Biden’s grip on Democrats weakens, as allies criticize inaction, agenda

President Biden’s grip on his supporters is weakening, as a prominent Democrat is distancing himself from the president ahead of an election and a leading congressional Democrat says voters do not fully understand Mr. Biden’s agenda.

A crack in the “Build Back Better” agenda became visible Sunday via the criticism of former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat running for the governor’s seat in November. Rather than tout Democrats’ work, Mr. McAuliffe said Sunday he is frustrated with the Democrats he helped to put in charge in Washington. 

“We’ve got frustration with Washington. Why haven’t we passed this infrastructure bill?” Mr. McAuliffe said on CNN. “It passed the U.S. Senate with 69 votes two months ago. I have been very straight on television. We’re tired of the chitty chat up in Washington. Get in a room and get this figured out.”

Mr. McAuliffe’s rhetoric has changed sharply about Mr. Biden. When CNN showed Mr. McAuliffe clips of him touting Mr. Biden in July and then calling Mr. Biden “unpopular” in Virginia last week, the Democratic candidate said he was being “very authentic.”

Mr. McAuliffe’s shift appears indicative of voters who are growing confused about the details of Mr. Biden’s agenda. As Democrats debate how many trillions of taxpayer dollars to expend on their social spending package, Rep. Adam B. Schiff, California Democrat, said Sunday that voters do not understand the legislation. 

“I think I hear the same thing that not enough Americans know what’s in this bill, but when they find out, they really applaud what’s in it, in particular, expanding Medicare to cover hearing and dental and vision care, lowering prescription drug prices, expanding family and paid medical leave, as well as childcare and lifting children out of poverty,” Mr. Schiff said on CBS. “So the provisions of the bill are hugely popular but there’s been so much fixation on what’s the number that the House and Senate are going to agree to, what’s the number that Democrats can come together on? I do think this is a very short-lived problem.” 

Republicans, however, view Mr. Biden’s agenda as having longer-term damage. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise told “Fox News Sunday” that Mr. Biden’s policies caused inflation, hampered the economy, fostered welfare programs that discouraged work and piled regulations on businesses struggling to survive. 

“All of those things are adding up and they’re all self-imposed by President Biden who walked in with three vaccines and an economy primed to take off, and yet it’s been disappointment after disappointment every month because of this failed Biden agenda,” said Mr. Scalise, Louisiana Republican. 

Mr. Biden’s staunchest allies in Congress hold out hope that his agenda still has legs. Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware told “Fox News Sunday” he thinks Democrats can still reverse the 2017 GOP tax overhaul, among other things. 

“What I think matters most is the policies that we agree on as Democrats, that we should reduce the costs facing most working families—the cost of health care, the cost of child care, the cost of things like paid family leave and pre-K, and come together around a package that is fully paid for,” Mr. Coons said. 

Mr. Coons, who hails from Mr. Biden’s home state of Delaware, said his belief that Democrats will succeed is rooted in his heart-to-heart talks with the president. 

“One of the reasons why I have supported, I do support, and I’ll continue to support Joe Biden is he‘s a person who deeply believes in us,” said Mr. Coons. “He believes in our nation. He believes in standing up and fighting for democracy on the world stage and on strengthening American families here at home. And I’m confident that his leadership, in the end, will prove out to have been successful.”

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