Every year, the NFL playoffs dominate January television and this year, football prognosticators have mixed views of who might emerge as Super Bowl Champions. Not so much for political observers. Politicos are tripping over themselves to proclaim President Biden dead in the water and Republicans poised to sweep control of Congress in November.
The first year of a Presidential administration has its challenges, even under normal circumstances. It takes time to build out a government and turn campaign promises into policy. The environment surrounding President Biden’s inauguration was anything but normal. Many viewed it as a defining moment for America to move forward, heal the political divide, and implement a coordinated approach to bring the Covid pandemic to heel. Biden promised a return to “normalcy”. At the one-year mark, there is much more work to be done to achieve these ambitious goals.
The Biden Administration achieved tangible successes in year one, especially on the legislative front. The Administration largely focused their Covid health strategy on encouraging vaccination. Today, 72% of American adults are fully vaccinated, which is no small feat. The Administration successfully shepherded an economic response to Covid in the American Recovery Plan, which pumped trillions of dollars into the economy. The capstone of Biden’s first year in office was the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act – better known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal or “BIF”, which will provide a much-needed overhaul of America’s traditional infrastructure and invest billions in electric vehicles and clean energy.
President Biden enjoyed high approval ratings from his election up until August. These numbers were buttressed by the “honeymoon” period new Presidents are often afforded by the American public. The administration also benefited from the fact that most Americans generally see him as an honorable and decent man who has the nation’s best interests at heart.
Despite notable victories, President Biden has unquestionably undergone a brutal stretch over the past couple of months. Historic inflation, a shortage of Covid tests and rising infection rates during the holidays, and disarray over future Democratic legislative initiatives have sunk the President’s approval ratings to historic lows.
The withdrawal from Afghanistan, despite having broad support from the American public, culminated in chaotic and heart wrenching scenes that were broadcast across the world, and began a precipitous decline in support for the President. Fast forward to January and with poll numbers dwindling, limited legislative victories on the horizon, high inflation and the combination of the Omicron variant coupled with a lack of a comprehensive testing strategy, the Administration is looking for a “reset” with voters.
The Administration has an opportunity to get back on track this week. Americans are eagerly ordering free Covid tests and an efficient delivery system could reinforce confidence in the Administration’s handling of Covid. This could especially restore trust amongst Democrats, which is essential ahead of the November midterms.
Next, Biden must focus the conversation on his plans to help the economy since Build Back Better, in its original form, is on life support. The President needs to take advantage of the ongoing budget debate and clearly lay out the case for why the annual appropriations bills should include additional supplemental spending to bolster industries decimated by the pandemic. Passing the bill into law before the current continuing resolution expires on February 18th would give the President an important economic talking point heading into his March 1st State of the Union address.
Imagine that then the Omicron variant wanes, inflation eases and an economic aid package (likely a slimmed down version of Build Back Better) is passed before Memorial Day. The Administration would start summer with the wind at its back.
Conversely, there are possible developments that the White House cannot control. Russia could invade Ukraine, China could pull off an error-free Olympics that give it a geopolitical shine, the Covid nightmare could continue, and supply chain woes may keep inflation high.
While polls suggest the President and Democrats are down big at halftime, there are still two more quarters left to play before Election Day 2022.
What the Biden Administration does over the next two months will impact the outcome of the midterms more than any compelling narrative (or lack thereof) being put forward by Republicans. President Biden should stick to a game plan of basic blocking, tackling, and moving the ball down the field, while resisting the temptation to go deep on every play. He must start putting points on the board now or the blowout many have predicted will be here soon enough.