Biden savors much-needed victories. But will the highs eclipse the lows?

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 dangerously slowing economy and a rate plummeting approval ratings, even among Democrats.

But Mr. Biden has finally caught a series of breaks. Gas prices, which topped $5 a gallon, have fallen every day for more than six weeks and are now nearing $4. After a year-long debate, Democrats and Republicans in Congress last week approved a bill to invest $280 billion in areas such as semiconductor manufacturing and scientific research to strengthen competition with China.

And in a surprise shift, Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a Democrat who had backed only Mr. Biden’s bolder proposals, accepted a deal that puts the president in a position to make good on promises to lower drug prices. tackling climate change and making businesses pay higher taxes.

“The work of government can be slow and frustrating and sometimes even infuriating,” Mr. Biden said at the White House on Thursday, reflecting impatience and anger among his allies and weariness among his own staff. “Then the hard work of hours, days and months of people who refuse to give up pays off. History is made. Lives have changed.”

Even for a president accustomed to the ups and downs of government, it was a time to feel whipped. Since taking office 18 months ago, Mr. Biden has celebrated successes such as the passage of the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill and weathered crises such as the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. Gas prices soared; now they are going down. Unemployment is at record lows, although there are signs of a looming recession.

The president’s brand of politics is rooted in a slower, pre-Twitter era, and it can sometimes pay to be patient to wait for a deal to finally emerge. But now, with congressional elections looming in a few months, Mr. Biden’s challenge is to ensure that his recent successes resonate with Americans who remain deeply skeptical about the future.

The magnitude of the Senate deal was received like a splash of ice water across Washington, which had all but ruled out the possibility that Mr Biden’s far-reaching ambitions could be revived this year. Republicans moved quickly to attack the proposal, with Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, deriding what he described as “giant tax increases that will hit workers hard.”

Inside the West Wing, aides were forced to scramble to find talking points for a deal that almost no one saw coming. If Congress succeeds in approving the compromise reached with Mr. Manchin, they argue, will lead the country to address global climate change and lower drug prices, even as he raises money from corporations 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 require corporations to pay a minimum tax , which many progressive Democrats have been demanding for years.

Biden’s presidency

With the midterm elections looming, this is where President Biden stands.

“For months, the environmental community, President Joe Biden and Leader Chuck Schumer, and economists have pointed out that climate action would lower inflation and lower energy costs for Americans,” said Melinda Pierce, Legislative Director from the Sierra Club, in a statement. after the deal was announced. “We are pleased that the Senate recognizes the opportunity before them. Climate action cannot wait another day.”

For Mr. Biden, that kind of success can’t come soon enough.

This fall’s election will determine which party controls the House and Senate, with many pundits predicting a Democratic tussle. And doubts about the president’s own future are growing as fast as his popularity is sinking. A New York Times/Siena College poll in early July found that 64 percent of Democrats wanted someone other than Mr. Biden to be the party’s nominee in 2024. A CNN poll later this month putting that number at 75 percent among Democrats and Democrats. -Inclined voters.

While Mr. Biden praised news of the Senate deal on Thursday, his own comments underscored the darker reality he and his administration still face: a litany of promises that have yet to be kept. they have delivered, with little evidence that more surprise victories are on the horizon.

During his remarks, the president himself listed many of the parts of his 2020 campaign agenda that remain stalled: more affordable child care; helps the elderly and their carers; cheaper preschool; efforts to cope with the cost of housing; student debt relief and tuition-free community college; 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 most ardent supporters disappointed, angry, and in some cases even ready to abandon him for someone else.

Alexis Steenberg, 19, a college 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 college students, she’s angry that Mr. Biden hasn’t followed through on that promise.

“It’s so frustrating because I tried, I tried everything I could to persuade my father to vote for someone that I knew he wouldn’t do on his own,” she said in an interview. “And the reason I convinced him, he completely fell.”

An administration official said Mr. Biden was still considering whether to cancel any student debt.

Ms. Steenberg is a Democrat and supports Mr. Biden’s priorities, she said, but wants to vote for a different candidate.

“I’m one of the 75 percent who thinks someone else should run,” he said. “Not only because he has broken his promises, but also because he doesn’t seem to be able to articulate his thoughts sufficiently to the public or to the people who are helping him.”

Mr. Biden, he said, “is just floating around waiting for the term to end.”

Going forward, aides believe Mr. Biden must find a way to better communicate the progress he has made to people like Ms. Steenberg.

The stimulus plan he pushed at the start of his term distributed hundreds of billions of dollars to individuals and businesses amid the pandemic. His bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure law is making big investments in clean energy, broadband and backlogged projects to fix crumbling roads, pipelines and bridges.

David Axelrod, who was a top adviser to President Barack Obama, wrote on Twitter on Friday that Mr Biden was “a victim of his own expansive expectation”.

“He is quietly racking up a record of historic victories in infrastructure, weapons, manufacturing, and now perhaps Rx prices, climate and energy,” wrote Mr. Axelrod. “Not a new New Deal, but very impressive in a 50/50 Congress.”

Still, Mr. Biden has so far struggled to ensure that his victories outweigh the often gloomy reporting that dominates news coverage. Critics, including some in his own party, say his speaking style does not convey the sense of urgency felt by many Americans.

“I think we’re looking for inspiration,” said Jamie L. Manson, the president of Catholics for Choice, who expressed disappointment after Mr. Biden’s speech following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v.

Dakota Hall, executive director of the Alliance for Youth Action, which advocates for young people and people of color, said Mr. Biden had failed to follow through on promises he made on the campaign trail for bold change in a series of areas.

Mr. Hall said he regularly saw Mr. Biden to promote the progress of his administration to make small and progressive changes.

“This is absolutely necessary,” he said. “But this is not the change the people voted for.”

“They want someone to show their anger, to bang their fist on the podium and say enough is enough,” added Mr. Hall. “They don’t get that from Biden, do they?”

White House officials are aware of the frustration, but say it is misplaced. They say the president has been fighting for all his priorities but has been blocked by forces beyond his control: Republicans who refuse to compromise, a handful of conservative Democrats and global events like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the economic fallout of the pandemic

They argue that Mr. Biden’s accomplishments are sometimes underappreciated. They point to the crushing amount of negative news coverage he received as gas prices rose rapidly and the relatively smaller amount of coverage as gas prices have fallen following his decision to release a record amount of oil from the country’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP, said Democrats should direct their anger at lawmakers, including Republicans and a few Democrats, who have prevented the president from going further. He urged people to vote in November to elect more people who support Mr. Biden’s agenda.

“We need a Senate that does its job,” he said.

On Twitter last week, former President Barack Obama, who was often thwarted by Congress while pushing his own agenda, said the change could be stalled.

“I am grateful to President Biden and those in Congress, Democrat and Republican, who are working to deliver for the American people,” Obama wrote. “Progress doesn’t always happen all at once, but it does happen, and this is what it looks like.”

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