For weeks, polls have shown President Biden trailing his likely rival, former President Donald J. Trump. Protesters have crossed Washington, demanding that Biden call a ceasefire in Gaza. Key voter groups, including young people and voters of color, have suggested they may not support Biden in the 2024 election.
With so many worrying signs, what's a president seeking re-election to do? The answer, according to people in Biden's orbit, is to stay the course.
Several Biden campaign and White House officials insist that unflattering polls and vocal criticism from key voters on Gaza, immigration and other issues simply have not been enough to change a strategy that focuses on comparing the agenda. of Biden with the policies favored by Republicans. .
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal conversations, said Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris would turn up the volume on that battle cry starting in 2024.
The polls (and the plethora of what officials see as negative news coverage) have at times frustrated everyone, including Biden. But polls have not changed the president's views on any of the issues that could bring political danger next year, including his refusal to call for a ceasefire in Gaza or impose conditions on military aid to Israel, the officials said. .
“They're not freaking out,” Ted Kaufman, a longtime Biden confidant, said in an interview about the president and his team. “When you signed up for this, you didn't sign up to be in the 80 percent in the polls. “These are true veterans and are chosen for their ability to remain calm during difficult times.”
This thought is not likely to satisfy a cacophony of voices outside that small circle. Immigration has been one of Biden's biggest political vulnerabilities. In recent weeks, the White House has considered major new restrictions on migration to satisfy Republicans who refuse to approve aid to Ukraine or Israel without a border offensive.
Although members of Congress have not yet reached an agreement, the fact that the White House has signaled openness even to some of the policies has drawn enormous criticism from progressives in his own party and from immigration advocates who support him. supported in the past.
“For the White House to endorse such cruel policies would be a betrayal of millions of Americans who believed in President Biden's campaign promises to restore our humanitarian leadership and the rule of law,” said Krish O'Mara Vignarajah, president of the Lutheran organization. of Immigration and Refugees. Service, a refugee advocacy organization.
Democrats are clamoring for the president to do more and say more about the threat Trump poses to democracy. Others want Biden to encourage the Israelis to end their large-scale campaign in Gaza. Others say he is running out of time to make the strongest possible case against an opponent who is adept at controlling a news cycle.
A poll published by The New York Times on Tuesday showed widespread disapproval of Biden's decisions regarding the war in the Middle East. But the poll also showed that respondents care much more about the state of the economy than foreign policy, and that most of them still support providing military and economic aid to Israel.
“The very real investments, resources and work we are doing now are not for the next poll of the day: they are for winning next November's election,” said Kevin Muñoz, a spokesman for Biden's campaign.
He also pointed to several other polls released this week that show better odds for Biden in 2024, including a Times poll that showed Biden leading Trump among likely voters.
Biden's plan to get out of the bad news surrounding him in Washington, his advisers say, is to focus relentlessly on his agenda during visits to key states, like the one he made to Wisconsin on Wednesday.
The state is crucial to Biden's re-election prospects (he won there by about 20,600 votes in 2020) and recent polls suggest a close race in 2024. Harris chose the state to kick off a cross-country tour in support of reproductive rights. , as of January.
During a visit to Milwaukee on Wednesday, Biden did not focus on foreign policy, immigration or polls. Instead, he spoke of investments in the business community during his remarks at a black chamber of commerce.
Biden also said his administration had worked to forgive student loan debt — another point of criticism among Democrats — despite a Supreme Court decision that invalidated his plan for even greater relief. According to figures released this month by the Department of Education, the administration has eliminated $132 billion in debt for more than 3.6 million Americans.
During his remarks, Biden highlighted Trump's recent comments about immigrants “poisoning” the country's blood, words that echoed Adolf Hitler's comments about the Jewish people.
“Well, I don't believe, as the president, the former president, said again yesterday, that immigrants are contaminating our blood,” Biden said. “The economy and our nation are stronger when we harness the full range of talent in this nation.”
Ben Wikler, chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, said in an interview that next year would be about addressing the concerns of different groups of voters, but also drawing a clear comparison with Trump.
“Our job will be to make sure people know they've been heard,” Wilker said, but also to draw a comparison between Trump and “an experienced leader who really knows how to listen to people, bring them together.” and get things done.”
In Wisconsin, the Biden campaign hired a state campaign manager and piloted a volunteer program, focusing on colleges and Milwaukee's Black neighborhoods. The program, which also has a pilot in Arizona, will focus on leveraging volunteers' social networks rather than the door-knocking campaigns of past elections. (A graphic designer, Wilker said, is available to create memes and shareable graphics on topics — basically, an emoji-friendly version of a bumper sticker.)
This week, the Biden campaign spent money on ads focused on Biden's visit that promoted local investments that had come through infrastructure legislation. When Wisconsinites search Google for political news coverage, the Biden campaign will have paid for search results to show local stories about the president's visit.
But Biden's advisers know that he is a more important messenger than any campaign announcement. On Wednesday, the president stopped twice to speak to reporters.
In an exchange after landing in Milwaukee, Biden departed from his usual trend of abstaining when asked about the latest story revolving around Trump: a court ruling in Colorado that declared the former president ineligible to be included in the primary ballot because he had participated in an insurrection during the January 6 attacks. Biden said it was “self-evident” that his opponent was an insurrectionist, although he said that if Trump was on the ticket it was up to the court.
“You saw it all,” Biden told reporters. “And he seems to be redoubling his efforts in everything.”
He then acknowledged that his daily work was calling him.
“Anyway,” he said, “I have to go do this event.”
Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed reporting from Washington.
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