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President Biden held a lengthy press conference Wednesday in which he discussed the successes, setbacks and unfinished work of his first year in office while laying out his vision for year two of his administration.
By any objective measure, Biden ended the 12 months of his presidency at a low point. Two of his signature legislative goals, the Build Back Better social spending package and voting rights reform, have stalled in Congress — perhaps permanently. The coronavirus pandemic, which calmed significantly during the first few months of Biden’s tenure, is once again overwhelming hospitals across the country. And a spike in inflation has clouded what was in most other ways a year of extraordinary progress for the economy.
Biden’s first year, however, did have a number of accomplishments. He helped guide massive economic relief and infrastructure bills, totalling more than $4 trillion in new spending, through Congress,. The unemployment rate fell from 6.4 percent last January to 3.9 percent in December. His administration oversaw a vaccine rollout that has seen more than 200 million Americans become fully vaccinated.
Still, the view among voters, and reportedly among Democrats is Washington, is that Biden’s first year in office has been disappointing. Polls over the last few weeks show his approval rating as president has dipped to the lowest point so far.
Why there’s debate
In the eyes of many political observers, Biden will have a tough time improving his political standing in year two. Those with a sympathetic view of his performance say the factors that are hurting him the most — the resurgence of the pandemic, inflation, gridlock in Congress — are things he only has limited power to influence. Biden’s conservative critics say his plans to turn things around are destined to come up short.
Elections forecasters also see a strong likelihood that Democrats are primed to lose at least one house of Congress, perhaps both, in November’s midterm elections — an outcome that would not only reflect poorly on Biden’s stewardship of the party, but potentially end the chance of any part of his legislative agenda being passed during the final two years of his term.
Those inclined toward optimism see opportunities for Biden to reverse his declining poll numbers in time for the midterms. More important, they say it’s possible that the pandemic situation could improve dramatically over the next few months as the Omicron wave recedes and levels of vaccine and natural immunity continue to rise. Some say that that scenario could have a positive effect for Biden, most notably an economic normalization that could help curb inflation. Others see a path for Democrats to pass some version of Biden’s social spending plan or pivot to more modest legislative goals that stand a better chance of becoming law.
Democratic leaders have said the push to pass both voting rights and Build Back Better is continuing despite recent high-profile failures on both fronts. There’s hope within the party that a deal can be made on a stripped-down version of Build Back Better. A path forward on voting rights is reportedly unclear at this point. And during his press conference, Biden listed three things he plans to do differently in the next year, including talking to the public more outside Washington, D.C.
Biden is primed for a resurgence over the next year
“Prepare yourself for the Biden comeback. We’ve already seen the weeks and weeks of coverage marking the end of his presidency. … Here’s another way to see it: He may be cratering at just the right time.” — Jack Shafer, Politico
Getting the pandemic under control would transform Biden’s political prospects
“Political handicappers seem determined to treat 2022 as an ordinary election year. … So much depends on whether we will be fighting over remote learning and mask mandates this fall. All the experts bloviating on cable TV have no idea whether the pandemic will be raging or waning as Americans vote.” — Walter Shapiro, New Republic
A decline in inflation could substantially help Biden’s political standing
“When we ask people what could change their minds from here, the answers center on inflation, not legislation. His detractors say they’d think better of him if he manages to get inflation down — and say so at more than twice the rate than if the Build Back Better bill passes, or if voting rights does, for that matter. In all, the public’s evaluations of him appear framed around their most pressing problems, more so than on the fate of his bills in Congress.” — Multiple authors, CBS News
Things could improve for Biden, but he’s mostly powerless to make that happen
“Whether all of this will ultimately be viewed as a hinge point of the Biden presidency, or just a pothole in the road, will depend at least in part on factors that are out of his control — among them, the performance of the economy and the course of a tenacious pandemic that has gripped the country for nearly two years.” — Karen Tumulty, Washington Post
The failure of his progressive policy agenda is a chance for Biden to reestablish his moderate bonafides
“The repudiation of the left’s ambitions is a necessary and wholly welcome corrective that should help the U.S. to recover its equilibrium in a turbulent time. And since the avoidance of calamity is the next best thing—and often an essential prelude—to success, let’s celebrate Mr. Biden’s anniversary as a moment of real promise.” — Gerard Baker, Wall Street Journal
Several modern presidents have bounced back after rough first years
“Challenging first terms don’t inevitably put a commander in chief on path toward a one-term presidency. It’s possible to struggle in the polls, deal with difficult economic challenges and criticism from different factions of one’s own party and still go on to be considered a successful two-term president.” — Julian Zelizer, CNN
Democrats are primed for a disastrous midterms
“It’s rare for a president to be at odds with Republicans, moderate Democrats and liberal Democrats — all at once. But that’s where Biden finds himself at the start of an election year that many Democrats believe will result in the loss of the House and maybe the Senate.” — Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei, Axios
Biden’s economic plan will only make inflation worse
“Economists know several ways to stem inflation: cut government spending, raise interest rates, tighten the money supply. But Democrats need to stop doing the same thing over and over again — i.e., spending more money — and expecting different results. That’s the definition of insanity, unless they actually want more inflation.” — Editorial, New York Post
Biden’s presidency may have completely fallen apart by this time next year
“Historians may well look back to a most unfortunate larger political unraveling that may have begun this week. Unless Team Biden’s strategists rededicate themselves to the art of staying afloat by syncing.” — Martin Schram, Chicago Tribune
Biden has the wrong plan for ending the pandemic
“Biden’s approach to the pandemic hasn’t changed much since he took office, even though the Omicron wave is significantly different. When you continue the same approach, you should expect the same results.” — Jim Geraghty, National Review
There’s no clear path for Biden to turn his fortunes around
“A year into his presidency, his administration is not so much partisan as it is adrift, battered by disenchantment and dismay. And with a conservative Supreme Court threatening the legality of any unilateral action and a recalcitrant Congress blocking legislative initiatives, Biden has no obvious path forward.” — Alexander Nazaryan, Yahoo News
Republicans are well-positioned to stymie Biden’s comeback efforts
“The problem has been the same from the start. It’s not the Senate, country or world that Mr. Biden longingly remembers. Republicans aren’t open to persuasion. Their goal, as it was with Barack Obama, is to make Mr. Biden’s presidency a failure.” — Maureen Dowd, New York Times
Even if Biden makes all the right moves, that may not improve his approval numbers
“Links between presidential performance and presidential popularity are often tenuous, and lots of important things that presidents do, including most day-to-day foreign policy decisions, are unlikely to show up in approval ratings at all. When Biden’s approval ratings were fairly good in his first six months, analysts often assumed that his actions must be the reason. Now that his numbers are weak, everyone wants to attribute them to the choices he’s made.” — Jonathan Bernstein, Bloomberg
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