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Democrats want Biden to be aggressive in debate against Trump

House Democrats want President Biden to take no prisoners in Thursday’s debate, saying only an assertive approach can effectively sell his policy message, repel the GOP attacks on his competence — and counter the bellicose style of former President Trump.

The Democrats maintain Biden has the clear upper hand heading into the high-stakes event, as the incumbent president with a host of major legislative victories under his belt. But with inflation concerns still dampening the national mood, they want their White House ally to make the clear case that those policies have improved people’s lives — and to make it forcefully.

“He should be aggressive,” said Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), a former head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “He’s got a great record to run on, and he should call out Trump appropriately for what he’s not able to do — that he doesn’t have a plan.”

The push highlights the unique, dichotomous nature of debates in national campaigns. While they provide candidates with an enormous stage to promote their platforms and challenge their opponents, the televised soapbox also poses risks that a poor performance — in delivery, in appearances, even a single gaffe — could churn headlines and leave unfavorable impressions with voters. In that environment, the optics matter as much as the substance.

Democrats were delighted by Biden’s performance at his annual State of the Union speech in March, when he delivered a spirited defense of his legislative victories and promised more to come if voters keep Democrats in power. Almost four months later, they’re hoping he brings that same zeal to the debate stage Thursday night. 

“He should be as energetic as he was during the State of the Union address. Because political operatives on the other side worked double time to try and persuade people that Biden is low energy and incapable of office,” Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) said. “They wanted drug tests after that [because] he did so well in terms of his energy level. 

“I’d like to see him repeat that.” 

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) echoed that message, saying Biden’s March speech alleviated the Democratic concerns that GOP attacks on the president’s fitness were resonating with voters and could be a drag on the party up and down the ballot. 

“[He] just cleared the air for a lot of people,” Takano said. “There were doubts about his vigor, his capacity, and I think he clearly showed at the State of the Union that he was more than up for the job.”

Thursday’s debate is the first of two scheduled ahead of November’s election, when Biden and Trump will face off in a rematch of their 2020 contest. Behind Trump, Republicans throughout the campaign have portrayed the 81-year-old Biden as an enfeebled figure who lacks the physical stamina and mental acuity the office demands. 

At a recent rally, Trump had suggested that Biden would be “pumped up” on cocaine to help him through Thursday’s debate — a baseless accusation that Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) was forced to shoot down Wednesday. 

Democrats have repeatedly dismissed the attacks on the president’s fitness, pointing to the long list of legislative accomplishments in his first three and a half years while noting that Trump, who just turned 78, has committed his own share of gaffes on the campaign trail this year. Biden’s doctors, meanwhile, have regularly certified that he’s fit to serve.

Still, polls have steadily indicated that Biden’s age is a liability for the president in the eyes of voters. And, tone aside, Democrats are eager for Biden to highlight his legislative track record, particularly the major legislation he pushed into law in the first two years of his term when Democrats also controlled the Senate and House. 

That list includes legislation to help small businesses survive the pandemic; provide $1 trillion for new infrastructure projects; boost domestic manufacturing of computer chips; and reduce the cost of insulin to $35 for patients.

“The president led us in one of the most productive Congress’s last term in the last 50 years,” Rep. Darren Soto (D-Fla.) said. “He’s gotta talk about it — and how it’s improving people’s lives.

Cartwright pointed to one project in his district that Biden could tout: a new passenger rail between Scranton, Pa., where Biden was born, and New York City, which is estimated to bring tens of millions of dollars to the region. 

“We haven’t had that in 50 years,” Cartwright said. “Would not have happened without the big push for infrastructure.”

Biden has his work cut out. 

By a host of measures, the country is in better shape than it was before the pandemic. The unemployment rate is lingering at decades-old lows; the stock market is hovering at historic highs; workers’ wages have increased significantly; and violent crime is happening less frequently than it was in 2019 under Trump.

Still, many Americans perceive a different reality — some recent polls indicate that a majority of voters think the country is in a recession — largely because the rising cost of many consumer goods through the pandemic continues to hit consumers in the pocket book. Republicans, in particular, are more likely to blame the federal government for inflation. 

Democrats say Biden should not run away from the issue, but instead use the debate stage to acknowledge the challenges inflation has caused lower- and middle-class people while pointing to specific policies he’ll push to address the lingering problem. 

“Although inflation is ticking down, it’s not going backwards. And so people remember that, two years ago, they paid a lot less for eggs and bread,” Cartwright said. “And I think that has to be acknowledged and that we’re working on it.”

Trump’s debate style also poses unique challenges to his opponents. The former president is famously combative from the podium, frequently interjecting while rivals are speaking and clashing with moderators trying to bring calm to the stage. Trump and Biden’s first debate in 2020 is largely remembered for the former president’s interruptions and badgering.

Already, he and his campaign team have accused CNN’s appointed moderators — Jake Tapper and Dana Bash — of being biased against him. 

Democrats conceded that Trump is no ordinary debater, but expressed confidence that Biden — a longtime veteran of the debate stage — can handle his own. 

“You can’t let him run over you if you’re in a debate with him, but you don’t want to get into a shouting match with him. You’ve got to be strong and measured,” Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) said.

Source: The Hill

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