“There’s so much at stake here,” an adviser to senior party leaders said, describing how, overnight, a sense of enormity added to the immediate timeline.
Over the next few weeks, the president will need to land on the centerpieces of his national agenda to boost the country’s global competitiveness and revamp swaths of its economy. Major decisions on student loans and expanding abortion rights hang in the balance. There’s also the matter of containing the twin outbreaks of monkeypox and coronavirus, the latest of which Biden has just spent five days defending himself against. personally.
If that wasn’t enough, he also juggles a list of foreign affairs challenges – highlighted by longer-term efforts to reset a nuclear deal with Iran and negotiate the release of a basketball star -ball and another American imprisoned in Russia.
It’s a huge list of political tasks in the context of a midterm election that could cost the Democrats complete control of Washington. And within a White House that often feels under siege, it’s widely recognized that how Biden executes him will determine the difference between a historic first term and a tragic missed opportunity.
White House officials approach the moment with cautious optimism, energized by the new impetus given to Biden’s top priorities in Congress, itself underlined by the adoption Thursday of a bill intended to revive the production of semiconductors and to better compete with China.
Yet they are also aware that many elements remain well beyond their control.
The prospect of an eleventh-hour breakthrough on the Democrats’ climate, tax and healthcare package after more than a year of stumbling has particularly captured the White House’s imagination. Following Wednesday’s deal with Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.), a senior aide said the legislation could turn the tide for Democrats trying to persuade voters to keep them in power, allowing Biden and his party to draw an equal party a sharper contrast with Republicans who they say do not offer an alternative agenda.
“It changes a lot how Democrats are going to look at the first half of this first term” if the bill passes, said Tobin Marcus, a former Biden adviser and current senior policy and policy strategist at the investment bank. Evercore ISI. “Democratic voters are going to feel a lot better about what all of this has added.”
The deal also left Biden advisers feeling vindicated in their patient approach to negotiations — a strategy that involved sticking to an administration-wide gag order even as the White House grappled. to growing criticism and doubts within the party. It was a long-term approach that one senior assistant described as a “ton of phone calls”.
Still, one is wary of engaging in much preemptive celebration, especially for an administration so far defined by outsized ambitions on which it has largely failed to deliver. To that end, officials opted not to let Biden himself deliver remarks late Wednesday after Manchin announced the deal, instead issuing a statement that relied on caveats that the deal could still collapse.
On Thursday, Biden was careful to point the finger at the bill’s broad coalition of early supporters, from former Obama economist Larry Summers to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). The bill, Biden acknowledged, “is far from perfect.”
“It’s a compromise,” he added. “But that’s how you progress: from compromise.”
In a statement, White House spokesman Chris Meagher called the reconciliation bill “a unique opportunity to fight inflation and reduce costs such as prescription drugs, energy and Healthcare”.
“And we are not done – the President will continue to focus on growing our economy from the bottom up, reducing costs for families, securing our communities and protecting essential rights,” he said. -he declares.
The progress Democrats have made so far has come with Biden taking a hands-off approach, deferring to Manchin and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer — though the West Wing has been in close consultation with Schumer.
At times, Biden complained about the senator’s reluctance to commit to a deal, even though he said he understood Manchin had to play with voters in West Virginia. In some quarters of the White House, a sense of skepticism set in whenever Manchin signaled he was ready to resume negotiations.
Still, there was a lingering belief that at some point Manchin would return to the table — even after the senator signaled two weeks ago that he could only support a rudimentary health care bill.
With a deal in hand, the White House should now play a bigger role in convincing a handful of remaining Democrats to secure the victory that lies before them.
And those who have worked with Biden in the White House and on Capitol Hill say that while he may have avoided bad negotiations along the way, the seven-term former senator relishes the legislative bridging role.
“Traditionally, that’s definitely something he’s been good at,” Marcus said, pointing to the 2013 budget cliff deal Biden struck with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. “[H]is closed [that] when I think few other people could have done it.
The lingering question for Democrats, however, is whether passing the bill will be enough. Biden has yet to tackle a lingering pandemic that will take more funds to fight — itself dependent on the votes of now-steamed congressional Republicans on what they perceive to be a Manchin-Schumer sleight of hand. And although he oversaw an economy hitting its lowest unemployment rate in decades, the reward has been consistently high inflation and polls approaching historic lows.
These economic headwinds are unlikely to subside before November, souring voters on the party’s overall performance and drowning out more encouraging signs of progress.
On Thursday, new data showed the economy had contracted for a second straight quarter – a further blow in an environment that many voters already believe looks like a recession, even as White House aides have spent the past week wondering if the country was technically one.
The administration is also likely to face mounting pressure in the coming weeks to come up with plans to cancel student debt, protect access to abortion and contain the monkeypox epidemic – delicate issues that, if mishandled, threaten to fracture the Democratic coalition and end the crisis quickly. the current era of good party feelings.
Biden officials have latched on to signs that the oil supply crisis that drove up gas prices in the spring is finally easing, hoping that relatively lower costs at the pump could buy them goodwill. Although Covid continues to rise, deaths have not – prompting aides to present it as proof that their strategy of vaccines and treatments is working.
But especially among some older, more jaded aides who have watched the administration get hit in crisis after crisis, the wave of good news is setting them up for the other shoe’s downfall. Even after Biden quickly recovered from his own Covid case, a senior official said it would fit the White House’s bad luck for him to spoil the positive press ride by becoming one of the few patients to suffer. of a second “rebound” disease.
“The president will bounce back,” the official said half-jokingly. “These things just happen to us.”