Updated Nov 9, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Biden's post-midterms reboot

President Biden gives a yell and thumbs up

Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

President Biden's team plans to seize on the messy midterm results to sharpen its contrast with congressional Republicans, while retooling the White House into a more political operation, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: If a narrow GOP victory in the House produces an unwieldy, chaotic majority, it could give Democrats the perfect foil to highlight their differences.

  • If Democrats keep a bare Senate majority, Biden could promote his agenda in that chamber, and then rail against House Republicans for stalling it.
  • Still, the White House will go forward with plans to staff up for anticipated congressional subpoenas and hearings, knowing even a narrow GOP majority in the House would have the advantage of conducting congressional oversight and investigations.

The big picture: Biden is defying history. Midterm losses for the president's party averaged 28 House seats and four in the Senate from 1934 to 2018, as UCSB's American Presidency Project details.

  • In recent midterms, Republicans lost 40 House seats in 2018 (though picked up two Senate seats); Democrats lost Senate and double-digit House seats in 2014 and 2010 and so did Republicans in 2006.
  • Biden officials for months were preparing to lose one or both chambers of Congress, knowing that history trends and the economy would work against them.
  • But like Presidents Obama and Clinton before him, Biden may be able to use divided government to run against Congress in the second half of his first term. And that could put him in a better position to win reelection, according to aides and advisers.

What we're watching: In the coming weeks, Biden will ramp up his outreach to big-dollar donors, timed to White House holiday parties, to underwrite his likely reelection campaign.

What we're hearing: Getting on political offense and playing a strong defense on oversight — may necessitate some strategic and personnel changes at the White House.

  • Biden will likely lean more on executive actions to achieve his policy goals.
  • He'll also need more staff who understand how to use the presidency's administrative tools, rather than experts on crafting complex legislation.

But, but, but: Biden's new approach won't be entirely oppositional. He will look for opportunities to work with Congress on the "unity agenda" he unveiled in his State of the Union address, including veterans care and reducing opioid overdoses.

The intrigue: The most important personnel decision may be made not by the president himself but by his chief of staff, Ron Klain.

  • Klain has indicated to colleagues that he’s exhausted, and many of them expect him to leave as early as this year. But Klain doesn’t appear to have made his decision, and many officials simply can’t envision a Biden presidency without Klain helping to conduct it.

What's next: Top officials insist that Biden's preparing to run for reelection. But they're also prepared for scattered calls for him to serve only one term.

  • Despite private and public assurances from would-be challengers, there is no guarantee that one or several won't decide they represent a better chance to win in 2024.
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