A handful of issues are emerging as possible flashpoints in the 2024 election as Republicans and Democrats look to fine tune their messaging ahead of a consequential presidential election.
President Biden sparred with conservatives over Social Security and Medicare during his annual State of the Union address, engaging in a spirited back and forth with Republicans over the issue. And if Democrats’ messaging on key 2023 races like the Wisconsin Supreme Court is any indication, the party is also likely to lean on the issue of abortion as well.
Meanwhile, prospective Republican presidential hopefuls are already wading into issues like immigration, education and culture wars, particularly those targeting the LGBTQ community.
Here’s a look at seven issues that will define the 2024 election:
Social Security and Medicare
Biden speaks about his administration’s plans to protect Social Security and Medicare and lower healthcare costs, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023, at the University of Tampa in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Biden enjoyed the limelight during this week’s State of the Union address, particularly after he called out Republicans over previous proposals to sunset or reform eligibility requirements for Social Security and Medicare programs. In the backdrop of Biden’s speech is the ongoing fight over the nation’s debt limit and Republicans’ insistence on spending cuts.
“Some Republicans want Social Security and Medicare to sunset,” Biden said, before he was interrupted by jeers, including from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) who called him a “liar.”
One of the Republicans that Biden was alluding to was Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who released a multi-point plan last year proposing that “all federal legislation sunsets in 5 years” and that “if a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again” — legislation that would impact both programs.
Scott defended his position in a statement following Biden’s address, saying “this is clearly and obviously an idea aimed at dealing with all the crazy new laws our Congress has been passing of late” and suggested that “to suggest that this means I want to cut Social Security or Medicare is a lie , & is a dishonest move.”
The president ran with that message during a visit on Wednesday to the battleground state of Wisconsin, where he spoke to residents about the merits of his economic plan.
“A lot of Republicans, their dream is to cut Social Security and Medicare,” Biden said in the Badger State. “Well, let me just say this. It’s your dream, but I’m going to — with my veto pen — make it a nightmare.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis listens to others during a news conference where he spoke of new law enforcement legislation that will be introduced during the upcoming session, Jan. 26, 2023, in Miami. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier, File)
Prospective 2024 Republican hopes are also addressing the issue of education, including targeting the educational curriculum and parents’ rights to decisions made by schools.
That was most recently on display last month when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s (R) administration rejected an Advanced Placement course on African American studies. The Florida Department of Education argued that “the content of this course is inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value,” and the College Board later revised some of the material included in the course.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R), who has been floated as a possible 2024 presidential contender, made the issue of education a key component of his platform, including rallying against critical race theory (CRT) and for deeper parental engagement in school curriculum. Critical race theory, which DeSantis and other conservatives have also attacked, is an academic framework taught at the graduate level that argues that racism is systemic in US institutions and government. It has become a catch-all buzzword for any teaching about race in schools, however.
During the midterms, other Republican candidates like Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo (R) also sought home in on the issue of education, suggesting members of the party see that as a key winning issue.
Supporters for and against abortion argue during the annual March for Life in Washington, DC, on Friday, January 20, 2023. This is the first march since the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade. (Annabelle Gordon)
Democrats widely credit the issue of abortion as a major reason they performed better than expected during November’s midterm elections, gaining a real majority in the Senate and losing the House by a narrow margin.
Even in key races this year, Democrats are seeking to put the issue of abortion front and center once again, including in the race for the open seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which could determine the high court’s partisan tilt.
The state Supreme Court is likely to hear about Wisconsin’s contested 1849 abortion law, which offers no exceptions for patients except when the life of the mother is at risk. Prominent groups on both sides of the issue have said they’ll be funneling money and resources into the race.
A high altitude balloon floats over Billings, Mont., on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023. (Larry Mayer/The Billings Gazette via AP)
Revelations that a Chinese spy balloon was flying over multiple states across the US, which press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters this week was “part of a larger Chinese surveillance balloon program […] that’s been operated for several years,” drew angry remarks from Democrats and Republicans alike about the country’s delayed response to shoot it down.
Some Republicans in particular, such as Greene, latched onto the issue. Ahead of the State of the Union, she walked around the halls of Congress with a white balloon meant to refer to the Chinese spy balloon. She told The Hill this week following a classified briefing for House members that she “tore” Biden administration officials “to pieces.”
The US confirmed on Friday a separate object flying over Alaska airspace was shot down by the military.
Expect Ukraine to be another flashpoint among foreign policy issues discussed. Some Republicans have expressed reservations in past months over how much more security assistance the US should provide to the former Soviet Union nation amid the Russian invasion.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, was seen during its’ first hearing on Thursday, February 9, 2023 to discuss the politicization of the federal government and attacks on civil liberties. (Greg Nash)
Although immigration and the southern border are not necessarily new issues Republicans have pursued on the campaign trail, it doesn’t mean the issue won’t feature prominently in different campaigns and on the debate stage.
The first hearing that the House Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), launched this year was titled “The Biden Border Crisis — Part One.” The hearings came as the US reported over 250,000 encounters on the southern border in December, per data from the US Customs and Border Protection — the highest number of encounters at the southern border that the Biden administration has contended with since the president took office.
Title 42, a policy first introduced in 2020 by the Trump administration and continued under the Biden administration, has also dogged Biden officials. The policy allows border officials to quickly expel migrants seeking asylum. While the Biden administration sought to lift the policy last year, they have also at times expanded its use.
With the US Capitol in the background, a person waves a rainbow flag as they participate in a rally in support of the LGBTQIA+ community at Freedom Plaza, Saturday, June 12, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)
Republicans also have not been shy in using legislation to target gender-affirming care, transgender girls and women competing in high school and college sports, and the classification of drag shows.
Florida made headlines last March when DeSantis signed what opponents have dubbed as “Don’t Say Gay” legislation into law, which bars gender identity and sexual orientation topics in classroom instruction by primary school teachers. Subjects that aren’t “age appropriate or developmentally appropriate” cannot be taught by educators regardless of grade level.
And South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R), another widely floated 2024 GOP contender, is likely to sign into legislation that would bar health providers from offering transgender youth gender-affirming care.
The issue of crime may also not be new, but it’s one that some Republicans believed worked well during the November midterms — arguing that other issues like abortion and the economy sidetracked crime from delivering as well as hoped. Others say that it helped key races stay competitive.
“To be honest with you, yes, Dr. [Mehmet] Oz lost that race in Pennsylvania, but where he started at and where he ended [was] a much closer race than it was over the summer. That was purely because of crime,” one GOP official told The Hill in December.
The issue of crime was credited for helping several New York Republicans notch key House districts, helping deliver the GOP’s House majority.
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