Mar 10, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden's outside game to sell COVID-19 law

Photo illustration of Biden holding an oversized blank check
Photo illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios. Photo: Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images

President Biden's inner circle has spent a ton of time thinking about how to sell his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan around the country — long after he signs it into law this week.

Why it matters: Total opposition from elected Republicans in Washington renders public popularity and bipartisanship across the U.S. vital to maintaining support for the president's agenda.

Details: Team Biden is planning a large and long-running sales campaign, including local media outreach and the cultivation of coalition media campaigns.

  • Cabinet officials will join White House aides in publicly selling the impact of the package — on schools, vaccine distribution and food supply for poor families, a senior administration official told Axios.
  • Cedric Richmond, director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, is tasked with mobilizing the myriad outside groups that make up the Democratic coalition. Their job will be to ensure communities connect the help they're receiving to the federal government.
  • A White House official familiar with the planning said they'll be leveraging the groups and leaders who have endorsed the package, "including over 400 bipartisan mayors and governors, organized labor and the business community, as well as economists and experts from across the political spectrum."

Behind the scenes: Biden views it as strategically important that Americans understand the checks and other forms of assistance they'll be receiving are products of the new law.

  • The fact he can't claim he got a bipartisan deal in Washington makes it essential he maintain broad public support for the package.
  • The aim isn't just short-term political gain — such as a boost in the 2022 midterms — but so Biden can build on the legislation and make it harder for the next Republican president to unwind.

The big picture: Team Biden's hope is this strategy will net the new president political rewards President Obama never saw for his 2009 financial recovery package.

  • Biden thought Obama should have taken a big victory lap after passing the $840 billion package and doesn't plan to repeat that political mistake.
  • Currently, about 70% of Americans support Biden's rescue plan. It's far more popular than Obama's plan, even though it's more than double the cost.
  • Last year, several senior Democrats told Axios they could learn a few things about retail politics from Donald Trump. The former president loudly took credit for his stimulus bills, including demanding his name be added to the checks mailed to Americans.
  • White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that Biden's name won't appear on the new $1,400 stimulus checks, but his team won't be sheepish about claiming credit in other ways.

The bottom line: For the very definition of a Washington insider, Joe Biden may find his outside game to be his political lifeline while in the White House.

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