Biden’s first year: early successes forgotten amid multiple crises.


FILE – President Joe Biden speaks about the end of the war in Afghanistan from the State Dining Room of the White House, on Aug. 31, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Political storm clouds, a divided America and a stalled legislative agenda signal a gloomy outlook for US president and Democrats in 2022.

President Joe Biden came into office one year ago with a pledge to return a sense of normality to America and counter the “exhausting outrage” that had riven the nation in recent years, particularly under his predecessor, Donald Trump.

“Without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury,” Mr Biden said in his inauguration speech. “This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge, and unity is the path forward.”

Twelve months after his lofty proclamation, Mr Biden has only partially fulfilled his promise to set the US on a new course.

The country is as divided as ever and Mr Biden faces multiple crises, a stalled domestic agenda and looming midterm elections that look certain to wipe out his slim congressional majority.

His term started out well enough, with many Americans breathing a collective sigh of relief at Mr Trump’s departure.

The new president mandated mask-wearing in federal buildings including airports and promised to steer America through the pandemic, saying: “We will get through this together.”

He moved to restore relations with America’s most important allies after four fraught years under Mr Trump. His approach to governing has been framed as calm and measured, a marked contrast to the policy-by-tweet antics of his predecessor.

And on March 11, Mr Biden signed a historic, $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill called the American Rescue Plan, aimed at hastening the US recovery from the pandemic.

“My first take of the Biden administration is, it’s not the Trump administration,” said Brian Smith, a professor of political science at St Edward’s University in Austin, Texas.

“For a lot of people, that’s enough to give him a passing grade.”

He projected competence and empathy as he moved quickly to vaccinate millions of Americans.

But amid misinformation, Republican pushback against vaccine mandates and flubbed messaging from US health officials, the number of fully vaccinated Americans is stalled at about 62 per cent — much lower than Mr Biden’s desired 70 per cent and lower than most other G20 countries.

His carefully cultivated image of compassion and confidence was shattered as he oversaw America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years, and the realities of modern America have quickly caught up with Mr Biden.

Held hostage by his own party

Mr Biden on Wednesday blamed Republicans for moving as a bloc to scupper his agenda.

“I did not anticipate that there would be such a stalwart effort to make sure that the most important thing was that President Biden didn’t get anything done,” he said at a press conference on the eve of his first anniversary of taking office.

But Republican opposition is a given. More importantly, Mr Biden has faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles from within his own party.

After the veteran politician, who spent 36 years in the Senate, helped pass the American Rescue Plan, his legislative luck ran out. Despite months of negotiations, Mr Biden has been unable to push his Build Back Better Bill through the Senate.

The president made major compromises on the bill which would set America’s course on climate change and social issues for years to come.

The original bill would have cost $3.5 trillion but was scaled back to $1.75tn to appease Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

But Mr Manchin, who has become a powerful figure in Washington, has said he still cannot support the bill.

Mr Biden has also been thwarted by Democrat Kyrsten Sinema.

“It’s tough,” said James Thurber, professor of political science at American University. “Two members of his party made it almost impossible to get anything done.”

The Democrats hold a narrow majority in Congress and the Senate is split evenly between the two parties, with Vice President Kamala Harris holding what is supposed to be the deciding swing vote.

But without support from Mr Manchin and Ms Sinema, Mr Biden’s legislative agenda appears to be hopelessly adrift.

He conceded on Wednesday he will likely have break up the Build Back Better Bill if any of it is to come to fruition.

Even his attempt to pass voting reform in the Senate to counter Republican attempts to make it harder for some people to vote appears doomed for the moment.

With the midterm elections in November, Democrats may only hold their thin advantage for a few more months. Historically, the party out of power makes gains and Mr Biden’s legislative failures are predicted to tamp down Democratic voter enthusiasm.

“It’s going to be tough in an election year for Biden to get anything through Congress with this relentless Republican opposition and conservative Democrats like Sinema and Manchin standing in his way,” said Allan Licthman, a professor of history at American University.

Mr Lichtman has correctly predicted every presidential election since 1984, including Mr Biden’s win over Mr Trump.

He said the Biden administration needs to start “delivering much better messaging” if it wants to avoid disappointment at the ballot boxes in 2022.

Sagging approval ratings

Up until the summer, Mr Biden’s approval ratings hovered comfortably above 50 per cent. But since the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan and subsequent Taliban takeover, coupled with the emergence of the Omicron coronavirus variant and soaring inflation, his approval numbers have sunk to the lows.

If inflation keeps rising, analysts believe it could spell further trouble for Mr Biden and the Democrats.

“I think that’s going to be a big issue in the fall, when we look at the kind of inflation,” Mr Smith told The National.

He likened it to what happened to Jimmy Carter in 1980. Mr Carter’s mishandling of rising consumer prices helped lead to his defeat after only one term in the Oval Office.

With three years still to go, it’s too soon to write Mr Biden’s political epitaph. But as things stands today, it’s not looking good for him and the Democrats.

“The problem is that we continue to have now over 850,000 people dead from [Covid-19], we’ll probably have a million by next summer,” Mr Thurber told The National.

“Inflation is hurting a whole lot of people in America, middle class and down. So. that’s a killer for any president.”

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