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GOP victories in off-year election renews pressure on Washington Democrats to deliver ahead of the midterms

GOP election success deals blow to Democrats
GOP election success deals blow to Democrats 02:21

Democrats returned to Capitol Hill Wednesday with a new sense of urgency to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill and focus on President Joe Biden's social spending agenda after Republicans received strong support in the off-year election. Lawmakers argued they need to prove they can deliver for their constituents amid fear the election results Tuesday foreshadows real trouble for Democrats seeking to maintain their majority in next year's midterms. 

Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia said his party needs to show that it "could govern and in a pragmatic way." He said the first step would be getting the bipartisan infrastructure bill to the president's desk, calling delays a "mistake."

First-time Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin won the Virginia governor's race Tuesday after campaigning heavily on education. His victory reversed the state's blue trend of more than a decade, including Biden's win by 10 points. Republicans also appear to have reclaimed the majority in the Virginia House of Delegates. The New Jersey governor's race was still too close to call Wednesday. 

The 2021 Republican momentum comes as Democrats in Washington are struggling to finalize their $1.75 trillion social spending package. A vote on a bipartisan infrastructure bill has also been held up in the House amid negotiations. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois said Wednesday the election results are a warning to Democrats about the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the social spending package.

"I don't want to point a finger of blame," said Durbin. "But I will tell you this. There's no time left. This warning to us came early enough for us to do something about it. Now we have to respond.

Tuesday's outcome is also putting pressure on Senate Democrats up for reelection next year. 

"We need to get it done," said Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. "And as one who will be running for reelection in 2022, I need results that I can tell the American people that Congress can deliver."

But reaching consensus has proven difficult. Progressives have said they would not vote for the infrastructure deal, despite supporting it, without a vote on the social spending agenda, while moderates in the Senate have objected to a series of provisions, some related to how they will pay for the legislation. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia advocated on Wednesday for the Senate to "take our time" on the social spending plan.     

"It's unbelievable to see what went on in Virginia. And then not just, not just from the governor's race, but all the way down that ticket," said Manchin. "Let's start looking and working together, listening to our people back home. I've been listening to the people in West Virginia. They're concerned about inflation. They really have been for a long time."

Leading up to the race in Virginia, former Governor Terry McAuliffe expressed frustration with the stalemate in Washington, urging Democrats to move forward with the infrastructure deal. Democratic voters in the state also expressed some disappointment with more not getting done leading up to Election Day — but also a general lack of enthusiasm in an off-year. 

"Everyone has to make wages, everyone has to take care of their kids, everyone has to feed themselves, and I wish we would just lean in harder to those issues," said voter Reba Mendoza in Richmond ahead of the election. She said she was not as excited by Democrats' messaging as she wished she was.

McAuliffe spent the last few weeks of the campaign attempting to tie Youngkin to former President Donald Trump. But Youngkin walked a fine line, accepting the former president's endorsement but never campaigning with him in the state. 

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon suggested Democrats need to "turbo charge" their work on the social spending plan and focus messaging on kitchen-table issues, such as lowering prescription drug costs.

Exit polling in the Virginia governor's race found the economy and jobs was the top issue on voters' minds in the election, with roughly a third saying it was the most important issue facing the state. Independents also prioritized the issue. 

In New Jersey's tight governor's race, Republican candidate Jack Ciattarelli campaigned on lowering property taxes. It comes as moderate New Jersey and New York Democrats in Washington are demanding the reconciliation package include a provision repealing the $10,000 cap in the Trump tax law on deducting state and local taxes — commonly known as SALT — which has disproportionately hurt taxpayers in blue states.   

"People want action. They want results, they deserve results and that's what I hear about at home all the time," said Representative Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey on CNN Wednesday, who hopes to pass both the infrastructure and reconciliation bills, including reinstating the SALT deduction. "The bottom line is, I think this is a wake-up call for all of us that people want results."

Gottheimer is one of 70 vulnerable Democrats the National Republican Congressional Committee is targeting in the midterms. Coming off the strong showing on Tuesday night, the NRCC announced it is expanding its target list next year by 13 from 57 Democratic House members, signaling confidence in their ability to regain seats after being in the minority since the 2018 midterm.  

Alan He contributed reporting.

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