Top Senate Democrats are sounding the alarm on their party’s future on Thursday, less than nine months before Americans head to the polls in November to decide who controls Congress.
Montana Senator Jon Tester warned the rest of his caucus that large swaths of rural and middle America see Democrats in a ‘toxic’ light.
Meanwhile, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders conceded on Wednesday night that Democrats are not doing a good job ‘caring to the needs of the American people.’
In a statement reacting to the U.S. inflation rate hitting a 40-year high on Thursday, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin also tore into the Biden administration and his colleagues’ spending priorities.
Tester, Sanders and Manchin are all up for re-election in 2024.
What separates the trio from much of the rest of their Democratic colleagues is their appeal to a section of America that’s long felt abandoned by liberal politicians. Vermont, Montana and West Virginia are three of the most rural states in the country.
While Vermont has become reliably blue for much of the 21st century, both Montana and West Virginia were won handily by former President Donald Trump in 2020.
Tester, hailing from a state that President Joe Biden lost to Trump by more than 15 points, suggested to CNN’s David Axelrod that Democrats could be doomed in the midterms if they don’t start ‘appealing’ to states like his.
‘I honestly don’t think the Democratic Party can be a majority party unless we start appealing to Middle America a lot more. I’m talking about the area between the two mountain ranges, the Appalachians and the Rocky Mountains. And if we’re able to do that, I think it will provide success,’ Tester said on Axelrod’s podcast.
Asked how his fellow Montanans feel about the Democratic Party, he said: ‘It’s toxic.’
‘The national Democratic brand in, I think in rural America generally, is toxic, and it’s because, quite frankly, we don’t show up. I’m talking about national Democrats,’ Tester explained.
He criticized Democrat leaders in Washington, DC for not being ‘willing to go places we’re not wanted and answer questions.’
‘I think it’s critically important if you’re going to win, you’ve got to go to those places, as miserable as it might be, you still go.’
Biden’s party is desperately looking for ways to retain their razor-thin Congressional majority, fighting past low approval ratings for Democratic leadership including the president himself, and a public appearance of constant inter-party squabble.
One victory they’ll be able to tout to voters is Biden’s $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal, a historic and badly-needed agreement to fix America’s crumbling roads and bridges among other upgrades.
Inflation hit a 40-year high of 7.5 percent, the Labor Department announced Thursday, a figure not seen since the Carter administration. Manchin said the spike was proof that federal lawmakers need to rein in their spending efforts, in an indirect swipe at his fellow Democrats
However, Democrats hoped to end the year also passing the progressive-backed $1.75 trillion social reform and climate change bill known as Build Back Better, as well as federal voting rights legislation. Both efforts were killed by opposition from moderates in their party.
Sanders, a Democratic socialist who backed both doomed bills, highlighted the lack of progress in remarks to reporters.
‘I think people are very impatient and not happy with where we are right now,’ the Vermont Independent said.
‘We started off with a strong agenda that was very popular, and people responded to the president’s leadership. What we’re doing here in Congress, I think, it’s no great secret that for five months, with the exception of the infrastructure, we have not been addressing the needs of the American people.’
In a split that’s emblematic of the greater party divide, West Virginia Senator Manchin said it was precisely those attempts at government spending that’s put Democrats in their precarious position.
A deeply red state, Trump carried West Virginia by nearly 40 points in 2020.
Manchin’s opposition to Build Back Better after months of negotiations effectively shelved the package, which was a promised cornerstone of Biden’s agenda. He also objected to scuttling the filibuster in order to pass voting rights legislation — both bills needed to have the support of all 50 Senate Democrats to stand against uniform Republican opposition to pass.
He said in December last year that rising inflation was his primary concern about passing Build Back Better.
Now, after consumer prices went up for the sixth consecutive month in January for a year-over rise of 7.5 percent, Manchin again called on his party to curb their spending habits.
‘Congress and the Administration must proceed with caution before adding more fuel to an economy already on fire. As inflation and our $30 trillion in national debt continue a historic climb, only in Washington, DC do people seem to think that spending trillions more of taxpayers’ money will cure our problems, let alone inflation,’ Manchin said.
Meanwhile President Joe Biden’s own low approval ratings threaten to sink Democrats’ chances of keeping control of Congress
‘We must get serious about the finances of our country. It’s time we start acting like stewards of our economy and the money the American people entrust their government with.’
As Democrats debate how to course-correct, a new poll released on Thursday shows Biden’s approval rating slipped more than 10 points from September — a bad sign for an election that’s widely seen as a referendum on the party in power.
His latest approval is just 41 percent, while disapproval of his job as president is at 58 percent, according to a new CNN poll.
Voters also don’t appear to have much confidence that anything will get done this year — just 15 percent of respondents said they have faith in Biden and Congress working together effectively.
And according to FiveThirtyEight‘s Congressional polling tracker, which averages ratings from multiple polls, Republicans are the current favorite to take control in 2022.
About 44.5 percent of Americans said they want Republicans in Congress on a generic ballot, while 42.6 percent favored Democrats.