It’s a big weekend in the NFL, but I’m talking about the Biden administration.
By now you know the president’s week was a disaster. COVID is not contained, the messaging is a mess, and the Supreme Court struck down the president’s employer mandate. Supply chain problems persist. Inflation is at its highest level in forty years. Build Back Better is nowhere. Any effort to protect voting rights lacks the votes necessary for a filibuster carve-out. And there’s a question of how to react to Russia amidst reports that it is ready to raise a false flag as a pretext to invade Ukraine.
It’s enough for Biden to be envious of the UK’s Boris Johnson. Against this backdrop, hosting a BYOB garden party while the rest of the nation is in lockdown is a walk in the park.
No wonder the president’s approval rating, according to a survey released this week by Quinnipiac University, stands at just 33%. The White House response was to argue that Quinnipiac is an outlier and the real number, according to a FiveThirtyEight average is 43% approval. As in, “we know things are bad – but not that bad”.
While some of the vexing issues are arguably beyond a president’s control, many were missteps. Not the sort of thing you’d expect from a Washington lifer who campaigned as seasoned and experienced.
Take the Tuesday speech. The president hoped for a momentum shift with a trip to Georgia. Perhaps his exuberance was born of beer muscles from the positive reaction to the speech he delivered on the January 6th anniversary. This was Biden again seeking to project strength thru spite.
Only this time, without Donald Trump as a target, he missed the mark. His comparison of today’s opponents of his voting rights measures…. To racists of the civil rights era was an over-reach and off-putting.
At The Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan, herself a former Ronald Reagan speechwriter, said:
“The speech itself was aggressive, intemperate, not only offensive but meant to offend. It seemed prepared by people who think there is only the democratic party in America, that’s it, everyone else is an outsider who can be disparaged. It was a mistake on so many levels.”
Noonan is right. Where was Biden’s political savvy…and the judgment of those who advise him?
What made them think that a fire and brimstone speech delivered in Atlanta would reach its intended audience of two: a senator in West Virginia and another from Arizona?
If Sinema and Manchin have shown us anything, it is that they aren’t susceptible to pressure from that kind of speech or direct appeal. The only way to get their votes — if they are getable — is through quiet persuasion, not public bombast.
The president didn’t even win the plaudits he’d anticipated from the left, where his remarks were seen as too little and too late. Stacy Abrams didn’t even attend the speech in her home state, citing an unspecified scheduling conflict. Really?
The only thing tangible to come from the speech was a “four pinocchios” rating from The Washington Post for the president’s false claim that he’d been arrested in the context of discussing the civil rights movement.
Compounding the Tuesday trip, on Thursday, for the third time in the last year, Biden headed to Capitol Hill to meet with Democrats behind closed doors… and came back empty-handed.
Another rookie mistake. Who allows the president to put the prestige of his office on the line with a visit to cajole lawmakers without knowing in advance that the deal can get done? Like a summit with a world leader, you only make the trip to Capitol Hill when you know you will have something to announce when it’s over.
In this case, Senator Sinema didn’t even await his arrival. Instead, she took to the floor and announced that while she backed two new voting rights measures, she will not support any effort to weaken the filibuster.
Not to be outdone, soon after the presidential meeting, Joe Manchin then released a statement announcing that he, too, was against ending the filibuster.
In the final analysis, though, what matters to the American public is the economy. Considering the pandemic – and notwithstanding inflation – it nevertheless remains remarkably strong. When we get past COVID, the president’s unforced errors may be forgotten. And people may again vote with their wallets. But for right now, his mistakes and the pandemic loom large.