Democrats fear that if the pandemic or the situation in Afghanistan continues to worsen, their party may lose the confidence of the moderate swing voters who lifted it to victory in 2020.
With President Biden facing a political crisis that has shaken his standing in his party, Democrats across the country are increasingly worried about their ability to maintain power in Washington, as his administration struggles to defend its chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and stanch a resurgent pandemic that appeared to be waning only weeks ago.
While Americans watched devastating scenes of mayhem at the Kabul airport and ascendant Taliban forces last week, the steady drumbeat of bipartisan criticism left many Democrats frustrated and dismayed at a White House they viewed as having fumbled the end of the country’s longest war on multiple fronts.
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers announced congressional investigations into the administration’s handling of the withdrawal, as a handful of Democratic lawmakers weighed whether calling for the resignation of Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, would help the president “reset the narrative,” according to a Democratic House member, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The harrowing images appalled even the president’s staunchest supporters, many of whom — like a majority of the American public — support the decision to remove American troops from Afghanistan. But some of them worry the execution of the withdrawal has undermined Mr. Biden’s central campaign promise to restore a steady hand to governance, particularly on issues of national security.
Interviews with more than 40 Democrats, lawmakers, strategists and party officials show a White House at a pivot point. If the virus continues to worsen or the situation in Afghanistan deteriorates further, many of the president’s allies fear he will lose the confidence of the moderate swing voters who lifted his party to victory in 2020. Already, Democrats in battleground districts have been sounding alarms that the party needs to become more aggressive with their messaging, particularly on the economy and the efforts to combat the surge in coronavirus cases fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant.
There are plenty of other reasons for Democrats to be worried: Historically, the president’s party loses seats in the midterm elections and the Republican advantage in redistricting has only increased those odds.
For many establishment Democrats, the Taliban’s rapid seizure of Afghanistan was the first time during Mr. Biden’s administration that they found themselves creating any daylight between themselves and the president.
“I consider Afghanistan a bone-headed mistake, unforced error,” said David Walters, a former Oklahoma governor who is now a member of the Democratic National Committee’s executive committee. “There is no real excuse. This was morally and politically a disaster and just bad policy.”
Yet, so far, most of the party has walked a fine line between expressing dismay at the current situation while not publicly denouncing the White House’s role in it.
“Afghanistan definitely has entered the conversation in a big way. We’ve done six or seven town halls in the last week and Afghanistan has come up in all of them,” said State Senator Jeff Jackson of North Carolina, an Army veteran who fought in Kandahar and is now running for the U.S. Senate. “It’s pretty clear there are concerns. They’ve seen the images we’ve all seen.”
Still, when asked about the administration’s responsibility for the evacuation of Afghans who risked their lives to support U.S. troops, Mr. Jackson offered a tempered critique.
“It should have been a much higher priority for the current administration,” he said.
On a conference call on Friday organized by the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, four House members who served in the military — two Democrats and two Republicans — tried to tamp down the political recriminations, but their frustrations peeked through. Representative Kai Kahele, Democrat of Hawaii, acknowledged that the “optics” could not “get any worse than an entire airfield of Afghans running around a taxiing C-17, having that aircraft take off and have Afghans fall to their deaths.”
Whether that kind of restraint will hold remains a major question for the White House. Administration officials believe that the public remains on their side, with polling showing firm support for the withdrawal, and that any political fallout from the current crisis will fade long before the midterm elections. But Republicans are salivating over what they see as an opportunity to push a broader narrative of a weak and incompetent White House, furthering the caricature of Mr. Biden as a bystander in his own administration.
“Democrats are universally satisfied with their president. They think he’s kept his promises and they blame Republican obstruction for anything that he hasn’t gotten,” said Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster who recently consulted with the White House on its pandemic response. “That said, there’s a certain point when Democrats will begin to question whether he’s got the right stuff.”
