President Joe Biden reveled in his party’s unexpected success during a midterm postmortem on Wednesday, declaring it a “good day for democracy and, I think, a good day for America.”
His comments came after Democrats defied expectations of a red wave washing across the country and exceeded even their most optimistic predictions about the midterms.
“Our democracy has been tested in recent years, but with their votes, the American people have spoken and proven once again that democracy is who we are,” he said after walking into the State Dining Room to address reporters for an extended news conference.
From the beginning of the day, Biden aides and close allies were eager to remind naysayers that the president had been wrongly underestimated and counted out time after time before. As election results trickled in, the feeling inside the White House turned from encouragement to relief to an unmistakable sense of vindication, even as the practical realities of losing the House — albeit by far narrower margins than most believed — continued to settle in.
“While the press and the pundits were predicting a giant red wave, it didn’t happen,” Biden said, admonishing the news media and the pundit class for doubting his confidence over the past few weeks. At another point, Biden revealed he hadn’t put much stock in polling of the races, the averages of which pointed to a Republican bloodbath. He joked that he struggled to read the surveys.
“And I know you were somewhat miffed by my optimism, I felt good during the whole process. I thought we were going to do fine,” he said. “While any seat lost is painful, and some good Democrats didn’t win last night, Democrats had a strong night, and we lost fewer seats in the House of Representatives than any Democratic president’s first midterm election in the last 40 years.”
Biden noted that winners in numerous races had yet to be declared, but he promised “regardless of what the final tally of these elections show – and there’s still some counting going on — I’m prepared to work with my Republican colleagues. The American people have made clear they expect Republicans to be prepared to work with me.”
Biden is about to leave for a trio of international summits, but he said he plans to invite “the leaders of both political parties” to the White House when he returns “to discuss how we can work together for the remainder of this year and in the next Congress to advance the economic and national security priorities of the United States.” He also noted he planned to speak with the House Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy, who is widely expected to become the next speaker.
The president also told reporters Wednesday that, as he has said before, he intends to run for a second term but that he is not in a rush to make a decision — and that his timeline will not be determined by an announcement from his predecessor, Donald Trump.
“This is ultimately a family decision. I think everybody wants me to run, but we’re going to have discussions about it, and I don’t feel any hurry one way or another to make that judgment today, tomorrow, whenever, no matter what my predecessor does,” he said.
Biden said he believes it will be “early next year” before he makes a final call, and suggested that he had space to maneuver now that people in his party were breathing a sigh of relief about the midterms.
Later, when asked about his potential 2024 Republican opponents and who he would rather face, he noted that Trump could duke it out with GOP Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis: “It’ll be fun watching them take on each other.”
Biden’s aides had spent days leading up to the election trying to tamp down expectations, going as far as promising that the president wouldn’t suffer anything like the hemorrhaging of House seats that his recent predecessors did. White House officials insisted that pundits, including many within their party, were wrong in their criticism that the president didn’t properly balance his message around the economic pains of inflation with threats to democracy and protecting abortion rights. Underlying the optimism from officials was the alternate reality they feared had the contests been a bloodbath: Biden appearing more politically vulnerable to threats from within his own party.
Officials inside the administration acknowledged that they didn’t expect Democrats to keep things as close as they did in the House while pulling off so many other key wins down-ballot, according to officials and others in close touch with the White House.
“To see it all play out was just a huge relief to the White House,” said Democratic strategist Adrienne Elrod. “And, again, validation that President Biden’s policies, which are popular, actually turned into votes to keep more Democrats in office.”
The Senate majority appeared to rest on Nevada and a likely runoff in Georgia. But administration officials and their allies viewed the results as validation of Biden’s policy successes and his bet that focusing broadly on Republican extremism would help repel voters, despite Democrats in many of the toughest races seeking distance from the president and vice president themselves.
“What was true in 2020 is also true in 2022 — that voters are looking for normalcy and for their representatives to restore the rule of law, respect our democracy and address the problems that are plaguing them on a daily basis, like high costs and infringements on their rights. And that’s what President Biden and the Democrats have done,” said Stephanie Cutter, a longtime Democratic operative. “The historical winds always meant that there would be losses, but the red wave that everybody predicted was blunted because of sound policy and respect for our institutions.”
For others, the moment recalled Biden rising from the political grave in the 2020 midterms and later seeing his legislative agenda — including massive spending plans — resuscitated and ultimately passed through Congress.
The surprising results represented one of the best midterm elections for a party in power in nearly a century. Yet while it gave the White House a considerable psychological and political boost, it doesn’t exhaust the questions the president and his team face. For starters, the House is still likely to fall to Republicans, forcing the administration to greatly curtail its ambitions. And losing the Senate, even by the narrowest of margins, would stymie their ability to nominate judges and other crucial appointees.
Beyond that, Biden’s own political future remains deeply uncertain. The president spent the close of the midterm largely campaigning in deep blue enclaves and staying away from most of the tight races that broke his way, or still may. Instead, he raised money behind the scenes or held official events — sometimes at the insistence of Democratic campaigns who feared his presence alongside them at rallies. In Chicago, Democrats privately pushed back against the president holding a political rally in the final days of the campaign.
Instead, they agreed to have Biden help raise money for two House members and hold an official event the next day.
Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) made clear to the White House early on to keep Biden at bay, and POLITICO reported Wednesday that Senate candidate John Fetterman of Pennsylvania also asked him to stay away. Biden came anyway, and Fetterman won the race.
Several others who Biden did campaign alongside or on behalf of also won their races, including Govs. Kathy Hochul of New York, Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, Tony Evers of Wisconsin and Maryland Gov.-elect Wes Moore, along with House members in Illinois and Virginia.
Even those who lost their races gave Biden his due.
At a hastily called news conference Wednesday after conceding to his opponent, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said the president “deserves credit for tackling the crises he found when he came into office.”
“Last night should encourage him that despite the opposition, despite the anger, the hatred, the lies that he has faced, the implacable obstruction he’s encountered — that he’s making progress and we’re going to get through this together,” Maloney said.
Biden began watching Tuesday’s election unfold from the White House residence, before moving onto the Roosevelt room where he was joined by his advisers. He then retired to the dining room of the complex to make a battery of congratulatory calls, finishing up with an early morning text to Fetterman, who bested TV celebrity Mehmet Oz in a battle that emerged as an early proxy war between Biden and former President Donald Trump.
Among officials and close allies, the history defying midterms were internalized as a repudiation of Trump and his movement, which despite Biden’s unpopularity, stubbornly high inflation and rising fear over crime, faltered in many of the places the White House holds dearest. Along with a number of suburban House districts that were prioritized by administration and party officials, they were especially heartened by big wins in Rust Belt gubernatorial races — states that will again be crucial to hold in 2024.
It has been exactly a half century since Biden, who turns 80 this month, entered politics and the midterms threatened to severely weaken the president’s standing. Advisers have insisted that Biden, who has said he intends to seek reelection, wouldn’t be swayed one way or another by the November outcomes.
But Democrats said they anticipated a war on the right over how much blame Trump should receive, which would in turn relieve some of the pressure on Biden that would have boiled over had the races served as a referendum on the current president rather than the latter.
“The Democratic Party outperformed beyond what anyone expected,” Biden said. “It gives everyone a sigh of relief that the ‘Mega MAGA Republicans’ are not taking over the government again.”
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