October 29, 2023

๐Ÿณ Happy Sunday! Erica Pandey is at the helm โ€” reach her at [email protected].

  • Smart Brevityโ„ข count: 1,595 words ... 6 mins. Edited by Donica Phifer

1 big thing โ€” Behind the Curtain: Biden's horror shows

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President Biden's White House is stuck in a split-screen reality โ€” spiraling war threats overseas and spiraling political problems at home. Both are horror shows for re-election, Axios' Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen write.

  • Why it matters: Top officials believe Biden has been at his best in managing the early days of the Israeli-Hamas war. But they privately concede things have never been worse politically since the 80-year-old took office.

Most troublesome: It's hard to see how to brighten his public image on issues haunting the American public โ€” crime, immigration, inflation, race, trust. And now two divisive wars America didn't start.

  • Biden's top aides "are deeply frustrated, and somewhat bitter," said one backer in frequent touch with the West Wing. "They think he's doing a great job โ€” and by many measures, he is."

But private polls show the same hurdle as public ones โ€” brutally and stubbornly low popularity broadly, and on topics animating voters:

1. He's tied or trailing former President Trump nationally and in swing states โ€” even though Trump was indicted four times on 91 felony counts and is spending many days in court (and storming out).

2. Biden gets crushed on his handling of immigration, crime and inflation โ€” none of which will likely turn around in time to put a new spring in his step.

  • It's not death by one issue, but by half a dozen hitting at once. "The load-bearing wall breaks," one Biden official conceded.

3. Many of Biden's own voters don't want him to run โ€” a daunting design flaw for a re-election campaign.

What to watch: Election Day is 53 weeks away, and Biden needs to excite young voters, Black voters and Hispanic voters.

  • His core constituency is unlikely to vote for Trump. But Democrats are concerned about a combination of voters staying home or backing a third-party candidate.
  • Dems won in 2020 because of massive turnout. Now, many of Biden's base voters are over him. To try to rev them up, Democrats plan to lean into Trump, abortion and rising cultural issues, including book bans.
President Biden speaks in Washington last Monday. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Here's where things get trickier. Among the pitfalls ahead:

1. It's hard to see a big new idea that could pass Congress and move the needle with the public. The White House slammed so many chips on Bidenomics, which is getting results in reality but has been a flop politically.

  • That leaves West Wingers banking on Trump hatred, not Biden love (or even liking) to carry them.
  • The Biden campaign has spent $10 million and counting on TV ads, mostly touting Biden โ€” and his polls haven't moved. If anything, they've gone down.

2. Top Biden backers worry they're one trip or stumble or brain glitch away from another round of Biden's-too-old hand-wringing.

  • Axios told you about the strategy to mitigate it. But voters see him as hesitating, faltering and often confused.
  • It's a visible weakness that can't be fixed or changed, as one veteran of presidential politics points out.

3. Hunter Biden likely will remain in the headlines through Election Day as he battles criminal charges and House Republicans push impeachment against his dad.

4. House Republicans have made themselves a laughingstock with their speaker fracas over the past month. But Speaker Mike Johnson says he'll continue the impeachment inquiry.

What they're saying: Biden advisers point out that year-out predictions are rarely right. Politics aren't static. Individual pieces of Bidenomics are popular. And they say 53 weeks is actually lots of time: Voters will decide next fall โ€” after hundreds of millions have been spent by each side โ€” not this fall.

  • In October 2011, 13 months before former President Obama's re-election, a Quinnipiac poll had his approval hitting an all-time low.

Yet many top figures in both parties agree on this brutal calculus:

  • Trump is the only viable Republican that Biden can defeat. And Biden and Vice President Harris are the only Democrats that Trump could defeat.

What's next: The Middle East war gives the president a chance to project stable leadership ahead of a general election that could boil down to Biden's age vs. Trump's character.

  • But the White House knows the war will likely widen. One Biden insider said about the war: "The most pessimistic scenario is the most likely outcome."

Share this column ... Go deeper: Read our columns on Biden and Bibi, Biden and the war, and rattled U.S. officials.

2. Biden braces for broader war

Residents and civil defense teams search wreckage in Gaza City today. Photo: Ashraf Amra/Anadolu via Getty Images

The White House is preparing for the possibility the Israel-Hamas war will expand across the Middle East, Axios' Hans Nichols and Barak Ravid report.

  • Why it matters: The alarming prospect of regional escalation โ€” fueled by skirmishes beyond the fighting in Gaza โ€” hangs over conversations among top West Wing officials.

Israeli intelligence services believe Hezbollah โ€” which is based in Lebanon and backed by Iran โ€” will increase the intensity of its attacks against Israel on its northern border because of Israel's ground operation in Gaza.

