frontline program who represent districts Biden carried by more than 5 percentage points.
To win them, Democrats need to appeal to both swing voters and their base, said Ian Russell, a Democratic consultant and former DCCC deputy executive director. Lawmakers, he said, need to deliver on “real tangible promises that we made in the last election.”
“We have to give the voters who put Democrats in office a reason to renew their subscription, and that includes both the diverse base of the Democratic Party and the swing voters who had enough of Trump and his drama,” Russell said.
Getting Things Done
Jayapal said the party’s base sometimes “feels like they’re taken for granted,” and that could lead to them staying home in November. That, she hopes, will be avoided if the White House takes up the executive action agenda proposed by the 98-member progressive caucus.
While laws typically have more staying power than executive orders and actions, that doesn’t matter as much to voters, said Molly Murphy, president of Impact Research, a Democratic polling firmly formerly named ALG Research.
“If you like the policy, it kind of doesn’t matter how it gets done,” she said.
So far, concerns that a lack of legislation will depress Democratic voter turnout aren’t showing up in the data, said Murphy. The group’s polling indicates Democrats are as motivated as Republicans to head to the polls.
Murphy said that doesn’t mean the frustration isn’t real, and voters’ perceptions of congressional productivity is a “mixed bag.” The Covid-19 economic relief package (Public Law 117-2) and the broad infrastructure law (Public Law 117-58) are generally viewed positively, but voters “notice other things are taking either longer than expected or potentially not happening.”
Camille Rivera, a strategist with progressive consulting firm New Deal Strategies, said moving on key priorities through executive orders is “good strategy,” but Democrats have “done a relatively poor job in communicating all the things that we’ve been fighting for.”
“We can make as many wins as possible,” Rivera said. “But if we’re not communicating those wins, people aren’t going to believe it’s us delivering them.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Wilkins in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org