“There is so much at stake here,” an advisor told the party’s senior leaders, describing how, overnight, a sense of enormity was added to the immediate calendar.
In the coming weeks, the President will need to gain the focus of his internal agenda to strengthen the nation’s global competitiveness and renew entire sectors of its economy. Important decisions about student loans and expanding abortion rights hang in the balance. There is also the matter of containing the twin outbreaks of monkeypox and coronavirus, the latest of which Biden just spent five days personally defending himself.
If that’s not enough, he’s also juggling a number of foreign affairs challenges, titled by long-term efforts to restore a nuclear deal with Iran and negotiate the release of a basketball star and another jailed American in. Russia.
It’s a massive to-do list set against the backdrop of a midterm election that could cost the Democrats full control of Washington. And within a White House that often feels under siege, there is broad recognition that how Biden executes it will make the difference between a historic first term and a tragic missed opportunity.
White House officials are approaching the moment with cautious optimism, motivated by the new momentum for Biden’s top priorities in Congress. same underlined by the approval on Thursday of a bill designed to increase semiconductor production and better compete with China.
Yet they are also aware that many elements remain well beyond their control.
The prospect of an 11th hour turnaround on the Democrats’ climate, tax and health package after more than a year of stumbling has particularly captured the White House’s imagination. In the wake of Wednesday’s deal with Senator 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 by allowing Biden and the his party to equalize starker contrast with Republicans who claim they do not offer an alternative agenda.
“It will greatly change the way Democrats look at the first half of this first term” if the bill is passed, said Tobin Marcus, former Biden adviser and current senior political and political strategist at Evercore ISI investment bank. “Democratic voters will feel much better about what all this has added to.”
The deal also left Biden’s advisers feeling justified in their patient approach to the negotiations, a strategy that involved sticking to an administration-level gag order even as the White House faced mounting criticism and second thoughts from within. of the party. It was a long-term approach that one senior assistant described as a “ton of phone calls”.
However, there is caution in engaging in many preventive celebrations, especially for an administration hitherto defined by grand ambitions that has largely failed to achieve. To that end, officials decided not to let Biden himself make comments late Wednesday after Manchin announced the deal, instead releasing a statement that was based on warnings indicating the deal could still fall apart.
On Thursday, Biden bothered to point out the broad coalition of early supporters of the bill, from former Obama economist Larry Summers to Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). The bill, Biden acknowledged, “is far from perfect.”
“It’s a compromise,” he added. “But that’s how progress is made: 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’re not done – the president will continue to focus on growing our economy from the bottom up, cutting costs for families, securing our communities and protecting fundamental rights,” he said.
The progress the Democrats have made so far has come with Biden taking a hands-free approach, deferring to Manchin and majority leader Chuck Schumer, although the west wing was 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 that Manchin had to play with the West Virginia voters. In some White House circles, a sense of skepticism took hold whenever Manchin signaled that he was ready to start negotiating again.
Yet there was a lingering belief that at some point Manchin would return to the table, even after the senator reported two weeks ago that he could only support a stripped-down health bill.
With a deal in hand, the White House is now expected to play a more significant role in convincing a handful of remaining Democrats to take the victory that is in front of them.
And those who worked with Biden at the White House and Capitol Hill say that while he may have steered clear of the grassy negotiations along the way, the former seven-term senator appreciates the role of legislative closer.
“Traditionally, that’s definitely something he’s been good at,” Marcus said, pointing to the 2013 fiscal cliff deal Biden struck with Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell. “[H]is closed [that] when I think many other people would not have been able to do it. “
The persistent question for Democrats, however, is whether passing the bill will be enough. Biden still faces a persistent pandemic that will require more funds to fight, itself dependent on votes from Congressional Republicans who are now enthusiastic about what they perceive as Manchin-Schumer sleight of hand. And while he oversaw an economy that has hit its lowest unemployment rate in decades, the payoff has been persistently high inflation and poll numbers approaching all-time lows.
Those strong economic headwinds are unlikely to ease before November, souring voters on the party’s overall performance and stifling more encouraging signs of progress.
On Thursday, new data showed that the economy shrank for the second consecutive quarter, a further blow in an environment that many voters think already looks like a recession, even as White House aides spent the last week debating whether the country is technically in one.
The administration is also likely to face increasing pressure in the coming weeks to come up with plans to forgive student debt, protect access to abortion and contain the monkeypox epidemic – sensitive issues that, if badly managed, threaten to fracture. the coalition of Democrats and quickly put an end to the current era of good feelings of the party.
Biden officials have clung to signs that the oil supply crisis that pushed gas prices up in the spring is finally easing, in hopes that the relatively low costs at the pump will get them some goodwill. Although Covid continues to rise, deaths have not done the same, prompting caregivers to show it as proof that their vaccine and treatment strategy is working.
But especially among some of the most tired and weary aides who have seen the administration hit by crisis after crisis, the wave of good news has prepared them to drop the other shoe. Even after Biden quickly recovered from his own Covid case, a senior official said he would be sympathetic to the White House’s misfortune that he ruined the positive press by becoming one of the minority of patients to suffer from a second. “rebound” disease.
“The president is about to rebound,” the official said, almost jokingly. “Those things just happen to us.”