Mar 12, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Democrats ask Americans for "sacrifice" on gas prices

An electrical contractor repairs a sign with gasoline fuel prices hitting near $7 and above a gallon in Los Angeles. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Democrats are testing the potential for a reset with voters around Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and President Biden's handling of the crisis.

Driving the news: At House Democrats’ conference in Philadelphia this week, lawmakers made the case for Biden’s resurgence and for Americans’ shared sacrifice — including paying higher gas prices — to protect democracy.

The big picture: Vladimir Putin’s invasion, killing of innocents and threat to NATO has prompted a wave of Western sanctions that in turn are worsening already painful COVID-era inflation.

  • That‘s adding misery for Democrats already bracing for a possible loss of majorities in Congress in the fall midterms.
  • But it’s also giving Biden a chance to flex some attributes Americans who backed him for president liked including his experience with foreign policy, empathy, a moral framework and respect for institutions.
  • Polling since the invasion is showing an uptick in Biden’s job performance from the low 40s.

What they're saying: "I'm asking the people of the United States to also make that kind of sacrifice because in the long run, democracy is at stake," said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.).

  • "Putin counted on us being divided,” he said. “He counted on us not staying together.”
  • Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.), chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, told Axios: "We have to ask ourselves, what do we stand for?”
  • Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) said “the strength of President Biden has been seen.”
  • House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Americans can be “very proud of the fact that we are now in lockstep with our alliance," an implied comparison to former President Donald Trump’s foreign policy approach.

What we’re watching: Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) channeled his hopes for Biden: “Be the man you saw on Tuesday night who crushed it at the State of the Union, who right now is leading the world standing up to Russian aggression,”

  • "The next chapter is going to be where the American people rediscover they elected a strong, decent man who is fighting for very important things."

But, but, but: Some members tell Axios they’re skeptical voters will embrace surging gas prices and reward or forgive Biden and Democrats just because they find Putin repugnant or value democracy over oppression.

  • "It’s not enough for us to say, 'It’s a tough time and it’s because of the war in Russia,'" Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) told Axios. He and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) introduced legislation to tax the largest oil companies and assist individuals earning less than $75,000 or couples earning less than $150,000.
  • "We’ve got to figure out something to reduce prices and we need to be getting more money into the hands of working families."
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