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Biden and House Democrats chart a 2024 course based on their legislative track record

Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester speaks with Rep. Abigail Spanberger ahead of President Biden's speech during the annual House Democrats Issues Conference in Baltimore, Md.
Drew Angerer
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Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester speaks with Rep. Abigail Spanberger ahead of President Biden's speech during the annual House Democrats Issues Conference in Baltimore, Md.

President Biden and House Democrats are mounting a full-court press to take their legislative record on the road and into districts across the country to remind voters of what they've already accomplished. Their hope: flip the handful of seats needed to regain control of the chamber next year.

"If we did nothing — nothing — but implement what we've already passed and let the people know who did it for them, we win," Biden said during an energetic speech Wednesday as House Democrats kicked off their annual three-day retreat in Baltimore.

The reality of divided government means it's unlikely Democrats will pass any major legislation, forcing them to instead go on the defensive and tout the legislation they've already passed.

"Folks, you all know how much we've gotten done, but a lot of the country still doesn't know it," Biden said. "That's why the big job in front of us is implementing the laws we passed, so people start to see it in their lives — all the benefits that are there because you produced it for them."

Biden ticked through a list of legislative accomplishments, including the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, the first major gun safety legislation passed by Congress in nearly 30 years, legislation to boost the domestic manufacturing of semiconductor chips and a sweeping climate, health care and tax bill.

"We just have a buffet of accomplishments to offer, and he just rolled them out in such a way that it can really resonate with the everyday person," Ohio Rep. Shontel Brown told NPR.

Biden pledged to coordinate with members to effectively message legislative wins

"You tell us what you need to help us understand the impact that it's having on all of your district and your folks, and we're going to get it done," Biden said.

Although Biden hasn't officially announced his reelection bid, it's widely expected he will seek another term, which means his fate and those of House Democrats are likely tied together.

That means what members ask of the administration will vary from district to district depending on the president's popularity.

"It may be a lower-level official that's coming in talking about 'let's have a roundtable with your town officials to talk about how to apply for rural broadband funding.' It may not be having the Cabinet or the president in your district every other week," New Hampshire Rep. Ann Kuster told NPR.

Kuster, who said she lives in "purple world," said members have been in close talks with Cabinet officials and the White House about how to work together to make intricate legislation like the infrastructure bill accessible to their constituents.

"How do you make that real; how do you tell that story?" she mused. "It's by working together, having Cabinet members and officials from the government come to our districts."

As an example, she points to visits in her district from Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg showing new bridges under construction and White House infrastructure coordinator Mitch Landrieu highlighting a new interstate interchange.

"Those are the kinds of stories that people stop to think 'Oh, I have a better commute' or 'Oh, I'm working from home because I have better internet service.' And we're making that connection to your precious tax dollars, hard at work making a difference in your life."

Democrats want to get credit for "shovels in the ground" and "cranes in the air"

During his speech, Biden brought out a mock-up of a sign for an infrastructure project in Baltimore to rebuild a tunnel. At the top in all caps are the words "President Joe Biden."

"We're going so far as to print signs to let people know who is bringing this project and why it's happening," he said to applause.

Brown said this is all part of the strategy to keep the impact of Democrats' votes in Washington top of mind for their constituents.

"As we start to see more shovels in the ground, as we start to see more cranes in the air, we can start to point to that and say, 'Hey, that's what Democrats did for you,' " she said.

Democrats in Baltimore repeatedly talked about the need to make sure their constituents know who voted — and didn't vote — for federal dollars on infrastructure.

"We continue to draw the contrast with Republicans who voted 'no' but want to take the dough," said Texas Rep. Veronica Escobar. "I am already seeing a number of my Republican colleagues who voted against these historic pieces of legislation want to claim credit. We can't let that happen."

Democrats have unity on their minds

The degree of unity among House Democrats was in stark contrast to last year's retreat.

"We were right in the midst of one of the more challenging political debates and discussions about strategy and timing," Kuster said. "Now, those battles are behind us — we have come out the other side. And now we're having wonderful conversations about how to help the American people in their day-to-day lives."

She underscored: "One thing that's been really nice this session is there's just tremendous unity."

Part of that unity is aimed at opposing what members call "an extreme Republican agenda." Another element is uniting around Biden himself.

Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said the group is preparing an "executive action agenda" to present to the president following their own retreat.

Jayapal told reporters that while "nobody is surprised that Biden was not my choice in the first election for the primary," the CPC and the administration have formed an "incredibly strong partnership."

"I think he's the most progressive president we've had in a long time," she added.

Although most of the conference was marked by strong support of the president, there was a brief interruption on Thursday, when news of Biden's decision not to use his veto power to block a GOP-effort to repeal D.C.'s new crime law broke during a press conference with the Congressional Black Caucus.

"This is news to me and I'm very disappointed," said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton of D.C.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Barbara Sprunt is a producer on NPR's Washington desk, where she reports and produces breaking news and feature political content. She formerly produced the NPR Politics Podcast and got her start in radio at as an intern on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered and Tell Me More with Michel Martin. She is an alumnus of the Paul Miller Reporting Fellowship at the National Press Foundation. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania native.