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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Vulnerable House Democrats are convinced they need to talk less about the man who helped them get elected: President Trump.

Why it matters: Democrats are privately concerned nationalizing the 2022 mid-terms with emotionally-charged issues — from Critical Race Theory to Donald Trump's role in the Jan. 6 insurrection — will hamstring their ability to sell the local benefits of President Biden's Build Back Better agenda.

  • The push by centrist lawmakers, especially from the suburbs, to keep the conversation away from Trump is frequently derailed by the party's loudest voices — and their insistence to talk about him at every turn.
  • “People don't want to hear about Donald Trump,” Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.), told Axios. "They're going to vote because they want to see people get sh-t done.”
  • "All politics is local," Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux (D-Ga.) tweeted last week. "Whether it's advocating for the equitable redevelopment of Gwinnett Place Mall, or securing funding for our local trailway system, every day I am working in Congress for our community."
  • "All politics are local," Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) echoed during an interview with Axios. "I don't believe you run national campaigns for Congress."

Driving the news: Democrats took a drubbing in the Virginia gubernatorial election early last month.

  • When swing-district lawmakers returned to Washington after their Thanksgiving recess, they felt convinced about the wisdom of not running for re-election on national issues, one told Axios, requesting anonymity to speak freely.
  • While many of them surfed an anti-Trump blue wave to office, they believe strongly that continuing to run on kitchen-table issues is their only hope of re-election with Trump now out of office.

The big picture: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is walking a fine line between stoking anti-Trump animus — to help raise money and motivate activists — and giving their vulnerable "frontline" members space to talk about issues that matter to suburban voters.

  • "The leading role is getting big things done,” Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), chair of the DCCC, told Axios.
  • Any discussion of Trump and the Jan. 6 insurrection should come after focusing on Biden's agenda. It's a “one-two punch,” Maloney said.
  • “We're delivering results at scale, for the size of the problems,” he said, citing enactment of the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. “That's key, but the Republicans being reckless and irresponsible and motivated only by power is also going to be important.”

The bottom line: After Virginia, Democrats are on notice about the challenge confronting them next year.

  • Even the most elegant individual effort to localize a House race may not matter if there's a national anti-Democrat tsunami.
  • “It’s going to be really really hard to distinguish yourself from your national brand,” said Sean McElwee, executive director of Data for Progress, a progressive think tank. “It’s functionally impossible for House members to do.”
  • Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg said Democrats need to capitalize on their successes and paint Republicans as extremists.
  • "The process of defining the Republicans as unfit will not be about Trump," he told Axios, but instead about how each Republican has adopted "unacceptable positions."

Go deeper

Pence: "Tragic" Jan. 6 no reason to scrap filibuster

Photo: Drew Angerer via Getty Images

Former Vice President Mike Pence on Friday called the Jan. 6 Capitol riot an attempt to "overturn results of the presidential election that had been certified by all 50 states."

Why it matters: Though the former vice president's op-ed in the Washington Post focuses on rebutting filibuster reforms, these are also the most public statements Pence has made about the post-election narrative and the attack as an effort to interfere with President Biden's victory.

Democratic retirements spark worry over holding House majority

Expand chart
Data: House Press Gallery; Table: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Reps. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) and Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) are the latest lawmakers to announce that they will not seek re-election this year, bringing the total number of Democratic retirements to 28, compared with 14 Republicans.

Why it matters: The increasing number of Democratic retirements — put against the backdrop of President Biden's sagging approval ratings and uncertainty about redistricting — is adding to concerns the party may not be able to keep its slim majority in the House.

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.

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