Mr. Biden has offered a defiant defense of both his decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and his handling of the resurgence of the virus. After a campaign that promised bipartisan comity and a desire to extend a hand across the aisle, Mr. Biden has begun blaming Republican governors, some of whom have banned mask mandates in their states, for prolonging the pandemic and threatening the safe return to in-person schooling.
He has attributed the swift collapse of the government in Kabul and tumultuous scenes at the airport there to the refusal of Afghanistan’s military to fight in the face of the Taliban advance. On Friday, Mr. Biden offered his most extensive remarks about the situation in a news conference, a tacit acknowledgment by the administration that its earlier response had failed to assuage concerns.
“I made the decision,” he said, while acknowledging that the United States received conflicting information before the operation about how quickly Afghanistan’s government might fall. “I took the consensus opinion.”
Mr. Biden’s response was a sharp departure for a politician who spent decades stressing the importance of human rights while cultivating a folksy, feel-your-pain persona.
Meighan Stone, an expert on women’s rights and foreign policy with the Council on Foreign Relations, said Democratic women spent years hearing about the plight of Afghan women and many were disappointed in what they saw as Mr. Biden’s callous response in this moment of crisis.
“It’s been deeply disappointing to see the lack of empathy communicated,” said Ms. Stone, who also sits on the board of Indivisible, a national network of local liberal groups. “There’s a profound disconnect between President Biden’s remarks and the images women are seeing on TV and social media of Afghan women and girls in need.”
Strategists in both parties caution that the midterm elections are still more than a year away, leaving far from certain the long-term political effect of both the Delta variant and Afghanistan on Democrats’ narrow control of the Senate and House.
Understand the Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan
Who are the Taliban? The Taliban arose in 1994 amid the turmoil that came after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. They used brutal public punishments, including floggings, amputations and mass executions, to enforce their rules. Here’s more on their origin story and their record as rulers.
Yet, even before Afghanistan, there were signs of uneasiness among Democrats. Representatives Cheri Bustos of Illinois and Ron Kind of Wisconsin, two of the seven House Democrats representing districts President Donald J. Trump carried in 2020, are not seeking re-election. Mr. Kind’s announcement came this month, just weeks after Mr. Biden appeared with him at an event in his western Wisconsin district.
As Mr. Trump has faded from public view, Democrats have lost one of their party’s most powerful motivators. Unlike at the start of the Trump administration, when energized Democrats protested, organized and donated in droves, the early months of Mr. Biden’s term have not been marked by the same kind of political frenzy to advocate a progressive agenda.
Polling conducted last month by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee found generic Republicans ahead in areas approximating what are expected to be battleground districts, once new lines are drawn. Representative Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, the committee’s chairman, said Democrats needed to be more forceful in articulating their message of effective governance.
“What the research says is the most important thing is to tackle the tough problems that the country needs us to fix, to pass the president’s agenda and to stay together and make sure people know what we’re doing,” Mr. Maloney said.
Many Democrats, including Mr. Maloney, believe the election will largely be fought over a pandemic version of kitchen table issues: public health, school openings and household economics. They argue that their best chance of retaining power in Congress is by promoting accomplishments like the coronavirus relief bill, as well as passing bipartisan infrastructure legislation and an expansive $3.5 trillion social policy package.
“The core challenge the Democrats are facing is really on the delivery of a message that life is almost back to normal,” said Dan Sena, a Democratic strategist who oversaw the committee’s strategy to win the House in 2018.
Republicans see a totally different set of issues driving voters, mostly focused on cultural threats: security at the border, inflation, school curriculums and race. Painting Mr. Biden as incapable of responding to — or even recognizing — what Republicans describe as a dangerous new landscape is central to their argument.
Sarah Longwell, a moderate Republican strategist who backed Mr. Biden last year, conducts regular focus groups of voters who backed Mr. Trump in 2016 and then Mr. Biden in 2020. She has seen a shift in recent weeks from voters being optimistic about the Biden administration to sharing grievances about it, she said.
“There’s a narrative setting in among these types of voters who feel that he is governing too far left,” she said. “Some of the more basic competence things they were hoping for aren’t materializing as much as they’d like.”
