WASHINGTON -- Democrats are increasingly convinced that the White House needs to change its course, whether it is a new strategy or new staffers.
The political front is where President Joe Biden's numbers don't get better. His message doesn't resonate and his party's prospects for midterm success are dim. His Build Back Better plan is dead. Covid is still alive. Inflation is on the rise.
According to a dozen Democrats Party operatives, White House officials, and lawmakers who spoke to NBC News, he may not be able to deliver on his promises, help his party in November, or push an agenda for his final three years.
"A sign that a leader is a good leader and a competent executive is to identify policies and personnel choices that have failed to result in success and make necessary course corrects," said Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla), co-chair of Blue Dog Coalition, which has been unhappy with Biden's attempts to accommodate progressives at the expense of moderates.
Although only a few Democrats have requested that heads roll in the White House, even privately, there is more agreement within the party about the fact that Biden cannot continue doing the same thing and expect different results. There are many suggestions, from choosing a few high-stakes battles with Republicans to elevating Cabinet Secretaries to changing his inner circle through addition, subtraction, or both.
On condition of anonymity, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus said that the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the coronavirus outbreak have caused voters to question a key part of Biden’s campaign-trail sales pitch, that his team would be competent.
This lawmaker said that replacing top aides like Ron Klain would signal to the public that Biden is serious about changing things.
"Biden is the star quarterback and you can't fire him, so you look at the head coach, the offensive coordinator, and the defensive coordinator," said the lawmaker, pointing out Klain as the architect of a failed strategy to advance Biden’s agenda. In a situation such as this, you look at the chief of staff.
Three instances last year were highlighted by the lawmaker, who described them as White House strategic failures. After months of beating Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) for not making his position known about the Build Back Better plan and and Biden's visits to Capitol Hill with major bills pending, it was revealed that Chuck Schumer, D.N.Y., had signed a document in which Manchin listed his priorities for the legislation. However, he declined to ask them to vote on his infrastructure measure.
"There was no strategy. The lawmaker stated that this put the president in an extremely, terrible situation. "That must fall on the chief of staff."
Another Democratic lawmaker applauded Biden for his recent promise to travel more, but stated that he needs a shift at the top.
This lawmaker stated that he doesn't believe there is anything unusual after looking at the staffing situation for a year and possibly shaking things up. "My hope that he does that."
The House member stated that Klain had not been an enforcer for progressives on Capitol Hill, which led to the delay in the infrastructure law and futility on the Build Back Better measure.
The lawmaker stated, "You have to crack some heads sometimes."
Biden has been reluctant to let go of veteran aides and bring in new ones. His administration's upper echelon is filled with people who were part of his staff while he was vice president and when he was senator. Klain, Bruce Reed, his deputy chief of staff, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Mike Donilon, Steve Ricchetti, and Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, are just a few of them.
Biden stated last month that he was satisfied with his team at a White House news conference. He said that he would travel more and raise money for the midterms. He also promised to seek out more advice from outside experts.
This has not changed over the past weeks, White House spokesperson Chris Meagher stated.
Meagher stated that "the president has answered questions about staff changes in the past." "There has been no change in his remarks."
Tom Daschle, former Senate Democratic leader, is a member on the Board of the Center for American Progress. A liberal think tank, Daschle said that the core group of staffers was a source for strength for Biden, and that the White House has done a lot to increase economic growth, fight Covid, and reduce poverty among children.
"The president has a great team that he trusts and has great chemistry," Daschle said. He is also a registered lobbyist at Comcast, which is the parent company of NBCUniversal. "The last thing they should do is change the people."
Interviewees for the Democratic Party praised Biden's infrastructure law and Covid relief measure. They also praised him for overseeing an economy that grew and added over 6 million jobs, a record for the first year of a president.
When asked about the frustration of some Democrats with Klain, a White House official supported Biden's record at Capitol Hill.
