Russia's invasion of Ukraine has thrown off the balance for Democrats -- and their election-year plan

Biden and his fellow Democrats claim they are making American workers families a priority. But, a bloody, televised conflict abroad continues to drain their time and political capital

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has thrown off the balance for Democrats -- and their election-year plan

PHILADELPHIA -- House Democrats gathered in Philadelphia this week to revive the faltering domestic agenda. They had closed-door strategy sessions to discuss how to speak to voters about rising inflation and the climate crisis, as well as how to move forward with immigration reform and voting rights.

The Democrats' annual winter conference was overshadowed by Russia's bloody, televised conflict in Ukraine and the subsequent humanitarian catastrophe. The party's midterm agenda is under threat from the burgeoning crisis as President Joe Biden, the Democrats and others seek to protect razor-thin majority in the House of Representatives and Senate.

The war in Afghanistan and Biden's decision not to allow Russian oil imports to be allowed have driven U.S. gasoline prices to new records. Democrats are struggling to find a way to respond to the increased gas prices and the Republicans using it as a wedge issue against their opponents.

The Biden administration has been publicly and privately criticized by Democrats for sabotaging a deal that would have seen Poland transfer MiG fighter planes to Ukraine to aid in its defenses.

Fresh from a trip across the Ukraine-Poland border in the United States, Rep. Greg Meeks (D-NY), who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Rep. RaulRuiz (D-Calif.), a doctor who is trained in disaster relief, became emotional when they described thousands of cold and tired Ukrainian refugees who were mostly women and children who had fled to Poland.

"Slava Ukraineini," declared Nancy Pelosi, House Speaker, to reporters Friday. She used a phrase that meant "Glory to Ukraine" and said "So much of last night was about Ukraine. Much of the issues we've been discussing has been related to Ukraine.

"This is the core of what we are talking about here. People are dying."

She pointed out that Congress passed this week a huge government funding package, $13.6 trillion in new military aid and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine.

Pelosi, however, was asked by NBC News whether the Democrats' election-year agenda had been rewritten by the Ukraine crisis. Pelosi replied that the priority of Biden is still to help American families.

So, no, we do not stop doing what is necessary to support America's working families. We must be strong and, as the president clearly prioritized, we have to meet the needs the American people. Pelosi was flanked by her leadership group. "We have to save our democracy, which is being attacked in our country." "But at the same, we must honor our responsibilities for peace and help all that we can.

However, the stark truth is that Russia's war is now in its third week and is draining a lot of energy, time and political capital from Biden, congressional lawmakers and further jeopardizing its already slim chances of repackaging pieces of its stalled Build Back Better program and passing it through Congress.

They worked tirelessly over the past few weeks to put together and pass a bipartisan $13.6 million emergency military and humanitarian aid package. Biden and legislators also worked on a series economic sanctions targeting Vladimir Putin and his oligarchs, as well as Russian financial institutions.

With the backing of Biden, the House and Senate will vote next week to repeal Russia's "most preferred nation" trade status. This is the latest in an ongoing economic war against Putin.

Biden spoke to lawmakers on Friday, closing out the Philadelphia House Democrats' gathering. He said that he spent nearly an hour talking with Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian President, and had just finished speaking with him.

Biden thanked the lawmakers for their "united front to world" in cracking down against Russian leaders and sending assistance to Ukraine. The president, however, warned that he wouldn't be sending U.S. planes or troops to Ukraine as commander-in-chief. This was an act he believed could ignite World War III.


 

"The notion that we will send in offensive equipment, have planes, tanks, and trains going in with American crews and pilots -- understand this. Biden stated, "That's called World War III. OK?" Let's just get this straight, guys.

This week, the Biden administration canceled a plan for Poland's MiG 29 fighter planes to be transferred to Ukraine. Some lawmakers were surprised and frustrated, vowing to resolve matters their way.

"I believe there's broad agreement in the Democratic Caucus... that we should support MiGs and provide MiGs," Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.), a combat veteran said in an interview.

"I think that's a reflection on where the American people are at the moment and the pressure we're feeling in our districts as well as in the country. The American people want us help Ukraine to survive, and to do whatever is necessary to stop Russia from waging war.

Voters support Biden's response in Ukraine to Russian invasion so far. However, Biden's war handling has not helped his declining favorability ratings. A Wall Street Journal survey released Friday found that 57% of voters disapprove of Biden’s performance while only 42% approve.

These numbers are likely due to rising inflation and high gas prices. They are hitting Americans' pockets even though the economy is heating up and the unemployment rate is falling.

Some Democrats presented the unpopular argument in the City of Brotherly Love that Americans would need to "sacrifice" more to pay less at the pump while Ukrainians and other Europeans made greater sacrifices to stop Putin’s march.

"After visiting Poland and speaking to our allies, particularly in the E.U. They are sacrificing a lot. They're doing things no one thought they would do," Meeks (House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair) told reporters. He noted that the Germans will have to pay more since they halted construction on the Nord Stream 2 natural-gas pipeline from Russia.

"Putin expected us to be divided. He expected us to break up. He expected people to say, "I'm not going make that kind sacrifice." So they are doing it in Europe. So yes, I am asking Americans to make the sacrifice. Democracy is at stake.

After more than two years in a global pandemic that left millions of people dying, it is unclear if "more sacrifice" will be a message that resonates with voters who want to feel normal again and are struggling to solve their financial problems.

When asked if he agreed to Meeks' suggestion that Americans should sacrifice at the pump, Ruiz (the son of farmworkers and later became an emergency room doctor) paused for a few seconds, then became emotional.

"I saw young mothers fleeing their homes for their children at the Ukrainian border. I saw children with disabilities in wheelchairs. I saw autistic children. I witnessed the mother's love for her child. I also saw elderly people, frail and elderly becoming scared. Ruiz said that she saw relatives crying, who I could only imagine were thinking about their spouse or elderly brother or sister.

"Every American is seeing it, regardless of whether you are a CNN News viewer, MSNBC, Fox News or Fox News viewer. You're seeing the horrors that children fleeing war zones with their suitcases, and who fled the country in search of peace and escape. These are the effects of war.

Ruiz was praised for his efforts in helping victims of the Haiti earthquake of 2010.

"We need to ask ourselves what we stand for as democracy to defend other democracies, and to protect us against autocracies. What price will we pay to stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian people as individuals? That price is one that I will pay. If that means we have to pay a little more for gas, then that's okay.


 

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