  • Israeli officials think Hezbollah will try to escalate, without provoking an all-out war that could easily go out of control.
Cars destroyed by Hamas during the Oct. 7 attack are piled in an Israeli field near the Gaza border. Photo: Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced "the second stage of the war," warning his country of a "long and difficult campaign."

  • Israel didn't encounter much resistance in Gaza during the first day of the assault. But Israeli forces are still on the outskirts of urban areas, and expect the fighting to become much harder.

"We are moving carefully without going wild," a senior Israeli official said. "There is no need to rush because it will take months anyway."

3. ๐Ÿš— UAW's weekend deal

UAW members walk the picket line at Stellantis' plant in Sterling Heights, Mich., earlier this week. Photo: Paul Sancya/AP

The United Auto Workers union announced a tentative contract agreement with Stellantis yesterday that would end a six-week strike against the maker of Jeep SUVs and Ram trucks.

  • Why it matters: The agreement, which comes days after Ford reached a separate deal, brings the historic work stoppage against Detroit's Big Three closer to an end, Axios' Sareen Habeshian and Joann Muller write.

๐Ÿ”Ž Zoom in: The UAW saved 5,000 jobs that were to be eliminated, and got a commitment from Stellantis to add an additional 5,000 jobs by the end of the agreement in April 2028, union leaders said.

๐Ÿ‘€ What's next: The tentative agreements still need to be ratified by 57,000 UAW members at Ford and 43,000 at Stellantis.

4. ๐Ÿ’ผ Charted: Post-COVID win

Racial gaps in U.S. unemployment rate
Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics; Graph: Deena Zaidi/Axios Visuals

The gap in economic results among racial groups has narrowed in the last three years, making the recovery from the pandemic's recession "the most equitable in recent history," Axios chief economic correspondent Neil Irwin writes from a new Treasury Department report.

  • That's unlike other modern recessions, which have seen Black and Hispanic workers bear the disproportionate brunt of the downturn.

๐Ÿงฎ By the numbers: The median net worth of Black and Hispanic families rose 60% and 47%, respectively, from 2019 to 2022. That compares to 31% for white families, according to inflation-adjusted data from the Federal Reserve.

  • It reflects Black and Hispanic households' lower wealth levels entering the pandemic. So the same cash transfers from the government resulted in higher percentage gains.

Go deeper.

5. Maine shooter's red flags

A family places crosses and signs in front of the bowling alley where seven people were killed this week. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Three months before the Maine shootings, the 40-year-old gunman, who was found dead Friday night, tried to buy a silencer for a rifle, the owner of a local firearms store tells ABC News.

  • The store didn't sell him the silencer because he "checked off a box that incriminated himself saying that he was in an institution," the owner says.

Police across Maine were alerted last month to "veiled threats" to be on the lookout for the man after he made threats against a military base and fellow soldiers.

  • But after stepped-up patrols of the base and a visit to the suspect's home โ€” neither of which turned up any sign of him โ€” they moved on, two local law enforcement chiefs said.
Used by kind permission

This alert, tweeted by CNN's Omar Jimenez, popped up on phones in Lewiston, Maine, at 10:43 p.m. Friday.

6. ๐ŸŽ Inventing apples

Apples of the MD-TAP2 variety picked on Oct. 26. Photo: Christopher Walsh

Chris Walsh, a professor at the University of Maryland, developed two newly patented apple variations to cope with increasing heat waves, The Washington Post reports.

  • Why it matters: Last year's harvest had the worst yield since 2013.

Walsh's team changed the architecture and genetics of the trees so that they're smaller than most commercial apple trees.

7. ๐Ÿ‘ Remembering Matthew Perry

Matthew Perry with Courteney Cox Arquette (left) and Jennifer Aniston in a 2002 "Friends" episode โ€” "The One with the Birthing Video." Photo by: Danny Feld/NBC via Getty Images

Matthew Perry, who played sarcastic, beloved Chandler Bing in all 10 seasons of "Friends," died yesterday at his L.A. home at 54.

  • He was found in a hot tub. No drugs were found and no foul play is suspected, law enforcement sources told the L.A. Times.

"As Chandler Bing, the handsome, wisecracking roommate of LeBlanc's Joey Tribbiani and, later, love interest of Cox's fastidious Monica Geller, Perry distinguished himself in a crackling ensemble cast," the L.A. Times adds.

  • "With his dry delivery he created a catchphrase with a mere turn of inflection, based on banter he'd shared with childhood friends: Could he be any more Chandler?
Perry, projected on an outdoor screen as fans watch the final episode of Friends, at LA's Universal City Walk in 2004. Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Perry released a memoir last year detailing his drinking, drug use and history of addiction that led to decades spent in treatment centers or sober living facilities, the N.Y. Times notes.

8. ๐Ÿ Parting shot

Photo: Michael Caterina/AP

The steeple of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart is seen through fall foliage before the football game between Notre Dame and Pitt in South Bend, Ind., yesterday. The Fighting Irish won, 58-7.