May 6, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: House GOP homes in on Biden as top 2024 punching bag

President Biden, wearing a dark blue suit, white shirt and light blue tie, holding up his fists.

President Biden. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images.

House Republicans are looking to President Biden as their premier target to drag down vulnerable Democrats going into the 2024 general election.

Why it matters: Republicans lost their top bogeyman when Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) stepped down as House Democrats' leader, and her successor, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), has not yet proven an effective foil.

Driving the news: A National Republican Congressional Committee memo circulated on Sunday said there is "not a single NRCC-targeted Democrat in the country who has been willing to openly create separation from the historically unpopular head of their party."

  • In addition to citing Biden's underwater national approval, the memo posits that he is unpopular in evenDemocratic-leaning swing districts.
  • "We expect Democrats to wake up and furiously backpedal away from Biden in the fall. But ... it will be too little, too late for Democrats to attempt a last-minute makeover," reads the memo, first obtained by Axios.

State of play: While there was early hesitation among Democrats about supporting Biden running for a second term, his detractors have largely gotten on board since he announced his campaign.

  • Biden's most unsteady bloc of support among House Democrats is safe-seat progressives who voted "uncommitted" or didn't vote in their states' presidential primaries in protest of Biden's support for Israel.

What they're saying: NRCC spokesperson Will Reinert said the House GOP is "chomping at the bit to cut ads telling Americans extreme House Democrats supported President Biden's radical agenda every step of the way."

  • Down-ballot Democrats are "tied to [Biden] ... [the] border and these protests are what people will vote on," one swing-district Republican told Axios.

The other side: "Joe Biden created 15 million jobs, capped the price of insulin at $35, and made health care more affordable than ever," Biden campaign spokesperson Mia Ehrenberg told Axios.

  • "That record of historic results ... is what the President and Democrats across the country will be running on in November, while Republicans are stuck defending Trump's promises to cut taxes for the billionaires at the expense of the middle class, and ban abortion nationwide. "
  • Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesperson Viet Shelton said voters are "turned off by MAGA extremism" and Republicans "are focused on the wrong priorities — as polling continues to show."

Zoom out: House Democrats have never treated Biden as toxic to the degree House Republicans did with Trump in the 2018 midterms.

  • Biden criss-crossed the country campaigning for Democrats in 2022 and has been welcomed by many to join them again this cycle.
  • The Biden campaign noted that this is also far from the first time Republicans have employed this strategy since 2020.
  • One House Democrat told Axios their vulnerable colleagues "mostly" want Biden in their districts, but that it's a two-way street: "We are pretty committed to helping him win ... We owe it to our country."

The bottom line: Some have found opportunities to distance themselves from Biden on policy where they can through House votes and public statements.

  • For some swing-district House Democrats, it's all about threading the needle.
  • "I got elected in a Republican district by never saying the words 'Joe Biden,'" one lawmaker said. "My gut is that it's not an issue for folks."

Editor's note: This story was updated with additional context.

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