Frustrated grassroots leaders say they need even more from White House

Leaders of Democratic grassroots groups say they’re frustrated with the pace of action from the White House and Congress and argue more needs to be done to make an impact with voters before the midterm elections in November.

Those involved with organizing support for Democratic candidates at the state and local level acknowledged the White House has had some breakthroughs and delivered on some promises from the 2020 campaign.

But they pointed to a list of actions the administration and Congress haven’t taken — on voting rights, climate change and student loan debt, for example — that have left those who propelled President Biden to the White House wanting more.

“Good policies have come out of the White House, and I know they feel they don’t get enough credit for things that don’t get as much visibility,” said Tiffany Flowers, campaign director of the Frontline, a joint campaign of progressive groups like the Working Families Party and the Movement for Black Lives.

“But things like more stimulus relief, student loan debt forgiveness, obviously more work and more pressure on Sens. Manchin and Sinema and others around voting. Those are the things we mobilize people around, and those are the things that are disappointing,” Flowers said.

Andrea Mercado, executive director of Florida Rising, a grassroots organizing group based in the Sunshine State, said she would “welcome a more assertive and aggressive approach.”

“I think there’s some promising signs with the marriage equality bill, action on the climate crisis, infrastructure investment, but it has to be wins that people can feel,” Mercado said.

Keron Blair, chief organizing and field officer for the New Georgia Project Action Fund, echoed that sentiment.

“There is a sense of hope. There is a sense of relief. But there’s a difference and an expectancy in the conversation that people do want more, and not like a ridiculous amount more. There are certain things that just seem to make sense,” Blair said.

Flowers praised some of the less visible but still impactful work the White House has done, such as Vice President Harris’s focus on improving Black maternal health, an issue that is particularly important in the Black community.

Grassroots leaders also praised Biden’s willingness to call for changes to the filibuster to protect voting rights and reproductive rights as evidence that he understands the urgency felt by many voters on those issues.

But in other areas, organizers feel like the White House has yet to make real progress as communities of color in particular grapple with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and rising costs for food, gasoline and housing.

“It’s going to be challenging to talk about less visible or what feel like less impactful policies and they’re not going to forget they did not see relief on the things they voted for,” Flowers said. “We wanted more than just not Donald Trump.”

The feelings among grassroots organizers reflect the quandary the White House finds itself in. 

Biden has in recent weeks started to rack up key policy wins, with Congress passing a bipartisan gun safety bill and a bill to invest in semiconductor manufacturing and boost competitiveness with China, a stronger than expected jobs report, and Democrats on the cusp of passing a major package to fight climate change and keep health care costs down.

But those wins have yet to make a dent in his approval ratings, which have remained mired in the high 30 percent and low 40 percent range for much of the year. This week, multiple elected Democrats suggested Biden should consider stepping aside for a new candidate in the 2024 presidential race.

“I know people will hear today’s extraordinary jobs report and say they don’t see it,” Biden said Friday. “They don’t feel it in their own lives. I know it’s hard to feel good about job creation when you already have a job and you’re dealing with rising prices, food and gas and so much more. I get it.”

A survey from GenForward, which is housed at the University of Chicago, found Biden’s approval rating at 34 percent, with 50 percent of respondents saying they either somewhat or strongly disapproved.

The poll also gave a glimpse of what voters will be taking into account when they head to the polls in November.

Asked to identify the most important issue going into the midterms, 23 percent said inflation, more than any other issue. Eleven percent of respondents identified abortion and reproductive rights, gun violence or income equality as their top issue, making those the next most common.

Among young voters, ages 18-26, the most popular answers were inflation and abortion and reproductive rights.

The poll surveyed 4,201 people from July 1-14 and has a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points. The survey included 2,357 Democrats, 1,034 Republicans and 781 independent voters.

Despite the underwater poll numbers for Biden, grassroots organizers say they have seen enthusiasm among voters as they knock on doors in the months ahead of the November midterms.

Mercado, who does organizing in Florida, said her organization is working to boost school board officials and state lawmakers who have pushed back on the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), as well as local officials who have prioritized reproductive rights and LGBTQ rights.

And Blair said voters in Georgia — a key swing state in 2020 with a major Senate and gubernatorial race on the ticket in November — are excited about getting out to support Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) and other candidates on the ballot.

The New Georgia Project Action Fund expects to ramp up outreach efforts in the coming months to knock on thousands of doors each day and emphasize how Democrats are delivering on their promises.

“What we’re picking up on in the conversations is people are committed to showing up and making really good choices,” Blair said.

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