Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Midterm elections outlook darkens for Biden's White House

Midterm elections outlook darkens for Biden's White House

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House has lowered its earlier optimism about the midterm elections and is now worried that Democrats could lose control of both chambers of Congress, administration officials say.

Recent polls have shown Democrats who once had comfortable leads in some Senate races on a knife's edge, and Senate elections that were considered toss-ups between the two parties now leaning Republican as high inflation persists.

The House of Representatives, which Biden and some allies and advisers predicted Democrats could hold earlier this year, is decisively swinging for Republicans, polling analysts including FiveThirtyEight say.

Losing control of one or both houses of Congress will profoundly shape the next two years of Joe Biden's presidency, with Republicans expected to block legislation on family leave, abortion, policing and other Biden priorities while pushing new laws to curb immigration and spending, using the debt ceiling as leverage.

Republicans are also expected to launch investigations into Democratic spending and the business dealings and private life of the president's son Hunter. Some lawmakers say they hope to impeach Biden, his cabinet members or Vice President Kamala Harris.

One person familiar with the thinking inside the White House said Democratic chances of keeping control of the Senate were seen as 50-50.

Biden predicted in May that his fellow Democrats would make gains in both the House and Senate, but he acknowledged last week that the race has tightened. "It’s been back and forth with them ahead, us ahead, them ahead," Biden said, adding the polls were "all over the place," and that he thought they would swing towards Democrats one more time before Nov. 8's elections.

The White House, while realistic, has stuck publicly to that message of hope.

"The president and his advisers feel that we have a strong shot at keeping both chambers and are focused on doing all they can to capitalize on how much Republicans are playing into our hands – including by saying their top priority is to worsen inflation with a tax giveaway to the wealthy," one Biden adviser said in response to Reuters' reporting.

Former and current advisers say the White House is preparing for any obstruction or probes that could be coming.

"The White House is clear-eyed for what Republican control could look like," said Eric Schultz, a Democratic strategist with close ties to the White House. "It's not a mystery where Republicans will go with this if given the gavel."

The White House earlier this year hired white collar defense lawyer Richard Sauber as special counsel to prepare for any investigations, but additional hires and staff shifts are on hold until the election results are in, the person familiar with the situation said. Internal divisions in the Republican Party mean those lawmakers may struggle with what to focus on, this source added.

ABORTION, INFLATION AND CRIME

Driving the recent re-think: the durability of inflation concerns among key voting groups, and trouble fighting Republicans' message across several campaigns that Democrats' support for criminal justice and policing reform means they are soft on crime, administration officials said.