Vulnerable House Democrats have to go home to conservative-leaning districts — in states such as Oklahoma, New Mexico and South Carolina — and they won’t be bearing unemployment help, another stimulus payment or funding to help small businesses, schools and community hospitals. What they passed in May doesn’t put money in their constituents’ hands.
“The members are really concerned they have to go home and face voters who say, ‘This is my No. 1 need,’ and have nothing to offer,” said a Democratic strategist talking to vulnerable lawmakers and their staffs, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share private conversations.
That frustration is leaking out publicly. The Post’s Erica Werner reported that one vulnerable House Democrat privately told leadership “that she wanted to do her ‘goddamn job’ and deliver a deal for her constituents.”
Democrats passed a $3.5 trillion package, but it was back in May, and voters’ memories are short. Republicans dismissed it as a wish list that included things that have nothing to do with the coronavirus.
Though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) initially held firm on that legislation, she eventually offered a bill trimmed to about $2 trillion but strongly implied that was the bottom. She reportedly urged her caucus members not to be a “cheap date.”
Last week, Senate Republicans tried to turn the tables and pass their own, much slimmer version of coronavirus aid, with $300 billion in new spending. Democrat called it “emaciated” and blocked it. But it still got a majority of Senate Republican votes, giving Republicans something to tout.
Now it feels as though the ball is back in Democrats’ court, and Pelosi seems to know it. She said Tuesday that she would keep the House in session until a deal is reached. (Although it looks as if members will still be able to go home in October to campaign, knowing they may be called back on short notice.)
A bipartisan group of lawmakers came out with a bill this week for $1.5 trillion in aid that neither party’s leaders are taking seriously, but it shows how anxious some lawmakers are to at least try to come to a compromise. Here’s one of those lawmakers pushing it on Twitter:
President Trump complicated things for both sides when he said Wednesday he wanted a bigger bill with more money. He told reporters he’d support the amount in the bipartisan proposal. “Yeah, I like the larger amount,” he said. " ... I want to see people get money."
Trump would need to convince skeptical Republicans to go along with spending three times more than they want, which he said he was confident he could do. If that happened, it would put even more political pressure on Democrats by making Republicans look like they’re the ones taking action.
Another idea circulating in the House is to pass individual bills, such as new business loans or unemployment help, just to show or remind Americans that House Democrats are trying to help.
But would that be enough to help House Democrats politically? The Democratic strategist again: “The hurt of coronavirus is so large that I’m not hearing from members they want to just pass one thing so they can run. They want to pass good legislation, because it’s not just a political-messaging issue. People in their districts are going hungry and facing evictions, and small businesses are crumbling.”
There’s not a lot of high-quality polling on how people feel about a lack of a coronavirus deal and which party they blame. But it’s fair to say that suburban voters don’t like Washington dysfunction. And Republicans feel as if they’re in a place this fall to argue it’s the Democrats who are being intransigent.
“Ultimately, Pelosi is speaker of the House, and she is choosing not to move forward. So that’s where the blame falls,” said one Republican strategist working on House races, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly about strategy. “You can’t say, ‘Oh, we’re going to make a deal,’ and then walk away from the negotiating table.”
House Democrats’ majority isn’t really in danger this November, but many of the individual candidates who won in 2018 to give them the majority are. In our rankings of top 10 House races most likely to flip in November, Democrats hold five of them — including three of the most vulnerable races.
Right now, the only major advertising happening against Democrats on the coronavirus comes in Virginia against Rep. Elaine Luria, who’s in a competitive race. But Republicans say more ads could come if they sense an opportunity to pin this inaction on Democrats. They’re likely banking on the fact that voters don’t remember or care that Republicans waited months to start negotiating.
Voters’ short-term memory is why we’re seeing Democrats agitating to take action. This is a situation that they thought they had the upper hand on politically, but that advantage seems to be slipping away.