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Biden will address House Democrats as they plot midterm strategy in Philadelphia


A Democrat who is not on the ballot this fall has a lot to do with the fate of Democrats who are. President Biden's party faces midterm elections when the party in power often, although not always, does poorly. Last night, the president gave Democrats some encouragement.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Coming out of the State of the Union, we are the strongest position we've been in in months. We have a record, a record to be proud of.

INSKEEP: Today, the president meets with House Democrats, who are in Philadelphia planning for November. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is here. Mara, good morning.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: How much trouble do the Democrats think they're in?

LIASSON: Well, there are a lot of trouble. As you said, the party in power usually loses big in the first midterm election. There are a lot of fundamentals that are working against the Democrats - the way people feel about the economy, the president's approval ratings, the enthusiasm of the other party - so they have lots to worry about. But many Democrats are feeling that after a long time when they thought the White House political operation was lacking, there was no clear message, they feel that the White House is finally cranking into gear, starting with the State of the Union address, which is what you heard Biden say. And he got a pretty good reception at the DNC yesterday.

INSKEEP: What does it mean to crank into gear? What's Biden doing differently?

LIASSON: Well, he's - I think it's a shift in emphasis. I think you see Biden trying to regain his brand as a unifying figure who can competently govern. He'd kind of lost the plot when COVID didn't get under control when he said it would last summer. His own party couldn't pass his agenda in Congress. Now he talks about a unity agenda. He talks about things like helping veterans, funding cancer research, legislation to make America more competitive with China. He still has the same positions on things like climate change and voting rights, but the emphasis is a little different.

INSKEEP: Well, what are the Democrats' biggest challenges in trying to make sure that they beat history, not every single midterm but most midterms?

LIASSON: Well, inflation is the biggest hurdle. And of course, we got a terrible inflation report again yesterday. There's not a lot that presidents can do about inflation. But Democrats are hopeful that the Russian invasion of Ukraine will help them reset the politics around inflation, the debate around inflation. You hear Biden talking about Putin's price hike at the gas pump. Of course, Republicans say, well, prices were already rising before Russia invaded Ukraine, and it's all Biden's fault. But Democrats think that they point to basically several polls, including NPR's poll, that show Biden's approval rating inching up. They see Democrats coming home, independents giving him a second look, and that's why he's getting a little bump in his overall job approval ratings.

INSKEEP: Well, let's figure out how the war in Ukraine really affects this. You noted that gas prices are going up. They were - in fact, it's true. They were going up before the Russian invasion. But the Russian invasion has made things worse. There's a connection there. But there are other things happening here. This is suddenly a wartime situation. The United States is not at war, but it feels like the world is at war. If people are not really exactly rallying around the American flag because American troops are not in harm's way, are they rallying around the Ukrainian flag and therefore behind the American president?

LIASSON: Absolutely. Biden is a wartime president. He got a bump from the State of the Union address because the first part of it was all about Ukraine. That's the part that most people watch. He has Putin as a foil. He's the leader of the free world, and for now, the free world is rallying with him against Russia. There's bipartisan support in Congress for his policies to Russia. The Ukraine conflict gives him a chance to regain credibility on foreign policy that he had damaged with the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.

INSKEEP: Yeah. Well, when you look at all that, do Democrats think they can beat the odds?

LIASSON: Well, look, historical rules work till they stop working. But yes, Democrats think they finally have a strategy for surviving the midterms. That would mean hanging on to the Senate and limiting their losses in the House, not necessarily keeping the majority. And it's basically talking about their accomplishments, empathizing with people's problems with inflation, defining their opponents as too extreme. And that's what they're going to try to do.

INSKEEP: Mara, thanks very much, really appreciate it.

LIASSON: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Mara Liasson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.