MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
House Democrats are betting against history in the 2022 midterms. On average, a president's party loses about two dozen seats during the first midterm they're in office. Next year, Republicans need to gain just five seats to take control of the House. And New York Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney is trying to make sure that does not happen. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis sat down with Maloney to talk about how he plans to beat the odds.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Maloney is quick to reject the conventional wisdom that House Democrats will likely lose their majority next November.
SEAN PATRICK MALONEY: No, of course not.
DAVIS: Democrats are making a big bet, a multitrillion-dollar bet, that the Biden economic agenda will save them.
MALONEY: We're going to rebuild our country. We're going to make historic investments in infrastructure - doing it a bipartisan way, by the way - and make, you know, these billionaires who are blasting themselves into space and paying no taxes, you know, pay their fair share.
DAVIS: Already, Biden secured a nearly $2 trillion economic relief package that included $1,400 stimulus checks and a child tax credit sending new monthly payments right now to millions of American families. Last week, another expected victory - a $1.2 trillion infrastructure deal that the White House says will create millions of new jobs.
MALONEY: No Democratic majority, no Democratic president has made this much progress in a long time.
DAVIS: Democrats are just getting started. The party intends to pass this year, without any Republican support, a $3.5 trillion package to radically alter the existing social safety net. It includes new programs to help pay for child care, universal pre-K education, free community college and expanded Medicare coverage for hearing, dental and vision. Democrats are also considering including in it legislation to combat climate change and overhaul immigration laws.
MALONEY: Point is, is that we're making a bet on substance. And what's the old saying? Any jackass can kick down a barn that takes a carpenter to build one, and it's harder to build it than to kick it down. And so we're the party that's going to build the future.
DAVIS: Big bets on policy don't always pay off in elections. Democrats learned that lesson a decade ago when they passed the Affordable Care Act. President Barack Obama's singular domestic achievement also helped decimate congressional Democratic majorities in the 2010 and 2014 midterms. That's just one reason why Republicans feel good about their chances in 2022. They think Democrats are spending too much on big government and voters will reject it. They also have structural advantages, like the redistricting process, where House districts are redrawn every decade to reflect population changes. Republicans control the process in more than twice as many districts, and there's not much Democrats can do about it but get mad.
MALONEY: If they're going to try to rely on rigging this game because they don't have a plan for the future and they can't talk to the voters about their ideas and their vision, well, I think that makes me proud to be a Democrat.
DAVIS: What Democrats are betting on is lower Republican turnout without former President Trump on the ballot. Maloney was encouraged by a Texas special House election last week in which the Trump-endorsed candidate lost and turnout for the Republican seat was just 8% of eligible voters.
MALONEY: There's no evidence they can pull out voters with the message without the messenger.
DAVIS: Maloney believes the GOP's ongoing embrace of Trump will hurt the 21 Republicans they're targeting for defeat because they represent more moderate and swing districts.
MALONEY: The Republican Party has been captured by some reckless and extreme elements who believe in dangerous conspiracy theories, who spread an incendiary lie about the election that resulted in the attack on the Capitol and the death of a bunch of police officers. And I don't think that's going to be good politics in the districts that are competitive for them.
DAVIS: Republicans are targeting twice as many Democratic lawmakers next year, including Maloney himself. While he handily won reelection last year, Trump narrowly carried his district in 2016 before Biden won it in 2020.
MALONEY: If they want to waste their money trying to beat Sean Maloney, that's great because they're going to wake up in the minority.
DAVIS: Democrats may not have history on their side in 2022, but they have an optimist leading the way.
Susan Davis, NPR News, Washington.
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