Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/UKTN/Getty Images
Even for a White House familiar with roadblocks and frustration, Thursday’s setbacks to vaccination mandates and voting rights were hammer blows.
In addition to the immediate derailment of two key political tenets of Joe Biden’s administration, the Supreme Court’s vaccine decision, which quickly followed Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s public slaying of his voting reform efforts, sparked a new round of questions about whether his presidency was doomed. .
Above all, serious anxieties are currently playing out over what Biden’s woes could mean for the Democratic Party’s fortunes in the midterm elections later this year, when Republicans are called upon to regain control of both houses of Congress.
Related: ‘Democracy at stake’: Biden under pressure to act now on voting rights
With Biden’s public popularity plummeting — in a poll this week to a new low of 33% — and with another centrist Democratic senator, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, having already capsized the president’s flagship national spending plan from $1.75 billion Build Back Better, some analysts say time is running out to impress voters ahead of the November election.
“The whole first year has passed. And in the end, nothing,” said Larry Sabato, founder and director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, referring to long but fruitless discussions with Manchin over the composition of the plan. “Manchin drove him into the pink patch and then threw him into the heather patch. ‘Do you want to change that? You changed that, well, I don’t like this stuff here. Oh, you changed that, well, there’s those two things…'”
Sabato added, “But the voting rights debacle is the worst of all because why did Biden get elected if not people wanted to get rid of Trump? This was because he was seen as experienced and competent. What experience got us exactly? I just don’t understand how we got here.
Many of Biden’s misfortunes, Sabato said, are not directly his fault. He has made repeated efforts to change the minds of both Manchin and Sinema, most recently during seemingly unsuccessful late-night talks at the White House on Thursday in a bid to salvage his program.
But Sabato also believes that the president’s handling of various situations and the misdirection of advisers, particularly regarding the Covid-19 pandemic, runaway inflation and last year’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, have combined. to expose Biden.
Of inflation, Sabato says, “Biden’s team just missed it, they got it wrong, and they probably continue to get it wrong. They minimize it and they will tame it by the middle of the year. Maybe, but I’ll be surprised.
On Afghanistan, Sabato said, Biden “threw it again.”
“It could have been a big plus if it had been handled properly, because just about everyone – Democrat, Republican – was more than willing to leave Afghanistan. It was a very poor performance from his team. They couldn’t know what was going to happen? He is responsible for his advisors, so we can blame him.
On Friday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced that the president would hold a rare official press conference next Wednesday to mark his first year in office. In addition to answering tough questions about the administration’s failures, Biden will talk about his successes, namely the $1 billion infrastructure bill he signed into law in November and the Covid relief plan of $1.9 billion from last spring.
Having seemed weary from Thursday’s rejections, a more buoyant Biden followed his own briefing on Friday afternoon, accompanied by Mitch Landrieu, the former New Orleans mayor he appointed to oversee the implementation of the infrastructure law.
“We talk a lot about disappointments and things we didn’t do. We’re going to do a lot, I might add,” Biden said. “But this [infrastructure] is something we did, and it has huge implications for the country.
Some analysts suggest that the boasting of past glories shows a lack of faith in what can still be achieved in the almost 10 months to the midpoints, which Biden seemed to acknowledge on Thursday when he said, “I don’t know. not if we can get this done,” after a Capitol Hill meeting with Democrats on voting rights.
The hurdles ahead of Biden are certainly significant. They range from the internal divisions of Democrats between progressives and moderates, to the obstruction of Republicans in Congress and the conservative supermajority created by Donald Trump in the Supreme Court which has already dealt several blows and seems on the verge this summer of overthrowing five decades of abortion rights. .
Still, Biden has pledged to try to salvage what he can from what promises to be a few months of testing. “Like all other major civil rights bills, if we miss the first time, we can come back and try it a second time,” he told reporters of human rights efforts. vote.
Similarly, he is also likely to attempt to push through Congress individual elements of the Build Back Better plan that are acceptable to Senate moderates, including universal early education, subsidized child care, and a number of climatic arrangements.
“They may try to get pieces of Build Back Better, or rebuild something as we call it now, but everyone is going to describe it as crumbs from the table,” Sabato said.
“If they had started with that, people would be like, ‘Wow, that’s amazing, pre-kindergarten for everyone,’ or whatever song they decided to pick, it didn’t matter which. But now, it will appear to people as this little piece of what the president started with, [and] huge disappointment in the Democratic ranks. At the end of the story, you won’t even know what happened.
Last November, Biden, who will be 81 at the time of the 2024 presidential election, announced his intention to run for a second term.
Publicly at least, he retains his party’s support, but the Washington Post in December reported rumblings of discontent in Democratic circles over his leadership. An op-ed in the Wall Street Journal this week citing the unpopularity of Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris even floated the idea of a comeback for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee defeated by Trump in 2016. to fill what its authors called a “leadership vacuum”.
In the wake of this week’s disappointments, the possibility of an alternate Democratic ticket for 2024 has again emerged, with Washington Post columnist and political analyst Perry Bacon Jr suggesting there are “a lot of strong candidates” whether Biden or Harris did not show up.
“Biden did not decipher a magic political code. Despite his white masculinity and calls for unity, Washington is stuck, Republican voters hate the president, and his party is on the verge of a midterm slump,” Bacon wrote Friday. “It seems entirely possible that Biden will run in 2024 and lose to a Republican challenger. The Democrats might just be better off with someone new.