Analysis: Joe Biden to mark anniversary of inauguration still plagued by crises

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The White House seems increasingly beset by the extreme nature of the challenges Biden faces at home and abroad, undermined by some of his own strategic decisions and constrained by tiny majorities in Congress. The administration has gambled on pandemic-ending vaccines so far, but inoculations have become politicized and millions of Americans have opted out of getting vaccinated, while virus variants have helped prolong the emergency .

The feeling of a presidency under siege was underscored by a volley of blows last week, including the torpedoing of Biden’s voting rights push by two moderate Democratic senators in a blow to his authority, and the quashing by the Supreme Court of vaccine and testing requirements for large companies. , a centerpiece of its pandemic strategy. The double setback comes with Biden’s social spending and climate change legislation also stalled — like the voting rights bills — because moderate Democratic senses Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona refuse. to board.
Biden ended the week accused by critics of undermining his own inaugural vow to pursue national unity after he compared opponents of suffrage reform to segregationists. In a symbol of the administration’s futility, the holiday marking Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday will also mark an overdue deadline set by Senate Democrats to enshrine suffrage bills into law. Senate votes on the measures — and the rule changes needed to pass them — are sure to fail unless Sinema and Manchin change their minds, only underscoring the tale of impasse.

Biden’s problem-solving mission is also complicated by his own eroded political capital, which has been diminished by his repeated trips to Capitol Hill to urge his party to follow its agenda and a series of missed deadlines to pass bills. majors. Soaring inflation, meanwhile, means many Americans are facing higher fuel and energy bills, making them worse on an economy that’s showing some bright spots as the pandemic continues.

Things are just as difficult abroad. The Biden administration is struggling to ease a crisis over Ukraine, amid fears that Russian President Vladimir Putin could invade and cause Europe’s worst geopolitical crisis since the Cold War. If Russia challenges the West, Biden’s credibility will suffer another blow.
All of these crises are deepening as midterm elections — traditionally a painful experience for first-term presidents — take center stage, further narrowing Biden’s path to legislative victories. A Republican Party and conservative media machine bent on destroying his presidency — much of it bought off by former President Donald Trump’s undemocratic personality cult — amplifies every administration struggle and misstep.
All presidencies experience political crises and difficulties. The test of a president’s political skills is whether he can recover, reverse a narrative of failure, use his opponents as effective foils, and begin to command events. The White House will try to do just that this week and should use the anniversary of Biden’s swearing in as a platform for a reset. Americans can expect to hear about the successes of the Biden presidency – including bipartisan infrastructure legislation, a Covid-19 relief program that helped reduce child poverty, low unemployment and jobs. of the president to mend alliances and flush out the culture of lies in the White House after Trump’s tenure. The effort will include a rare formal press conference by the president at the White House on Wednesday on the eve of the inauguration anniversary.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki argued last week that the president’s struggles were a professional risk of his willingness to tackle the country’s toughest issues and that he would keep pushing.” the rocks on the hill”.

But the problem for Biden is that all the tests he faces can defy a quick turnaround. The legislative deadlock in the Senate appears intractable and is caused in part by a narrow Democratic majority in the chamber. The welfare spending bill aims to ease the plight of American workers, but the White House’s lackluster efforts to explain it have many Americans believing the president isn’t focused enough on their immediate economic concerns.

The pandemic, meanwhile, has repeatedly derided political leaders who have tried to bring it under control and set dates for a return to normality. Putin’s entire foreign policy scheme is aimed at weakening American power and undermining NATO, which means that a compromise with him may be impossible without harming American interests.

These complications mean that events often seem to control a president who struggles to keep up rather than the other way around, a perilous perception for any commander-in-chief.

Did the White House aim too high?

Biden’s domestic issues beg the question of whether the White House misinterpreted the nation’s political mood and the realities of an uneasy balance of power in Washington by failing to effectively sell a massive reform agenda of several billions of dollars amid the worst public health emergency in 100 years.

The difficulty with a 50-50 Senate majority is that a single objection from a single senator can derail an entire legislative agenda. That situation won’t change any time soon, despite the many hours Biden spends cajoling Manchin and Sinema, as he did at the White House last week. And it could soon get worse. There’s a chance Democrats will lose their House and Senate majorities in November in a Republican rout that could leave Biden isolated in the White House and with no chance of passing his key bills as his re-election campaign awaits him.

Right now, the president’s approval ratings — in the 40% range in some polls and even lower in others — are well below levels that could prevent a Republican landslide in November. For Democrats, it is imperative that he recovers, but the president can only do so if he can get his whole party on the same page. As a candidate, Biden thrived because he garnered support from both wings of his party in a deft feat of political positioning. In power, this market has unraveled.

The showdown over the “Build Back Better” climate and social spending bill exposed a split between moderates like Manchin and Sinema and progressives. In retrospect, it seems obvious that this split would end the effort – raising questions about the White House’s overall approach and why it believed it could pressure holdouts to drop their objections.

Leading Democrats Offer Disastrous Status Report on Biden’s Signature Bills

The Senate roadblock is also to blame for failed Democratic attempts to counter a nationwide wave of voter suppression bills in Republican-led states built on Trump’s voter fraud lies. Manchin and Sinema support the measures but oppose changing the house’s filibuster rules — the custom that means most major laws require 60 votes to pass — to enact two right to vote bills. that would make it easier to vote and make it harder for politicized local officials to interfere in election results.

Although Biden pleaded with the two senators to change their minds last week, they have only become more entrenched. Indeed, Sinema delivered an extraordinary political rebuke to the chairman of her own party in a high-profile speech in the Senate laying out her position just before she arrived on Capitol Hill to try to sell her and Manchin on the bills.

One of the president’s key allies, House Majority Whip James Clyburn, admitted on CNN on Sunday that the two bills, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act, were in deep trouble.

“They may be on life support,” the South Carolina Democrat told Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.” “But, you know, John Lewis, others, didn’t give up after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. … So I’m going to tell everybody, we’re not giving up.”

The prospects for the Build Back Better Act appear equally bleak. The only hope of reviving any credit for Biden may lie in scaling back the measure significantly so she can gain support from Manchin, who says he fears a bill of nearly $2 trillion could further worsen inflation. . But a shrunken bill would infuriate progressives and could dampen midterm Democratic turnout.

“You’re right that it’s dead, the latest version isn’t coming,” Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia told Margaret Brennan on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” But he added: “I still believe we’re going to find the heart of this bill, whatever we call it, we’re going to find the heart of the bill and pass it, and it will deal directly with some of the these inflationary concerns.”

At the end of his first year in office, Biden had hoped the pandemic would be a thing of the past, that the economy would be in crisis before the midterm elections and that his success would relegate his predecessor to history. None of this turned out. The virus is hammering the country this winter, although the latest variant of Omicron causes less severe disease. Sustained and rising inflation defied White House predictions that price increases were “transient”. And Trump, his threat to democratic values ​​even more dangerous than a year ago, is setting the stage for a new campaign.

It’s true that Biden’s challenges run deep, and many would be beyond any president’s ability to handle. But a year into his tenure, there’s growing reason to wonder how he’s playing the tough hand he’s been dealt.

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