Jan 14, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Biden's epic failures

White House cake with 1 candle

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

In the two months since signing the $1 trillion infrastructure bill into law, President Biden has by almost every measure bombed big time on the things that matter most.

The big picture: Biden, who marks one year in office next Thursday, has never been less popular nationally, after personally lobbying his party and the public on Build Back Better and voting rights — and failing.

Why it matters: Biden is on the verge of losing two big fights of his choosing — with his party controlling both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

  • 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.

The latest: Yesterday was the third time in 3½ months Biden made an in-person trip to the Hill — and the third time he walked away having failed to persuade his party to back his plans.

  • Biden can't be faulted for having a 50-50 Senate and an unmovable Democratic centrist in Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). But he knew the daunting numbers game full well as he went into these fights.

Biden aides point out he passed bigger legislation than any president in history, with a signing ceremony for infrastructure just two months ago.

  • As America reopened, the U.S. broke records for the number of jobs created in a year, and for reduction in the unemployment rate.

Biden sources sketch this plan for coming weeks:

  • White House officials hope for progress soon on a reworked version of Build Back Better, based on Sen. Joe Manchin’s public statements.
  • Biden soon will send the Hill a COVID supplemental budget request to buy more boosters, antiviral pills, masks and tests.
  • Third, aides say Biden will keep pushing for voting-rights legislation. Even as he conceded likely defeat for now, Biden said on the Hill yesterday: "Like every other major civil rights bill that came along ... we can come back and try it a second time."
Biden at the Capitol
President Biden talks to reporters after meeting with Senate Democrats yesterday in the Russell Senate Office Building. Photo: Rod Lamkey/CNP via Reuters

What's happening:

  • Rising anger among Black activists: Members of some civil-rights group refused to appear with Biden for his voting speech in Atlanta. New York Times columnist Charles Blow piled on: "Biden has been dillydallying on getting rid of the filibuster to protect voting rights for essentially his whole administration, until this week."
  • Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, distanced himself from some of Biden's rhetoric in Atlanta, where he invoked the Confederacy and Bull Connor. "Perhaps the President went a little too far," Durbin told CNN.
  • Most polls put Biden around 42-43% approval, with over 50% disapproval. In a Quinnipiac poll this week, Biden had a 33% approval. The White House calls that an "outlier."
  • The Supreme Court yesterday blocked Biden's vaccine-or-test mandate for large employers.
  • The Afghanistan pullout played out about as poorly as it could have.
  • Russia is messing with him: Biden's warnings haven't deterred Vladimir Putin from continuing to build toward a Ukraine invasion.
  • Inflation is soaring: It's the worst in 39 years.
  • Empty grocery shelves get network-news coverage. It's partly the weather, partly COVID, partly the supply chain — but makes a handy visual shorthand for national pessimism.

The bottom line: Build Back Better was supposed to be Biden's FDR moment. Voting rights could have been his LBJ moment. Instead, he's likely to end Year 1 with neither.

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