WASHINGTON — When President Joe Biden hit the road this week, seeking to bring attention back to his domestic policy efforts, the focus was on the economy — and no mention of his more progressive points were on the agenda. of the day.
Biden made stops in Iowa and North Carolina, his first domestic trip in more than a month, with just over six months until the midterm elections. The president plans to visit Oregon and Washington next week as other senior officials make hops to 25 states over the next three weeks, with a particular focus on rural communities.
As Biden ramps up his travels again, his message has increasingly focused on promoting the work his administration is doing to try to bring down prices amid record inflation and blaming the economy. Russian invasion of Ukraine. Voters said inflation was a top concern, and only a third approved of Biden’s handling of the economy in an NBC poll in March.
“I’m doing everything in my power, by fiat, to bring prices down and deal with Putin’s price hike,” Biden said at an event in Iowa promoting the use of ethanol next to a large pile of cornmeal and signs that read “lower costs for families.
But Biden’s remarks have recently faded from major Democratic grassroots issues, including immigration, student debt and voting rights. White House officials have acknowledged they are unlikely to pass any major legislative policies this year, given divisions not only between Democrats and Republicans, but also within the president’s own party.
Instead, the White House has focused on smaller efforts, such as funding Covid and passing a bill to support the semiconductor industry, at the center of this journey. week in North Carolina.
Biden has also leaned more towards executive actions, signing an executive order last week on health insurance, signing an emergency waiver on ethanol this week during a trip to Iowa allowing its sale during the summer months and using the Defense Production Act to increase production of batteries used in electric vehicles.
Cabinet-level officials have also traveled across the country to promote the infrastructure act, an area that Democratic strategists see as a selling point with voters ahead of the midterm elections. Officials plan to focus on promoting the law in rural communities, which have struggled in the past to secure federal funding for infrastructure projects.
In Washington, the White House has held high-profile events to promote relatively incremental advances. Earlier in the week, Biden hosted a gun control event at the Rose Garden where he promoted the finalization of a rule change on privately assembled guns he announced a year earlier. at a similar event.
Unable to pass legislation that would cap drug prices, Biden hosted a celebratory White House event with former President Barack Obama talking about the Affordable Care Act and an executive order he was signing that would make more families eligible for health insurance subsidies.
The efforts come as Biden’s overall jobs approval rating fell to 40%, the lowest of his presidency, in a March 27 national NBC News poll. The survey also found Republicans enjoy a 2-point lead on which party should control Congress ahead of November’s midterm elections.
In the poll, only a third of respondents said they approved of Biden’s handling of the economy.
But on some of the top priorities for progressives, there has been little action from the White House. Democratic strategists say it could hurt Democrats in November if their supporters continue to believe their core issues are unresolved.
“There’s been a lot of disappointment,” said a Democratic strategist who works closely with progressive groups. “There’s a lot of apathy, I think the right to vote is kind of what broke the will.”
Biden hasn’t said much about the right to vote since January, when he came under heavy pressure from civil rights groups to do more ahead of Martin Luther King Day. During his State of the Union address, he made only a passing reference to legislation that would restore and strengthen parts of the Voting Rights Act.
Even climate change, which Biden pushed hard early in his administration, seemed to take a back seat amid high gas prices. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine led to a price spike, Biden has called for more oil drilling by oil companies, including on public land.
During a trip to an ethanol plant in Iowa on Tuesday, Biden signed an emergency waiver that will allow the sale of an ethanol gas blend during the summer months that he says could reduce gas prices by 10 cents.
Environmental groups criticized the action and said the move could harm air quality. They also cited evidence that increasing corn production for ethanol could increase greenhouse gas emissions and a study published in February said ethanol could be worse for the climate than ethanol. essence.
One progressive priority the White House has suggested it may take action on soon is police reform. After bipartisan efforts to pass legislation in Congress failed last year, the White House considered an executive order Biden could sign on the issue, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said this week. .
But when Biden makes a swing on the West Coast next week — in Oregon, where he plans to talk about his infrastructure law, and in Washington, where the focus will be on efforts to bring prices down — he will seek to put the spotlight back on the economy, with mid-term reviews just six months away.