Jan 8, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Biden's '24 pivot

McConnell and Biden

President Biden greets Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) at an infrastructure event in Kentucky. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden is quietly pivoting to the middle as he prepares for a 2024 run.

What's happening: His early '23 moves — Sunday's visit to the U.S.-Mexico border and his appearance with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to promote the infrastructure law — gave a crystal-clear contrast with the GOP's chaotic speaker fight.

Why it matters: Voters sent a clear message in the midterms that they value bipartisanship, rejecting extreme candidates. Republicans accommodated the far right, with often disastrous results.

  • Biden began his administration pandering to progressives. But he ended '22 with his party cutting deals with some Republicans on small-scale gun regulations — and a big infrastructure package.

Zoom in: Sunday's trip to El Paso, Texas, the first time Biden has visited the U.S.-Mexico border as president, will showcase law enforcement — taking a possible Democratic vulnerability head-on.

  • "This feels like the Joe Biden of 2020," said Jim Kessler, executive vice president for policy at the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way. "This trip to the border is what the doctor ordered."

Reality check: Even as Biden shores up his center flank, he'll still need to balance the priorities between the party's ascendant progressive wing and majority-making moderates.

  • On immigration, party activists are already crying foul in anticipation of tougher enforcement measures at the border — even as such moves are a political necessity not just for Biden but the several red-state Senate Democrats up for re-election in 2024.
  • But unlike in the last two years when Democrats held unified power, Biden now has a useful foil in House Republicans, who have showcased their fractiousness in the speaker fight.

What to watch: This year's State of the Union address (no date yet) will help solidify Biden's positioning.

  • Don't expect an ideological 180 — like President Clinton's "the era of big government is over" SOTU in 1996. After all, Biden outperformed expectations in the midterms without explicitly rejecting left-wingers.
  • But look for some Clintonesque triangulation, proposing bipartisan deals for passage in the Senate while fully expecting to see them rejected in the Republican-held House.

One idea, referenced in a column by The Atlantic's Ron Brownstein: Placing an emphasis "on improving conditions for workers in jobs that don’t require advanced credentials," in a push to make inroads with blue-collar voters who have deserted the Democratic Party.

What we're hearing: The White House is asking agencies and departments to share their top priorities for the year, as officials craft a SOTU message that addresses progressive priorities without alienating independent voters, Axios' Hans Nichols reports.

  • Chief of staff Ron Klain has developed a finely tuned antenna to detect any disappointment by progressives, and he keeps an open door to hear their concerns.

The bottom line: The emerging Biden bet is that he can reprise his winning 2020 campaign theme — winning re-election as a center-left incumbent who looks better than the radical alternatives.

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