Mar 31, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Democrats’ policies curtailed by Senate numbers

Sen. Cory Booker is seen in profile.
Sen. Cory Booker. Photo: Julia Nikhinson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Democrats have a reality check for Black voters: achieving what they want all boils down to math.

Driving the news: "This is not a Joe Biden issue, and it's definitely not a caucus issue," Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), said Wednesday to an annual gathering of Black print, TV and radio journalists. "We don't have the numbers right now on voting rights."

Why it matters: Democrats are increasingly concerned that disappointment with President Biden and their party will lead to lower turnout with voters of color.

  • That would come precisely at the time the party needs their support to hold or even expand their number of Senate seats this fall.
  • Roughly 20 Democratic senators joined the hourlong roundtable discussion, convened by the Democratic Steering and Oversight Committee.
  • It was moderated by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

State of play: Democratic leaders have already projected a "bleak" midterms cycle for their party if they're not able to deliver on federal voting rights before November.

  • Now, they're hoping to message to Black voters — through the conduit of Black journalists — about the biggest issues facing the African American community.
  • They range from voting rights and student loan debt to maternal health and confirming what would be the nation's first Black female Supreme Court justice.

What they're saying: "There are still Black voters who feel apathetic, and who make the case that this party has not been able to protect our voting rights," Booker said of his experience talking with people in New Jersey. "That's a real apathy that we're hearing out there."

  • Booker, Klobuchar and Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) were emphatic that Democrats are still working on voting rights and police reform — but admitted one of their best options is to give more power to the states.
  • "Remember, some of this is organizing, some of this is not on the official side, but it's on the political side, in terms of getting groups going in each state when these bills come up and putting a big spotlight on them," Klobuchar told the group.

The big picture: It's not just policy that's at risk by the Democrats' narrow and, perhaps, receding, Senate margin.

Some are concerned about what the 50-5o chamber means for confirming Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court.

Black voters' enthusiasm about the midterms spiked after Jackson's confirmation hearings started, Morning Consult reported.

  • "It ain't over," said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) of Jackson's path to confirmation. While a key Republican, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) announced her support Wednesday, Durbin said, "[T]hings beyond our control can change this outcome."
  • Durbin, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, pointed to Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), who was in the room and wearing a mask. Last week, Casey tested positive for COVID-19 and couldn't go to the Capitol to vote.
  • "We're so happy to have a Republican senator on our side," Durbin added, speaking of Collins. "That is relief. But the fact the matter is ... we're living in a 50-50 world where every vote can make the difference as to whether or not she is going to be confirmed."

The backdrop: Democrats generally feel better about their chances of keeping the Senate compared to the House, but they're still facing a difficult cycle.

  • There are 14 Democratic senators up for re-election, and 20 Republican seats are also are up.
  • Georgia, New Hampshire, Arizona and Nevada are the Democrats' toughest seats to retain, as they're being targeted by Republicans.
  • Lawmakers in both chambers have been discussing and proposing a litany of executive orders to the White House as a way to try to pass the components of their more ambitious plans.
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