Mar 1, 2022 - Politics & Policy

House centrists: Tlaib "keying your own car"

Rep. Rashida Tlaib is seen during a congressional hearing.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

Centrist House Democrats are unloading on Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) for her plan to give a response to President Biden’s State of the Union address on Tuesday.

  • “It’s like keying your own car and slashing your own tires,” Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) told Axios.

Why it matters: The lawmaker's frustration with a charter member of "The Squad" reveals a deep tactical division within the Democratic Party over midterm strategy: appeal to the party’s base, or try to capture swing voters?

  • The centrists think the night should belong to the president — and his priorities.
  • Tlaib wants to make sure Republicans, and centrist Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), get some blame for holding up Biden's Build Back Better agenda.
  • The speech is designed to deliver a progressive vision for America, according to a person familiar with Tlaib's prepared remarks.  
  • "Despite some sensational coverage, it’s simple: I’m giving a speech about supporting President Biden and his Build Back Better agenda for the people," she tweeted.

The divide between progressives and centrists is likely to persist throughout the year, as both sides are convinced their approach is the best way to retain the majority.

  • Gottheimer told Axios the State of the Union address is no place for it to play out: “It’s massively counterproductive.”
  • “This only highlights the real tension between the socialist far left and the common-sense moderate wing, which is focused on crime, costs, tax cuts and affordability, and turning the page on COVID.”
  • Top Democrats recently complained to Axios the Squad's politics are backfiring on the party.

What they are saying: Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas) also told Axios: “In times of crisis, we should all stand by our president."

  • “It is astonishing that the radical left continues to promote a Democratic death wish, and sees no problem relegating our party to the permanent minority."

Driving the news: The president’s first State of the Union address will give him a unique opportunity to tout his accomplishments.

He'll also have the chance to reset his stalled Build Back Better agenda and prepare the country for higher energy prices.

  • The war in Ukraine will hang over much of the speech.
  • And Biden will need to balance his advocacy for his domestic political priorities with an acknowledgment that missiles are flying and civilians are dying in Europe.

Between the lines: Tlaib will give her response on behalf of the Working Families Party.

She's expected to train her fire on the moderates who helped stall Biden’s social spending and climate agenda.

  • “Look past the headlines & hear progressives’ vision for working with the President & Congress to deliver for our residents," she tweeted.

The big picture: Progressives are primed to increase their power in the Democratic caucus, with more liberal candidates vying for nominations in the seats that have opened up with more than 30 Democratic retirements.

  • Centrists aren’t opposed to progressives winning in deep blue districts, but they're concerned their overall message will make it more difficult for moderates to win in swing districts.
  • With Biden’s approval rating below 40%, Democrats know they'll face a difficult political environment.
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