The White House appears increasingly confronted with the extreme nature of the challenges Biden faces at home and abroad, undermined by some of his own strategic decisions and constrained by tiny congressional majorities. The government was banking on vaccines that would end the pandemic by now, but vaccination has become politicized and millions of Americans have chosen not to get vaccinated, while viral variants have helped prolong the emergency.
Biden’s problem-solving mission is also complicated by his own eroded political capital, punctuated by his repeated trips to Capitol Hill to urge his party to get behind his agenda and a series of late deadlines to enact key bills. has been reduced. Soaring inflation, meanwhile, means many Americans are facing higher fuel and energy bills, angering them at an economy that has seen some bright spots as the pandemic progresses.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki argued last week that the president’s troubles were a professional risk to his willingness to tackle the nation’s toughest problems and that he would continue to “push the boulders up the hill.”
The problem for Biden, however, is that any tests he faces could defy a quick turnaround. The legislative backlog in the Senate seems unsolvable and is caused in part by a narrow Democratic majority in the chamber. The Social Spending Act is intended to alleviate the plight of working Americans, but the White House’s tenuous explanations lead many Americans to believe the President is not sufficiently focused on their immediate economic concerns.
The pandemic, meanwhile, has repeatedly taunted political leaders who have tried to contain it and set dates for a return to normal. Putin’s entire foreign policy project is aimed at weakening US power and undermining NATO, meaning compromise with him may be impossible without hurting US interests.
These complications mean that events often seem to control a president struggling to keep up, rather than the other way around, a dangerous perception for any commander-in-chief.
Did the White House aim too high?
Biden’s domestic political woes raise questions about whether the White House misread the nation’s political mood and the realities of a harsh balance of power in Washington by failing to deliver a massive multitrillion-dollar reform program amid the worst of the emergencies in the field public health effectively sell 100 years.
Right now, the president’s approval ratings — in the low 40% range in some polls and even weaker in others — are well below levels that could prevent a Republican landslide in November. It is imperative for Democrats that he recovers, but the president can only do so if he can get his entire party on the same page. As a candidate, Biden was successful because he won the support of both wings of his party in a clever political positioning. In power, this bargain did not materialize.
The showdown over the Build Back Better climate and social spending bill has exposed a split between moderates like Manchin and Sinema and progressives. In retrospect, it seems obvious that this gulf would halt the effort – raising questions about the White House’s overall approach and why it believed it could pressure holdouts to drop their objections.
Key Democrats offer grim status report on Biden’s signature bills
Although Biden begged both senators last week to change their minds, they only grew firmer. Indeed, Sinema delivered an extraordinary political rebuke to the president of her own party in a high-profile Senate speech setting out her position just before he arrived at the Capitol to try to sell Manchin and her the bills.
“You may be on life support,” the South Carolina Democrat told Jake Tapper on State of the Union. “But you know, John Lewis and others didn’t give up after the ’64 Civil Rights Act. … So I’m going to tell everyone, we’re not giving up.”
The prospects for the Build Back Better Act appear equally bleak. The only hope of reviving credit for Biden may be to significantly reduce the measure so it can garner support from Manchin, who says he is concerned a nearly $2 trillion bill will make inflation worse will. But a shrunken bill would infuriate progressives and could dampen Democrat turnout in the midterms.
“You’re right it’s dead; the latest version of that isn’t going to happen,” Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia told Margaret Brennan on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” But he added: “I still believe that we’re going to find a core of this bill, whatever we call it, we’re going to find the core of the bill and pass it, and it’s going to directly address some of these inflationary concerns.” “
By the end of his first year in office, Biden had hoped that the pandemic would be history, the economy would be devastated before the midterm election, and his success would consign his predecessors to history. None of that has come up. The virus is raging across the country this winter, even as the latest Omicron variant causes less severe disease. Continued and rising inflation has belied White House predictions that price hikes are “temporary”. And Trump, whose threat to democratic values is even more dangerous than it was a year ago, is laying the groundwork for a new campaign.
It is true that Biden’s challenges are profound, and many would be beyond a president’s capacity. But a year into his tenure, there’s growing reason to wonder how he’s playing the hard hand he’s been dealt.