WASHINGTON — President Biden and his top advisers have tried for months to move forward amid a seemingly endless drumbeat of discouraging news: rising inflation, high gas prices, a crumbling agenda , a dangerous downturn in the economy and plummeting approval ratings, even among Democrats.
But Mr. Biden eventually took a series of breaks. Gasoline prices, which peaked at over $5 a gallon, have been falling daily for more than six weeks and are now closer to $4. After a year-long debate, Democrats and Republicans in Congress passed legislation last week to invest $280 billion in areas such as semiconductor manufacturing and scientific research to boost competition with the China.
And in a surprise turnaround, Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a Democrat who single-handedly picked up Mr. Biden’s boldest proposals, agreed to a deal that puts the president in a position to deliver on his promises to lower drug prices, dealing with climate change and forcing corporations to pay higher taxes.
“The work of government can be slow and frustrating and sometimes even infuriating,” Biden said at the White House on Thursday, reflecting the impatience and anger of his allies and the weariness of his own staff. “Then the hard work of hours, days and months from people who refuse to give up pays off. History is made. Lives are changed.
Even for a president who has grown accustomed to the ups and downs of governance, it was a time to feel broke. Since taking office 18 months ago, Mr. Biden has celebrated successes like passing the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill and weathered crises like the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. Gas prices soared; now they are going down. Unemployment is at record highs even as there are signs of an impending recession.
The president’s political brand is rooted in a slower, pre-Twitter era, and sometimes it can pay off to have the patience to wait for a deal to finally emerge. But now, with congressional elections looming in just months, the challenge for Mr Biden is to ensure his latest successes resonate with Americans who remain deeply skeptical about the future.
The magnitude of the Senate deal was received like a splash of freezing water across Washington, which had all but negated the possibility that Mr Biden’s high-profile ambitions could be revived this year. Republicans were quick to attack the proposal, with Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, mocking what he described as “giant tax hikes that will hammer the working people.”
Inside the West Wing, aides were forced to scramble to find talking points for a deal that hardly anyone saw coming. If Congress manages to pass the compromise reached with Mr Manchin, they say, it will put the country at the forefront of the fight against global climate change and falling drug prices, even if it raises funds from businesses to reduce the federal budget deficit.
The deal would give Medicare the power to negotiate lower prices for millions of Americans, extend health care subsidies under the Affordable Care Act for three years, and force companies to pay a minimum tax — something many progressive Democrats have been demanding for years.
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“For months, the environmental community, President Joe Biden and leader Chuck Schumer, and economists have been pointing out that climate action will reduce inflation and reduce energy costs for Americans,” said Melinda Pierce, chief executive. Legislative Assembly of the Sierra Club, in a press release. after the announcement of the agreement. “We are pleased that the Senate recognizes the opportunity presented to it. Climate action cannot wait another day.
For Mr. Biden, that kind of success can’t come soon enough.
Elections this fall will determine which party controls the House and Senate, with many pundits predicting a Democratic beating. And doubts about the president’s future are growing as fast as his popularity is declining. A New York Times/Siena College poll taken in early July found that 64% of Democrats wanted someone other than Mr. Biden to be the party’s nominee in 2024. A CNN poll later that month found that figure at 75% among Democrats and Democrats. -leaning voters.
Even as Mr. Biden welcomed news of the Senate deal on Thursday, his own comments underscored the grimmer reality he and his administration still face — a litany of promises that go unfulfilled, with little evidence. that more surprise victories are on the horizon.
During his remarks, the president himself listed many parts of his 2020 campaign agenda that remain stalled: more affordable childcare; assistance to the elderly and those who care for them; cheaper kindergarten; efforts to meet the cost of housing; tuition-free student and community college debt relief; and money to cover health care for the poor in states that have refused to expand Medicaid.
The president’s failure to deliver on those promises has left many who were once his staunchest supporters disappointed, angry and – in some cases – even ready to give him up for someone else.
Alexis Steenberg, 19, a student in eastern Pennsylvania, helped convince her father to vote for Mr Biden in 2020 because of his promise to erase thousands of dollars in student debt. Now, as one of those debt-ridden students, she is angry that Mr. Biden has broken his promise.
“It’s so frustrating because I tried, I did everything I could to persuade my dad to vote for someone who I knew wouldn’t do it on his own,” she said. during an interview. “And the reason I persuaded him was that he completely failed.”
An administration official said Mr Biden was still considering canceling student debt.
Ms. Steenberg is a Democrat and supports Mr. Biden’s priorities, she said, but she wants to vote for another candidate.
“I’m one of the 75% who thinks someone else should show up,” she said. “Not only because he hasn’t kept his promises, but also because he doesn’t seem to be able to express his thoughts enough to the public or to the people behind the scenes who help him.”
Mr. Biden, she said, is “just floating around waiting for the end of his term.”
Going forward, aides believe Mr Biden needs to find a way to better communicate the progress he has made to people like Ms Steenberg.
The stimulus package he pushed through at the start of his term doled out hundreds of billions of dollars to individuals and businesses amid the pandemic. His bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill includes major investments in clean energy, broadband and long-delayed projects to fix crumbling roads, pipes and bridges.
David Axelrod, who was a top adviser to President Barack Obama, wrote on Twitter Friday that Mr. Biden was “the victim of his own expansive expectations.”
“He’s quietly amassing a record of historic wins on infrastructure, guns, manufacturing – and now perhaps Rx pricing, climate and energy,” Axelrod wrote. “Not a new New Deal but damn impressive in a 50/50 Congress.”
Yet Mr. Biden has so far struggled to make his victories shine through the often bleak reports that dominate media coverage. Critics, including some members of his own party, say his speaking style fails to convey the sense of urgency that many Americans feel.
“I think we’re looking to be inspired,” said Jamie L. Manson, the president of Catholics for Choice, who was disappointed after Mr. Biden’s speech following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe. v. Wade.
Dakota Hall, the executive director of the Alliance for Youth Action, which advocates for young people and people of color, said Mr Biden had failed to deliver on campaign promises he made for a bold change in a number of areas.
Mr Hall said he regularly sees Mr Biden promoting his administration’s progress by making small, incremental changes.
“It’s absolutely necessary,” he said. “But that’s not the change people came out and voted for.”
“They want someone who is going to show their anger, slam their fist on the podium and say enough is enough,” Mr Hall added. “They don’t get that from Biden, do they?”
White House officials are aware of the frustration, but they say it’s misplaced. They say the president fought for all his priorities but was blocked by forces beyond his control: Republicans who refuse to compromise, a handful of conservative Democrats and world events like the invasion of Ukraine by Russia and the economic fallout from the pandemic.
They argue that Mr. Biden’s achievements are sometimes not appreciated. They point to the overwhelming negative media coverage he received as gas prices rose rapidly and the relatively smaller amount of coverage as gas prices fell following his decision to release a record amount of oil from the country’s strategic petroleum reserve.
Derrick Johnson, the NAACP chairman, said Democrats should direct their anger at lawmakers — including Republicans and a few Democrats — who have blocked the president from making more progress. He urged people to vote in November to elect more people who support Mr Biden’s agenda.
“We need a Senate that will do its job,” he said.
On Twitter last weekformer President Barack Obama, who was often frustrated with Congress as he pushed his own agenda, said change might stall.
“I am grateful to President Biden and to the members of Congress – Democrats or Republicans – who work for the American people,” Mr. Obama wrote. “Progress doesn’t always happen all at once, but it does happen – and this is what it looks like.”