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Wake Up To Politics - April 12, 2022

Wake Up To Politics: Democratic fears set in
Wake Up To Politics - April 12, 2022

by Gabe Fleisher

Good morning! It’s Tuesday, April 12, 2022. Election Day 2022 is 210 days away. Election Day 2024 is 938 days away.

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Democratic midterm fears set in

We’re now less than seven months away from the 2022 midterm elections, the first major electoral test of the Biden presidency.

Midterm elections are nearly always bruising for the president’s party, a trend broken only twice in the modern era: in 1998, during an impeachment fight, and 2002, in the wake of 9/11.

There was a time when some Democrats thought the extraordinary conditions of this election year — taking place in the wake of a pandemic, an attack on the Capitol, and a land war in Europe — might be enough for their party to break with the historical norm.

But polls suggest otherwise: Republicans claim a 2.9 percentage point lead in generic polling of the 2022 congressional vote, while polls routinely find the GOP much more enthusiastic about the midterms than Democrats.

An ABC News/Ipsos poll released on Sunday, for example, found that 55% of Republicans are “very enthusiastic” about voting in November. Only 35% of Democrats say the same — a hugely damaging disparity for the party.

Midterm races are also often pegged to presidential approval ratings: Democrats receive no better news there, as Biden’s average job approval hovers around 40%, right around the level of his historically unpopular predecessor.

This morning, a new piece of data offered a fresh blow to Democratic hopes.

The Labor Department published its latest Consumer Price Index, which shows that prices shot up 8.5% in March from a 12 months earlier — the biggest year-over-year increase since December 1981.

Republicans have already made Biden-era inflation a key talking point heading into the midterms, and this new report — the first to show the inflationary impact from the war in Ukraine — will only accelerate that messaging.

With polls showing that inflation is top-of-mind for many Americans, Democrats have struggled to counter that narrative and push focus onto the growing economy and falling unemployment rate. (For more on Biden’s efforts to stem price increases, see “Look ahead” for a new policy announcement coming today.)

With the midterm elections fast approaching, Democratic anxiety is beginning to rise. (Owen Yancher)

To help inform your thinking on the midterms, here’s a tour through some of the latest election coverage that’s caught my eye. Each from the last few days, these stories all represent a new wave of Republican confidence — and Democratic gloom — that has set in as November creeps closer.

1. “Democrats turn to their Gen Z whisperer as youth support wobbles” (Politico)

  • The upshot: Democrats are facing some of their lowest levels of support among young voters in recent memory, leaving the party scrambling to reach a key demographic that helped fuel their victories in 2018 and 2020.

2. “House GOP sets its sights on Biden country” (Axios)

  • The upshot: Republican outside groups are feeling so good about the midterms that they’re starting to target House districts once thought as safely Democratic. In a wave year, the thinking goes, even deep-blue seats could fall into GOP hands.

3. “Democrats are sleepwalking into a Senate disaster” (Slow Boring)

  • The upshot: Between their likely defeats in 2022 and a difficult map in 2024, Democrats could be locked out of the Senate majority for years to come if current electoral trends persist.

Policy brief

Rounding up the latest news in key policy areas, brought to you by WUTP’s team of contributors.

It’s Tuesday, so here’s Kirsten Shaw Mettler with the key education headlines you should know:

The White House has paused student loan repayments. The administration extended loan forgiveness through August 31 from its original May 1 deadline. This is the seventh time the forgiveness has been extended since the Trump administration instituted the policy in March 2020.

Last week, the Education Department also announced a plan to bring student borrowers out of default by waiving the traditional rehabilitation requirements.

Democrats and Republicans are both unhappy with the latest loan freeze. Democrats say that that the extension is too short, with Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) calling for an extension until 2023 and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) pushing for complete cancelation.

On the other side of the aisle, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) said that “another repayment freeze only begets unfairness that is inevitably leveled at both taxpayers and responsible borrowers alike."

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has called for the Biden administration to completely cancel student loans. (Ståle Grut)

Meanwhile, some universities are reinstating mask mandates due to the new Omicron subvariant. Cases have ticked up slightly nationally, with more notable increases in New York City and Washington D.C. Case counts are causing some schools — like American University, Columbia University, and Georgetown University — to backtrack and reinstate masking requirements.

Plus, book banning is on the rise. A recent analysis from PEN America found that between July 2021 and March 2022, books had been banned in 2,899 schools. The American Library Association (ALA) found 729 challenges to library, school, and university materials in 2021; in a typical year, they say they don’t get more than 500 challenges.

Look ahead

How your leaders in Washington are spending their time today. (All times Eastern)

Biden’s day: Receiving his daily intelligence briefing (10 am), traveling to Iowa (11:45 am), visiting an ethanol plant in Menlo (3:15 pm), making an announcement aimed at lowering gas prices (3:45 am), and returning to Washington (6:10 pm).

  • What Biden will announce: His administration is issuing an emergency waiver to allow E15 gasoline — a type of gas that’s made with 15% ethanol — to be sold nationwide this summer. According to the White House, E15 is generally about 10 cents cheaper per gallon than regular gasoline.
  • E15 is typically banned from being sold from June to September because it is believed to contribute to smog during the summertime. Biden will lift the ban as part of an effort to ease gas prices and to increase use of domestic (and not foreign) fuels — two goals that have gained urgency since the war in Ukraine began.

Harris’ day: Traveling to Philadelphia (10:35 am), delivering remarks at the Sheet Metal Workers Local 19 Training Center on the Biden administration’s “commitment to worker organizing and empowerment” (5 pm), returning to Washington (6 pm).

  • The VP will be joined in Philadelphia by Labor Secretary Marty Walsh. Per the Washington Post, Harris and Walsh have struck up an unlikely bond, each becoming the other’s closest friend in the administration — a relationship that has caught their allies by surprise.
Vice President Harris flashes a smile at Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, reportedly her closest friend in the Biden administration. (Lawrence Jackson / White House)

Also at the White House: Press secretary Jen Psaki will hold a press gaggle aboard Air Force One during the flight to Iowa.

On Congress’ agenda: Both chambers of Congress are on recess until April 25.

At the Supreme Court: The justices aren’t hearing any cases until April 18.

On the campaign trail: Former Vice President Mike Pence, a possible 2024 presidential contender, will speak at the University of Virginia as part of a nationwide tour of college campuses (7 pm).

  • The Pence event has sparked a fierce debate on the UVA campus about free speech at the university and who should be able to speak there, according to the Daily Progress, a local newspaper.

Links to watch for yourself: Biden speechPence speech

Before I go...

Usually, I use this space to share a lighter news story. The piece I’m sharing today isn’t necessarily light — but I found it to be powerful and worth reading, so I thought I would highlight it for you here.

The piece is an excerpt from the new memoir by Valerie Biden Owens (the president’s sister), which hits bookstores today.

In the excerpt, Owens describes what it was like telling her brother about the untimely deaths of his young wife and daughter. She powerfully recounts what those next weeks and months were like for the Biden family, and how they rallied together to pull back from the unimaginable.

Owens also revealed that Biden — who was just about to be sworn in as a senator — was this close to leaving politics in the wake of the tragedy. The future president, she writes, was almost a “small-town Vermont lawyer”: he even had a town picked out where he was planning to open his law practice.

You can read the book excerpt here, via Axios.

That’s it for today. If you enjoy Wake Up To Politics, it’s always appreciated if you donate to support the newsletter or buy some merch. Or if you tell your friends and family to sign up at wakeuptopolitics.com.

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Thanks for waking up to politics! Have a great day.

— Gabe