With President Biden’s domestic agenda stalled on Capitol Hill, Democrats are nervously looking ahead to the Virginia governor’s race, which could deal a substantial blow to their ambitious policy goals.
Democratic lawmakers had hoped to pass a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill as well as a $2 trillion to $3.5 trillion human infrastructure bill this month, ahead of the bellwether race in Virginia, but now it looks like those measures will lag until November or even December.
This raises the stakes in Virginia as Democrats worry an upset by Republican Glenn Youngkin could send moderates facing tough races in 2022 running for cover.
A loss in Virginia would further empower Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who are calling on fellow Democrats to pass the bipartisan infrastructure package — which is being held in the House — immediately. It would put pressure on Democratic leaders to pull back some of their most ambitious and expensive policy proposals.
“It would be catastrophic if Republicans won the Virginia governor’s race. It would embolden Democratic critics to distance themselves from Biden and go their own way,” predicted Darrell West, the director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution.
He said centrists as well as progressives “would just become more independent and feel less beholden to the national Democratic Party.”
Manchin and Sinema are demanding that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) put the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan on the House floor for a vote, even though that won’t guarantee their support for a larger human infrastructure spending package that progressives want to pass at the same time.
So far House progressives have been able to stall the Senate-passed bipartisan package as part of an effort to exert leverage on Manchin and Sinema to agree to a bigger spending number for the reconciliation package.
But the political calculus could turn quickly if Youngkin defeats McAuliffe.