BALTIMORE — House Democrats are gathering in Baltimore for their annual issues conference this week to chart a path back to the majority in 2024.
It’s an operation they say can be achieved by capitalizing on the legislative achievements they secured in the first two years of President Biden’s term, when they had the upper hand in the lower chamber. But success is far from certain as Republicans hammer Democrats on issues including rising costs and the southern border, and several high-profile and high-stakes battles loom this year.
The retreat — taking place at a hotel in Charm City’s Inner Harbor — comes roughly four months after House Democrats exceeded expectations in November’s midterm elections, holding Republicans to a slim, five-seat majority.
Party leaders say that with the right messaging, they can build on that.
“All of us share the same goal,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) said during Wednesday’s opening press conference, “and that is to safeguard the progress that we have made for the last two years, and to make sure that Democrats take the House again in 2024.”
“We had unexpected results last November because we put people over politics and explained time and time again exactly what we were doing,” Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (S.C.) added. “We’re gonna further that.”
Democrats’ dominance on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue in the last Congress — controlling each chamber and the White House — propelled the caucus toward a number of legislative accomplishments that Biden signed into law.
The party claimed victory with the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 rescue package and a $740 billion tax, climate and health bill — both of which were passed along party lines — in addition to the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, $280 billion CHIPS and Science Act and gun safety bill.
Party leaders are hopeful that implementing and communicating those wins to the American public will help them usher in a Democratic majority next November.
That game plan will be a prime focus of the caucus’s annual retreat this week, which will feature remarks from President Biden, Vice President Harris and a number of Cabinet officials.
“Over the last Congress, we were able to deliver significant victories for the American people,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said, listing off their five main achievements.
“That’s an agenda that puts people over politics,” he added, referring to the retreat’s theme. “It’s an agenda that we will stand behind, continue to bring to life as we move it forward this year and throughout the balance of this Congress.”
Recent polls, however, suggest that Biden’s legislative agenda is not resonating with the American public, highlighting the work Democrats will have to do between now and November to reach their ultimate goal.
In a survey conducted by The Washington Post and ABC News between Jan. 27 and Feb. 1, 62 percent of Americans said Biden has accomplished “not very much” or “little or nothing” during the first two years of his presidency. Only 36 percent said he has gotten done “a great deal” or “a good amount.”
The numbers varied by party. Seventy-seven percent of Democrats said Biden has accomplished “a great deal” or “a good amount” in that time frame, while 32 percent of Independents and 7 percent of Republicans said the same.
The president is unlikely to see many — if any — of his legislative initiatives cross the finish line in the final two years of his term amid a divided Congress, underscoring the importance of touting Democratic wins from the previous session.
Democrats have to flip at least five seats next November to retake control of the chamber, an undertaking that the caucus is already gaming out. Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), the chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said on Wednesday that there are 18 Republican-held seats in districts that Biden won in 2020, calling the map “incredible opportunity.”
“We’re recruiting great candidates across the country, we’re gonna defend our incredible members and take back the majority so that we have Speaker Hakeem Jeffries,” she said.
The retreat comes roughly three months into House Democrats’ time in the minority, which has been dominated by votes on Republican messaging bills and hearings on hot-button issues like the situation at the southern border and social media censorship.
For their first legislative effort of the session, House Republicans passed a bill to rescind the bulk of an IRS funding boost that President Biden signed into law last year as part of the Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act. And earlier this month, the GOP-led House Oversight and Accountability Committee held a hearing focused on Twitter’s decision to limit the spread of a New York Post story about a laptop belonging to the president’s son, Hunter Biden.
Part of their strategy for taking back the majority, Democratic lawmakers said, is creating a contrast with the group they have consistently dubbed as “extreme MAGA Republicans.”
“We are working hard to continue to make sure our message is heard by the American people, and that we hold Republicans accountable for their extreme agenda,” DelBene said.
“We want to make sure that people see what Republicans are, what their message is, which is extreme. It is not focused on the needs of the American people,” she added. “So we’re gonna hold them accountable.”
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), the vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said the party will “be making sure we can come together on an agenda that can continue moving the American family forward, and to stop stupid stuff from Republicans,” pointing to a national abortion ban and a threat to not raise the debt ceiling.
Another question hanging over the heads of House Democrats this week is the fate of the White House in 2024. Biden, who is already the oldest president and who will be 81 on Election Day, is widely expected to run for a second term, but when that announcement will come remains unknown.
The 2024 Republican presidential primary is already underway, with former President Trump and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley having thrown their hats in the ring. And Democrat Marianne Williamson, who ran for president in 2020, confirmed that he will formally announce a 2024 campaign this weekend, setting up Biden’s first primary challenger.
Asked Wednesday, hours before Biden was set to address the caucus, if the president should announce his reelection campaign sooner rather than later, Aguilar said the decision rests squarely with Biden and his team.
“I trust that the president and his team are going to have those conversations with the American public in the proper timeline, under a timeline that he and his family are comfortable with,” he said.
“We look forward to the president affirming that we are partners in this progress that we have made. We look forward to him talking about his economic agenda, how we’ve been able to create jobs, how inflation is cooling, and how more people are back at work,” he added.