Biden faces mounting stakes after massive setback in Virginia election

November 3, 2021
President Joe Biden walks on the South Lawn as he arrives at the White House early Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021 in Washington from a European trip. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) ORG XMIT: DCMC105

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden arrived back in Washington early Wednesday morning facing the biggest setback of his presidency after crushing election results in gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey delivered a rebuke of Democratic leadership and put more pressure on lawmakers to move his agenda forward after months of delay.

Republican Glenn Youngkin, the winner in Virginia, leads Democrat Terry McAuliffe by about 2 percentage points after Biden carried the state by 10 points in the 2020 presidential election.

The race in New Jersey between Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy and Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli remains too close to call. Although Murphy could still win, it marks an even greater electoral shift for a state that votes reliably blue. Biden defeated Donald Trump in New Jersey by 16 percentage points.

Biden now faces extraordinary pressure to unite fractured Democrats in Congress to pass his domestic spending agenda – a $1.85 trillion social-spending bill and a $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan – that remain stalled as progressive and moderate Democrats battle over details. 

More:Election results live updates: McAuliffe concedes to Youngkin; tight NJ governor’s race too close to call

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Wednesday said the election results would not change the timeline to bring both bills to the floor.

Negotiators resolved a key sticking point Tuesday over prescription drug pricing but two pivotal senators – centrist Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona – have yet to sign off on the larger social and climate bill. The support of both is necessary to win approval in the 50-50 Senate, where no Republican will join them and where Vice President Kamala Harris can break ties.

“We must strive to find common ground in the legislation,” Pelosi said in a letter to colleagues Wednesday.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., blamed his fellow Democrats in Congress for not getting the package done earlier so that McAuliffe and Murphy could show voters concrete gains as a result of Biden’s election last year.

“And guess what now? We’re going to get to the bills. We’re probably going to get both done before Thanksgiving. They’re going to do a lot of good for a lot of people,” Kaine told reporters Wednesday on Capitol Hill. “A lot of politics is about timing. And there was a time to do this. It would have helped in both of these states (but) Dems blew the timing.”

Biden, who returned to the White House at 1:38 a.m. EDT from his trip to Europe, did not respond to questions shouted by reporters about the election results. 

More:5 election takeaways: Race in education key in Virginia; a historic night for candidates of color

Months of inner-party sparring over Biden’s signatures proposals without results raised questions about Democrats’ ability to deliver, spoiling what could have been a platform for Democrats to run on in the off-year elections.

Biden’s poll numbers have been floundering for weeks as he’s struggled to sell his “Build Back Better” agenda. The president’s slide began with the rise of the Delta Covid-19 variant in August and chaotic military withdrawal from Afghanistan. 

More:Inside Biden’s falling poll numbers: 5 reasons why the president’s approval ratings have dropped

Biden and Democrats need a win. 

Tuesday’s results show the strength of the headwinds that Democrats face to keep their slim majorities in the the House and Senate in the 2022 midterm elections. Historically, the president’s opposing party makes up ground during midterms.

Contributing: Ledyard King

Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.

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