The Democratic concerns come as Mr. Biden’s popularity has eroded. His average approval rating dipped below 50 percent last week for the first time since taking office, as views of his handling of the pandemic have grown more negative over the summer.
White House officials and allies believe the public blames Republicans for the resurgence in cases, citing polls that show vaccinated Americans pointing fingers at the unvaccinated for the spike.
Democrats in some of the hardest hit areas of the country disagree. “The reality is, you break it, you buy it,” said Samantha Hope Herring, a Democratic National Committee member from the Florida Panhandle. “President Biden has this pandemic in his hands and regardless of the cause of disinformation, he gets to own that.”
Jonathan Weisman contributed reporting.
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Texas politics takes over American politics – POLITICO
A strict new abortion law kicked off a huge national backlash. Thousands of Haitian migrants seeking asylum prompted mass deportations and scrutiny on Border Patrol policy. State officials announced four new reviews of the 2020 vote.
And that was just in September — and just in Texas.
The massive, Republican-controlled state has dominated the national political spotlight this year, driving increasingly conservative policies into the heart of big debates over everything from voting to public health initiatives, critical race theory and more. These legislative moves have positioned Texas as a counterweight to Democratic-dominated Washington — and a leader charting the potential course of the Republican Party nationally.
This year, the state was one of the first to reverse mask mandates and block local Covid-19 vaccine requirements. In the summer, Democratic state lawmakers fled Texas for a month to delay GOP voting legislation, which passed shortly after they returned. Laws that allowed carrying a gun without a permit, penalized reducing police budgets in large cities and limited discussion of systemic racism in classrooms went into effect on Sept. 1.
And other times, big events in Texas took center stage: A massive winter storm exposed the state’s weak energy infrastructure in February, and Texas’ southern border has been at the front of this month’s national news.
Even for a big state, Texas has seen an outsized amount of political attention as conservatives try to break new ground, expanding on decades of GOP control and a national political environment that tilts toward Republicans. Two more key trends are also behind the attention-grabbing policy drive: The Republican governor is preparing to face primary challengers in his 2022 reelection race and potential presidential run, while conflicts are mushrooming between diverse, liberal cities and the Republican-dominated state government — mirroring the same tensions animating national politics.
“You put all those things together, and I think there’s been basically no lane markers for Republicans in this session,” said James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project, which conducts public opinion polling in the state. “They’re very confident about the 2022 election given recent precedents and… a Democrat in the White House, so there have been no natural checks.”
Former President Donald Trump’s influence still looms large in the state’s politics — as seen in his open letter to GOP Gov. Greg Abbott last week. Trump demanded the state legislature pass House Bill 16, which would allow state officials to request an electoral audit for future elections as well as for 2020.
Despite Trump’s nearly 6-point win over Biden in Texas last year, the secretary of State’s office soon announced a “full and comprehensive forensic audit” of Collin, Dallas and Tarrant counties in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, as well as Houston’s Harris County. The release did not provide any details but said the agency expects the state legislature to fund the effort.
Former Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs, who previously called the 2020 election “smooth and secure,” resigned in May when the state Senate did not take up her nomination. The Texas secretary of State’s office is currently helmed by a former Abbott staffer on an interim basis.
In a Fox News Sunday interview, Abbott said election audits by the Texas secretary of State’s office already began “months ago.”
“There are audits of every aspect of government,” Abbott said when asked about the potential waste of taxpayer money. “Why do we audit everything in this world, but people raise their hands in concern when we audit elections, which is fundamental to our democracy?”
But the top executives in three of the four counties have called the move unnecessary: “It’s time to move on,” Republican Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley told the Texas Tribune.
After thousands of Haitian migrants fled to Del Rio this month, Abbott directed hundreds of state troopers and Texas National Guard members to create a “steel wall” with patrol vehicles to prevent more people from entering the country. The state has budgeted more than $3 billion over the next two years on border security, adding nearly $2 billion of that funding earlier this month.
