This week, House Democrats gathered in Washington to resurrect their sagging domestic agenda. They convened closed-door strategy sessions to discuss how to communicate with voters about growing inflation, the environment issue, and immigration reform, and voting rights. However, Russia’s violent, televised conflict in Ukraine — and the ensuing humanitarian tragedy – overshadowed the Democrats’ annual winter meeting. As President Joe Biden and the Democrats seek to defend razor-thin majorities in the House and Senate, the looming crisis threatens to derail the party’s electoral agenda. The raging battle, combined with Biden’s decision to block all Russian oil imports, has driven up gas prices in the United States to all-time highs, leaving Democrats scrambling to come up with a response to voters paying more at the pump and Republicans using it as a wedge issue to bash Democrats.
Democrats have publicly and privately chastised the Biden administration for canceling a deal that would have seen Poland deploy MiG fighter jets to assist Ukraine to shore up its defenses. Rep. Greg Meeks, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., a doctor skilled in disaster assistance, both became upset as they described hundreds of fatigued and cold Ukrainian migrants, largely women and children, who were flowing into Poland.
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared to reporters on Friday, “Slava Ukraini,” which means “Glory to Ukraine.” “ Last night, we spent a lot of time talking about Ukraine. So much of what we’ve spoken about has to do with Ukraine. “This is central to what we’re talking about here. People are dying.” She pointed out that Congress just passed a large budget measure that contained $13.6 billion in new military and humanitarian help for Ukraine. When asked by NBC News if the Ukraine issue has thrown the Democrats’ election-year strategy off, Pelosi answered that helping American families remained Biden and his party’s top priority.
“So, no, we don’t stop what we need to do for America’s working families. We have to be strong, and as the president has clearly prioritized, we need to meet the needs of the American people. We have to save our own democracy, which is under assault in our country,” said Pelosi, flanked by her leadership team. “And at the same time, we can honor our responsibilities to peace in the world and help all we can.”
The harsh reality is that Russia’s war, now in its third week, is sapping Biden and congressional members’ time, energy, and political capital, further compromising the party’s already tenuous chances of repackaging elements of its delayed Build Back Better plan and passing it through Congress.