By ZEKE MILLER, COLLEEN LONG and JOSH BOAK – Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — He was believed to break through the Congressional blockade. End the pandemic. Get the economy back on track.
Days before he reaches his one-year term, a deluge of bad news gnaws at President Joe Biden’s presidency rationale: that he could get the job done.
In a week, Biden was faced with record inflation, COVID-19 test shortages and school disruptions, and the second major blow to his domestic agenda in as many months from members of his own party. This time it is his right to vote that seems doomed to fail.
Add to that the Supreme Court’s rejection of a key part of its response to the coronavirus, and Biden’s argument — that his five decades in Washington have uniquely positioned him to carry out an immensely ambitious agenda — threatened this week. to crumble.
Jeffrey Engel, director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University, said Biden’s sweeping promises have collided with the reality of driving change in a divided Washington, where his party has only the smallest margins of control in the world. Congress.
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“I don’t think there’s any other way to come to a different conclusion that he shot past this,” Engel said. “It is important to separate the politically possible from the politically desirable.”
Biden’s troubles date back to August, when the government carried out a chaotic and deadly withdrawal from Afghanistan. And the president’s claimed competence was already in question as the number of migrants multiplied on the southern border with no clear federal plan in sight. It deteriorated further as inflation, which would be “transient” only picked up towards the end of the year.
“I’ve been hired to solve problems,” Biden said at his first in-office press conference last March. Yet they have proved tenacious.
The difficulty of navigating Washington’s obnoxious partisanship and the unpredictability of the presidency should come as no surprise to Biden, a senator for more than three decades who also spent eight years as vice president.
Biden is unlikely to gain much public sympathy for his predicament.
Even with the now-widespread protection of vaccination, new scenes of long virus test lines and sold-out supermarket shelves refer back to the chaotic earliest days of the pandemic, dragging down the nation’s psyche.
The government is doing everything it can to counteract that mentality and show that it is on top of the virus.
A federal website to send free COVID-19 tests to Americans’ doorsteps will be launched next week — a quick turnaround after Biden first announced the initiative in December — but one that nonetheless struck even allies as far too late to the winter virus wave that should have been expected. And only after months of pressure, Biden finally got around to announcing Thursday that his administration will begin making “high-quality masks” available to Americans for free.
That announcement was overshadowed, on a day that brought nothing but bad news for Biden, by a Supreme Court ruling against the Biden administration’s rule that required major employers to have their employees vaccinated or tested weekly for COVID-19. White House officials had always anticipated legal challenges, and many in administration believe the rule’s rollout alone has resulted in millions of people getting vaccinated. Still, the statement stung.
The day also brought new evidence that Biden’s push for voting rights, like his social spending bill, appears to have been doomed by a lack of support in his own party and his inability to attract Republicans. In both cases, Biden gave a lofty speech about the need to get things done and traveled to Capitol Hill to rally his own party, but was rejected.
Both bills required that all 50 Democratic votes be cast by the Senate — and in the case of voting rights, a commitment from those same senators to change the House’s rules so that the bill would pass by a simple majority.
But on Thursday, Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona didn’t even give Biden the courtesy to hear his pitch in person before saying she wouldn’t support the change. She joined West Virginia’s Joe Manchin in once again draining Biden’s legislative dreams.
The two senators spent just over an hour in the White House on Thursday night, but it seemed nearly impossible to find a way forward for the legislation.
Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Michigan, said Biden had “cultivated sky-high expectations while inevitably failing to deliver on them.”
“If you want to be FDR,” Meijer added, “it is probably a requirement that you have a mandate. On the same vote that elected Joe Biden to office, the Democrats nearly lost the House.”
Biden’s handling of the economy has brought its own challenges. The president has led to record job creation, but also renewed fears of inflation.
Biden tried to allay concerns about inflation this summer, insisting that it was the predictable result of the economy restarting after the pandemic and that rising prices would soon subside.
“Our experts believe and the data shows that most of the price increases we’ve seen were expected and expected to be temporary,” he said in July. “The reality is you can’t click on the global economic light again and not expect this to happen.”
But inflation only increased as the summer ended and oil prices rose. That prompted the president, who promised a future without fossil fuels, to release a record amount from the US petroleum reserve to help cut the cost of gasoline. Yet inflation reached its highest point in nearly 40 years at 7% per annum in December.
The high prices have eroded public confidence in Biden. Only 41% of Americans approved of his economic leadership last month, down from 60% in March, and below his overall approval rating of 48% in the same poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
At the same time, amid the emergence of new COVID-19 variants — first delta and now omicron — Biden’s approval rating for dealing with the pandemic dropped from 70% early in his presidency to 57% in the December survey.
The White House shrugged off the setbacks because part of the job for a president has high ambitions.
“You do difficult things in White Houses,” press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday. “You have every challenge at your feet, be it globally or domestically. And we could certainly propose legislation to see if people support rabbits and ice cream, but that wouldn’t be very worthwhile for the American people.”
Associated Press writers Alexandra Jaffe and Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.
EDITOR’S NOTE – Miller, Long and Boak cover the White House for The Associated Press.
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