These concerns have been communicated to the administration in a series of meetings and emails over the past few weeks, six people familiar with the discussions told POLITICO. They got louder after Biden reached an agreement with Republican senators on a bipartisan infrastructure framework that cut down what was originally known as the “job plan” by drastically reducing the climate components of that proposal.
Climate activists in particular argued that their initiatives did not fit right into the parallel “family” plan – where they are now to be placed alongside items such as paternity leave, education and childcare – and therefore difficult to communicate and make easy targets for critics.
There were also bigger fears that the litany of initiatives and the enormity of the White House legislative agenda – trillions of dollars in total in spending – would be lost to potential voters, especially as it jumped from selling one plan to another, each with a different branding: the American rescue plan (Covid aid that was passed earlier this year), the employment plan (hard infrastructure) and the family plan.
In trying to re-describe all of this as the Build Back Better agenda, the Democrats have in mind a simplified framework of the Biden agenda. They also hope to make it easier for them to pass the family plan, which they will likely have to implement without Republican support.
Activists say they have already seen a change in administration. In a speech last week in Illinois, Biden set out the second half of his plan under the Build Back Better banner. Press secretary Jen Psaki referred to BBB in several briefings in July, including one in which the White House is now introducing the “reconciliation package” referred to as the “Build Back Better Plan”. And Gina McCarthy, the domestic White House climate activist, published a memo with all the climate initiatives that they want to pursue through the reconciliation package. Even after the changes, the trial attendants found that some of the old terms could occasionally appear.
“Last week marked the one year anniversary of the President’s Build Back Better platform, and this plan will deliver on the promises he made on the campaign trail of groundbreaking guidelines for education, childcare and other key job-creating priorities on climate and housing economists agree are many of the best ways to fuel growth and empower the American middle class, “said Andrew Bates, White House spokesman. “The President is focused on the benefits this proposal and the bipartisan infrastructure framework will bring to ordinary people.”
Since Biden’s inauguration, Democrats have warned that he should not fall into the same trap as former President Barack Obama in 2009, who admitted that he was not selling his achievements appropriately, for which the Democrats paid the ballot box price. The White House and allied outside groups have tried to avoid these missteps by launching publicity campaigns and storming the country to explain what is in the Covid Relief Act and what is proposed in the infrastructure initiatives. But the work has not paid off as planned.
In late June, a Super-PAC hosted by Biden reported that voters were largely unaware of the president’s accomplishments after he hosted a number of focus groups in swing states. POLITICO reported last week that Unite the Country PAC issued a warning that if Democrats had any hope of winning mid-term elections, they’d better recalibrate to focus on selling their accomplishments.
Simon Rosenberg, a longtime Democratic agent, said the White House move to get everything under Build Back Better was a wise correction of course.
“It connects people to the president’s two central and most important promises – to defeat Covid and lead the country through recovery – and it’s a simple clear statement of what he’s doing,” Rosenberg said. “All the different plans got confusing – that makes everything easy and powerful again.”
While Steve Shell, CEO of Unite the Country, said the rebranding under Build Back Better was a start, he warned that the Democrats have their work to do.
“Change the logo, change the brand – I mean, in the end you still have to have something that goes out and sells and informs,” said Schal. “We can’t assume that the people at our base know what he’s doing.”
Shell said it was clear in focus groups that voters had heard of negative messages about Biden but were unaware of initiatives like Biden’s child tax credit, payments due to begin this week.
“When people understood better,” said Shell, “they felt good with the boss.”
With reporting by Sam Stein