Biden faces multiple crises in pivotal year for presidency
Joe Biden returned to Washington this week with a snowstorm crippling the US capital, a fitting backdrop for a president starting the new year struggling with multiple crises ranging from a surge in coronavirus infections to an economic agenda stalled and growing tensions with Russia.
The Omicron variant, which has resulted in a record number of daily infections, immediately put the Biden administration on the defensive, especially in the face of crippling test shortages and confusion surrounding its decision to cut the time people spend in half. asymptomatic should isolate, from 10 days to five.
On Tuesday, Biden was forced to once again warn of difficult times ahead. It was a moment of humility for a president who took office almost a year ago with high hopes of crushing the virus, and who was elected largely for his promise to handle the pandemic with more. of competence than its predecessor.
“Friends, I know we are all tired and frustrated with the pandemic. The next few weeks are going to be difficult, ”he said in a speech at the White House. “We’re going to get over this. We’re gonna get out of this together. ”
The resurgence of the pandemic came just as Biden’s poll numbers were starting to recover from a steep drop, which began in August around the time of the botched pullout from Afghanistan and continued throughout. of the second half of 2021.
Economically, a strong rebound was hampered by high inflation and supply chain disruptions, which clouded the improving labor market and sustained stock prices while affecting voters’ perceptions of the management of the economy by Biden.
Meanwhile, the White House suffered a big setback last month when Joe Manchin, a key Democratic senator from West Virginia, withdrew from negotiations to advance Biden’s flagship spending bill of $ 1.75 billion. “Build Back Better” dollars.
Manchin made it clear on Tuesday that he saw little chance of relaunching talks on the legislation, telling reporters there had been “no conversations” since announcing his opposition to the plan. “I feel as strong today as I did then,” he added.
James Lucier, an analyst at Capital Alpha Partners, said he believed there was still a chance Democrats could pass a roughly $ 1.5 billion spending bill, but warned: “Every week that goes by without a deal makes it harder and harder to see. what is happening.
At the same time, Biden’s foreign policy agenda has been dominated by the possibility of Russian President Vladimir Putin invading Ukraine, testing alliances with Europe and the administration’s commitment to counter authoritarian aggression.
Each of these difficulties threatens to make it harder for Biden and the Congressional Democrats to prevent Republicans from gaining control of Congress in the November midterm election, a scenario that would severely limit the president’s legislative ambitions in years to come. remaining from its mandate.
“Biden’s most important job is to show why America went from electing the president with the fewest years of government experience to the one with the most,” said Ben Koltun, analyst at Beacon Policy. Advisors, a consulting firm in Washington.
Koltun said Biden must strike “a deal with Senator Joe Manchin on Build Back Better”, put “America in a strong position to deal with Russia” and provide “some semblance of strategy on Omicron and inflation. “.
He added: “Otherwise, this is a narrative that Biden is not leading, but is being led by Manchin, Russia and Omicron.”
With talks over Biden’s economic plans stalled, Democratic leaders in Congress have turned their attention to legislation to protect voting rights – an attempt to counter Republican measures in many states to restrict access at the polls.
The push coincides with the Jan.6 anniversary of last year’s deadly attack on the United States Capitol by a crowd supporting former President Donald Trump. Biden is expected to speak on the U.S. Capitol Thursday on the anniversary of the assault.
But securing the passage of the voting rights legislation may well be an unsuccessful mission: Republicans relentlessly oppose it, while moderate Democrats such as Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, the Arizona senator, are reluctant to change. the rules of the Senate so that the measure can be passed by a simple majority of votes.
While some Democratic strategists and lawmakers say it is important to push forward legislation to energize the party base, others warn that pushing for a potentially failed bill could be politically counterproductive.
“What Democrats really need right now is not some sort of short-term ‘supercharged’ campaign that raises expectations they probably can’t meet,” wrote Ed Kilgore, a Democratic political analyst. seasoned, in a New York magazine column this week.
He added: “They need a way to make it clear that they – and this country – are in an ongoing battle between two very different concepts of America’s future, one in which disengagement or disappointment of Democratic voters will guarantee defeat. “
But the White House is still trying to focus on kitchen table issues. On Monday, Biden touted his administration’s plans to bring inflation under control, especially meat prices. And on Friday, he is expected to address the December jobs report, which could give a final snapshot of the labor market recovery before the economy is hit by Omicron.
Andrew Bishop, global head of policy research at Signum, a Washington consulting firm, said Biden might be “less doomed” than his current endorsement notes suggest. Signum points out that he still has higher marks than Trump, and that the decline was less steep than that experienced by Barack Obama during his first year in office.
“By being more generally acceptable to centrist voters than some of his predecessors, Biden could arguably have the potential to regain independent support more quickly,” Bishop said.