“Because the Biden administration is refusing to do its duty to enforce the laws of the United States, they have left Texas in no position other than for us to step up and do what we have to do,” Abbott said of his decision to forcibly stop and imprison migrants this month.
“As much as these issues are in the national news, they’re very, very local,” said GOP state Rep. James White. The national attention after the recent border struggles, for example, could “move the discussion where we need it. … Maybe it moves [Biden] to really pick up his game.”
The past few months have also stirred up new engagement among Democrats, said Democratic state Rep. Ron Reynolds, one of the more than 50 lawmakers who walked out of the first special session in July to meet with federal lawmakers in Washington.
“All of these things play out, people really understand like, ‘Oh, this isn’t normal? You mean other states aren’t doing this?’” Reynolds said. “It helps lay people understand that this isn’t just politics, this isn’t normal.”
The scale of conservative policies has been a “game changer” for Democratic state Rep. Erin Zwiener’s constituents, she said. Legislation like Senate Bill 8, which allows virtually anyone to sue someone who had assisted with an abortion after six weeks, didn’t get as much fanfare during the regular legislative session this year because of the baseline confidence in Roe v. Wade.
Her district’s mix of suburban and rural constituents didn’t think they needed to vote on issues like those, Zwiener added. The onslaught of agenda items about gun control, voter rights and other Abbott priorities didn’t help, she said.
“It’s hard for anybody to decide what to pay attention to when there’s a new crisis every day,” the state representative said. “People just had a hard time keeping up with which thing they should be angry about that day.”
As for the governor’s seat, many in the state are still skeptical of the possibility of ousting Abbott, especially since assumed candidate Beto O’Rourke hasn’t even made an announcement yet. Reynolds said if O’Rourke maintains a centrist message, he could be in a good position to win over vulnerable moderates and independents that are increasingly disappointed in Abbott’s performance.
While some Democrats in the state are cautiously hopeful about a changing tide, Zwiener said it will take a much more concerted effort to prove Texas is more of a swing state than others assume.
“Democrats have been out-organized by Republicans, and we’re not going to start to win and win sustainably until we match them for that organizing and think beyond the next election,” Zwiener said.
Letter: Playing politics with the virus – Cowichan Valley Citizen
Playing politics with the virus
Have always been of the opinion that politicians worldwide chose to play politics with the COVID-19 virus instead of stopping it from spreading by closing their respective international borders. Either they learned nothing from the Spanish flu pandemic which spread worldwide via the soldiers returning from the First World War or they chose to ignore it?
It appears that these viruses have a definitive life cycle. The Spanish flu faded into oblivion after the forth wave. The P.H.O for B.C informed us that all pandemics have four waves. So if they knew how the COVID-19 virus would react, how many waves there would be etc. why did they not take steps to prevent it from arriving in Canada? Politics, is my opinion. How many elections have we had in Canada, called by political parties whose only ambition is extending their power base and time in office?
My cynicism and distrust of the motives for the handling of this virus were confirmed while reading the following.
Dame Sarah Gilbert, the lead scientist from Oxford University, and the brain behind the vaccine manufactured in India as Covishield, stated the following: “The virus cannot completely mutate because its spike protein has to interact with the ACE2 receptor on the surface of the human cell, in order to get inside it. If it changes its spike protein so much that it can’t interact with that receptor, then it’s not going to be able to get inside the cell. So, there aren’t many places for the virus to go to have something that will evade immunity but still remain infectious.”
Dr. Gilbert is reported as saying that the virus that causes COVID-19 will eventually become like the coronaviruses which circulate widely and cause the common cold.
She also stated, “What tends to happen over time is there’s just a slow drift, that’s what happens with flu viruses. You see small changes accumulating over a period of time and then we have the opportunity to react to that.”
“It has been pretty quiet since Delta emerged and it would be nice to think there won’t be any new variants of concern. If I was pushed to predict, I think there will be new variants emerging over time and I think there is still quite a lot of road to travel down with this virus,” she said.
So thanks to our political masters, we are going to have this virus around for some time. Wonder if they think the cost in financial and human terms was/is worth it?
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