The official stated that there was a 50-50 Senate vote and a four-vote margin for Democrats in the House. It is extremely difficult to get anything passed. It is amazing that the American Rescue Plan and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law were passed. This is testament to the leadership skills of the president's team. BBB is still a work-in-progress that we believe we can accomplish.
Official noted that Biden's campaign platform is reflected in his agenda and asked: "Are those who criticize Biden saying the Biden administration shouldn't have done what it was elected by the American people?"
Klain and other White House decision-makers get the most public and private criticism because of their high profile, according to Matt Bennett, cofounder of the center-left think-tank Third Way.
Bennett stated that the most prominent people are also the targets. Bennett added that White House shake-ups shake up those who are the most visible. Although it's often done to placate the nervous voices within the party, I don't believe it has the same impact as people think. There is no magical person who can solve all of these problems.
Bennett suggested that while it is possible to add new strategic thinkers, Bennett stated that the main thing is for the administration to strike the right chords with the public in comments about Covid or inflation.
"The entire administration could be more clear about how they want this to turn out. He said that he believed they knew this and were working to improve it. Bennett stated that Biden should be emphasizing the importance of the economy and that he will do all he can to reduce prices, improve the supply chain, and fix the problems in the labor market.
They know that he must be seen as pursuing those goals aggressively. He said that none of this was new to them.
As the pressure builds , there has been evidence of finger-pointing by Democrats as they look for a path forward. Recently, the White House raced to reassure Latino leaders irked by White House officials' criticisms of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra’s job performance in news reporting. Biden and other top staff members gave Becerra a close embrace.
NBC News reported Jaime Harrison, Democratic National Committee Chair, had thought of leaving his position prior to the midterms due to tension with Biden's aides. The White House stated that Biden intends to meet Harrison shortly.
This month, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) stated that the Becerra episode was a result of structural problems with the White House's decision to execute key priorities such as the coronavirus response.
Castro stated, "You don’t have to handicap your secretary by layering him under someone else."
Democrats claim that the signs of infighting are important because Biden cannot afford to lead dysfunction in his government while he is trying to convince the public that the country can be unified and managed. Every White House has its share of jockeying, where high-achieving high achievers can clash in a crucible with high stakes for their careers and the country.
This is made worse by public dissatisfaction about Biden.
Some White House aides worry that Biden will not be able make the necessary changes to support the party during the midterms and himself in 2024. Biden's top staff has remained the same, despite a few high-profile departures.
A second White House official said that "he has blind spots with his staff," and spoke under the condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak publicly. He should not be the second-worst approval rating , given all the positive things he has done. If I were you, I would reconsider the advice I get and the people I surround myself with. That is not what I see.
This official also lamented a feeling of strategic drift, and stated that everyone was "resigned" to the fact that Democrats were defeated in the midterms.
The official stated that it felt like a tsunami was coming and that no one was doing anything to stop it.
Philippe Reines was a former top advisor to Hillary Clinton and said that a staff shakeup would not be a miracle cure.
Reines stated that "He's not one employee away from a higher approbation rating."
Reines said that the disapproval numbers were due to a polarized electorate, half of which would not support Biden. He said that discontent also stems from the unrealistic expectation of a quieter political climate by electing Biden and ousting President Donald Trump.
Reines stated that there is a national hangover. When you're suffering from a hangover, you want to be able to just sit down and take Advil or water. Instead, everyone has a hangover and we are stuck at a concert.
Biden, as a candidate, promised to lower Washington's temperature. A core tension in his presidency was between the impulses to show civility and to attack political opponents. Faiz Shakir, the man who managed Bernie Sanders' 2020 presidential campaign said that Biden revived his campaign after he started taking more aggressive shots at his opponents.
Shakir stated that calls for a staff overhaul risk "infantilizing Biden" by suggesting that he is a puppet of his aides. Adding a fighter to his operation could help him clarify which areas he has most passionate disagreements.
Shakir stated, "On the political score it would be useful to have some people with sharper elbows for the president, to ensure that that side is projected."