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Democrats launch a nationwide sales pitch for Biden's agenda

President Biden and House Democrats are planning a nationwide tour to sell voters on trillions of dollars in spending.
Evan Vucci
President Biden and House Democrats are planning a nationwide tour to sell voters on trillions of dollars in spending.

Democrats in Washington are looking to recover from falling poll numbers and waning support for their legislation with a nationwide public relations blitz centered on their plan to remake the federal government.

The push comes as polls show Biden's public approval ratings falling amid rising inflation and Republican warnings of a struggling economy.

Democrats want to capitalize on the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that was signed into lawthis week to shift public attention away from the internal fighting and turmoil that slowed Biden's agenda. They hope to generate a new narrative about legislation that they say will transform people's lives.

President Biden launched the campaign Tuesday as he and fellow Democrats walked side by side across a crumbling bridge in Woodstock, N.H.

"Folks, when you see these projects start in your hometowns, I want you to feel what I feel — pride," Biden said from the foot of the flag-draped bridge. "Pride in what we can do together as the United States of America."

Democrats will be testing whether voters in this moment want the promise of a new American economy or one that keeps groceries and gas more attainable today.

Members of the Biden administration are spreading out across the country to make this same pitch at more than a dozen events over the next week. The president is traveling to Michigan on Wednesday to visit a General Motors electric vehicle plant and highlight money in the infrastructure bill to build out a national network of electric vehicle charging stations. House Democrats plan to follow with more than 1,000 events of their own — about five per member — to support the pitch by the end of the year.

Their goal is to keep the message short and uncomplicated to help voters connect with Democrats' policies and credit the party for transformational change in government. But that is a complicated task as Democrats try to take a sweeping world view and thousands of pages of legislative text and turn it all into a rallying cry.

"Throughout our history, we've emerged from crisis by investing in ourselves," Biden said in New Hampshire. "During the Civil War, we built the transcontinental railroad, uniting and connecting the East and West coast, uniting America. During the Cold War, we built the interstate highway system, transforming how Americans live, where they're able to live. And now as we work to put the COVID-19 pandemic behind us, we will build an economy of the 21st century."

But beyond the infrastructure bill, the remainder of the programs Democrats have promised are still stuck. Democrats have spent the past several months struggling to reach an agreement on a social and climate spending package that now totals around $1.75 trillion.

Democrats are trying to answer GOP criticism about inflation

Meanwhile, Republicans have spent several months repeating their message that Democrats are spending recklessly and will drive up prices and harm the economy.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has led Republican senators in a unified push.

"Energy bills and gas prices are just one corner of this inflation crisis," McConnell said Tuesday on the Senate floor. "But Democrats want to ignore the people, plow ahead and spend trillions more."

"There is no part of our economy that can afford another massive dose of socialism," he added.

Democrats complain that Republicans have rallied behind a plan to tear down Democrats' policies without offering any alternatives. They say it is just more difficult to write and pass legislation than it is to launch an offensive against that work.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., who leads the House Democratic Caucus, told reporters on Tuesday that his party needs to shift the way they talk to voters to meet Republican criticism head-on.

"Sometimes we tend to speak in fine print because we care about governing, and we care about governing because we care about getting things done for everyday Americans," Jeffries said. "We also recognize that we are going to have to message, persuade and communicate in headlines."

Democrats hope to pass the remaining spending bill in the House this week before sending it to the Senate for more negotiations that could take weeks, if not longer, to complete.

Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., told reporters that finishing the bill is critical to following through on promises to reduce taxes for parents, address climate change and invest in programs for caregiving, housing and health care.

"Those are the things that our communities want to see," Aguilar said. "Collectively, that's what the president campaigned on and that's what we've committed to deliver."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.