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House Democrats know midterms will be a tough race


President Biden isn't on the ballot this fall, but he's rallying those congressional Democrats who are. They're facing blowback from voters about rising costs for things like groceries and gas. Biden spoke to House Democrats at their retreat yesterday, and he was blunt about the stakes.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We know the fundamental change that shifts if we lose the House and Senate. The only thing I'll have then is a veto pen.

FOLKENFLIK: NPR's Deirdre Walsh, who covers Congress, traveled to that retreat in Philadelphia, where House Democrats pored over their election strategy. Hey, Deirdre.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

FOLKENFLIK: So how are Democrats assessing their prospects of keeping the majority right now?

WALSH: They're actually feeling a little better. They know that the political headwinds are really not in their favor. Historically, the party in power loses seats in the midterm elections. Democrats right now hold a narrow majority in the House, and it's a 50-50 Senate. But House Democrats are now saying there are some bright spots, even though they're running at a time when inflation is at a 40-year high. They say they actually came out of the redistricting process, that dictates which maps are used for congressional races, better than they expected. The head of the Democrats' campaign committee, Sean Patrick Maloney - he predicted that the party would pick up seats as a result of redistricting. He also stressed that the most endangered Democrats have outraised their GOP challengers. But he also did admit that, you know, members on the Democratic Party committees have raised a lot of money, but outside Republican groups are very well-funded this cycle, and they're going to be a big factor in the midterms.

FOLKENFLIK: Midterm elections are typically cast as a referendum on the president in addition to the party in power. Are Democrats foursquare behind Joe Biden?

WALSH: They are, and they're really rallying around his handling of the war in Ukraine. They're also pointing out that it's been one year since Congress passed the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill. They passed that without any Republican support. And they stress that accounts for 70 million shots in arms, and they think it really helped the economy turn the corner. I talked to House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries, who stressed his party has a record that they can run on, but also a plan for still what they want to do in the coming year.

Other Democrats I talked with at the retreat admitted high gas prices are something they're really getting an earful about at home, but they say they're being upfront with their constituents about saying those prices are really a sacrifice the global community is making to support Ukraine during this Russian invasion. There's really not much Congress or the president can do about high gas prices, so Democrats are kind of pivoting to parts of their agenda that they say are going to lower prices for things like child care and prescription drugs.

FOLKENFLIK: You mentioned the Democrats' agenda. Republicans have been pretty unified against it, but it's been stalled for months because of divisions in their own party, particularly in the Senate. What are Democrats doing about that?

WALSH: Democrats are pivoting to push the president to act on some of these things through executive orders. The Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus met with the president to give him some recommendations this week. Here's what South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn, a top ally of Biden's, said yesterday.


JIM CLYBURN: Several of us have been encouraging the president to do the significant research as necessary and to use that method to help kick-start recovery.

WALSH: Clyburn was talking about using legal research to figure out which executive actions the president could take on his own to address costs for consumers. But we really don't have any details yet on the specific policies, but we could see them this - later this week.

FOLKENFLIK: That's NPR's Deirdre Walsh. Deirdre, thanks.

WALSH: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.