BETHESDA, Md. (AP) — Aiming to turn months of legislative accomplishments into political energy, President Joe Biden sought Thursday to underscore the choice facing voters in the midterm elections, comparing Republican ideology to “semi-fascism," as he led a kickoff rally and a fundraiser in Maryland.
The events, in the safely Democratic Washington suburbs, are meant to ease Biden into what White House aides say will be an aggressive season of championing his policy victories and aiding his party’s candidates. It comes as Democrats have seen their political hopes rebound in recent months amid a legacy-defining burst of action by Biden and Congress.
From bipartisan action on gun control, infrastructure and domestic technology manufacturing to Democrats-only efforts to tackle climate change and health care costs, Biden is expected to highlight the achievements of the party's unified but razor-thin control of Washington. And he will try to sharpen the contrast with Republicans, who once seemed poised for sizable victories in November.
Just months ago, as inflation soared, Biden’s poll numbers soured and his agenda stalled, Democrats braced for significant losses. But the intense voter reaction to the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade and a productive summer on issues of core concern to Democrats have the party feeling like it is finally on the offensive heading into the Nov. 8 vote, even as the president remains unpopular.
Democrats, said Biden pollster John Anzalone, are “in a better position to compete because Joe Biden put us there.”
“It doesn’t mean that the wind’s at our back,” he added. “But we have more of a breeze than what felt like a gale hurricane in our face.”
Ahead of the rally, Biden was raising about $1 million at an event with about 100 donors for the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Grassroots Victory Fund in the backyard of a lavish Bethesda home.
“I think the American people are waking up to reality that things have changed so drastically" with Republicans, he told donors, adding, “Mark my words” that if Democrats we lose the midterms, Republicans would move to “wiping out choice, across the board.”
Biden’s Thursday event comes a day after the president moved to fulfill a long-delayed campaign pledge to forgive federal student loans for lower- and middle-income borrowers — a move that Democrats believe will animate younger and Black and Latino voters.
Republicans, though, saw their own political advantage in the move, casting it as an unfair giveaway to would-be Democratic voters.
“President Biden’s inflation is crushing working families, and his answer is to give away even more government money to elites with higher salaries,” said Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell. “Democrats are literally using working Americans’ money to try to buy themselves some enthusiasm from their political base.”
Biden aides said he would continue to paint Republicans as the “ultra-MAGA” party — a reference to former President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan — opposing his agenda and embracing conservative ideological proposals, and Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election.
“What we’re seeing now is either the beginning or the death knell of an extreme MAGA philosophy," Biden said. "It’s not just Trump, it’s the entire philosophy that underpins the — I’m going to say something, it’s like semi-fascism.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden on Thursday would criticize “Congressional Republicans and their extreme MAGA agenda — taking away our rights, defending the super-rich and corporations, and putting Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block.”
She added that Biden “always quotes his dad – ‘don’t compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative.’ The alternative to Congressional Democrats and President Biden’s agenda is Congressional Republicans’ extreme MAGA proposals.”
Since the June Supreme Court ruling, Democrats have seen a boost in donations, polling and performance in special elections for open congressional seats. The latest came Tuesday in a Hudson Valley swing district that, in a Republican wave year, should have been an easy GOP win. Instead, Democratic Ulster County executive Pat Ryan, who campaigned on a platform of standing up for abortion rights, defeated his Republican counterpart from Duchess County, Marc Molinaro.
The shift is giving Democrats a new sense that a Republican sweep of the House is no longer such a sure bet, particularly as polling better than Biden and battle-tested incumbents work their districts
Meanwhile, Democrats have benefited from Republican candidates who won primaries but are struggling in the general campaign. Trump-backed Senate candidates have complicated the GOP’s chances in battleground states like Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona, while several Trump-aligned candidates in House races were not always the party’s first choice.
Trump’s grip on the GOP remains strong and has perhaps even become tighter in the aftermath of the FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago home.
JB Poersch, the president of Senate Majority Project, an outside group that is working to elect Democrats to the Senate, said the Republican candidates are “getting caught up in the Trump tornado once again — that is exactly what voters of both parties don’t want.”
Biden's political event, sponsored by the Democratic National Committee, comes as the president and members of his Cabinet are set to embark on what the White House has billed as the “Building a Better America Tour” to promote “the benefits of the President’s accomplishments and the Inflation Reduction Act to the American people and highlight the contrast with Congressional Republicans’ vision.”
It comes as the White House has benefited from a steady decline in gasoline prices, which, while still elevated, have dropped daily since mid-June.
Months ago, Democratic lawmakers facing tough reelection fights sought to make themselves scarce when Biden came to town, though White House aides said Biden was still an asset to them by elevating issues that resonate with voters and sharpening the distinction with Republicans.
Now, allies see the fortunes beginning to change and the president as more of a direct asset to campaigns.
In Maryland, Biden was set to be joined by gubernatorial candidate Wes Moore and a host of other officials on the ballot. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, who is up for reelection, was missing it, according to a spokesperson, because of a long-planned wedding anniversary trip with his wife, but he recorded a video welcoming Biden to his state that would play at the rally.
Cedric Richmond, the former Louisiana congressman and Biden senior adviser who now advises the Democratic National Committee, said if he were a candidate, he’d rush to have Biden at his side.
“I’d get in front of the van and become the drum major and talk about all the accomplishments that have happened under the leadership of Biden,” Richmond said Wednesday. “You have a president who just keeps his head down and gets the work done and I think voters, as we kick off this campaign season, will see and appreciate that.”
He acknowledged some Democrats might opt against “bringing Washington to their district."
“There are probably a few cases where that may make sense when you don’t even want to be associated with Washington,” Richmond said. “That has nothing to do with the president. That has everything to do with the typical dysfunction of Washington.”
He added, “The important point to stress is you don’t have that dysfunction right now because of President Biden.”
AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro and AP writer Nicholas Riccardi contributed to this report.
Follow AP's coverage of the 2022 midterm elections at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections.
Zeke Miller And Aamer Madhani, The Associated Press