In Brief

Joe Biden: ‘a default president at the helm of a middling administration’

He was supposed to deliver ‘a return to presidential normalcy’, but Biden’s administration is already struggling

It has been a “long, hot mess of a summer” for Joe Biden, said Jason L. Riley in The Wall Street Journal. He was supposed to deliver “a return to presidential normalcy” and competence, but his administration is already struggling.

Having boasted in June that “America is back”, Biden has presided over a “horrifically bungled” withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Covid pandemic, which Biden in July declared more or less under control, is once again rampant in many parts of the US. The latest jobs report suggests the economy is slowing.

Biden is certainly “not on a roll”, said Jill Lawrence in USA Today. He’s one of only three presidents since Harry Truman to have an approval rating below 50% at the seven-month mark (the others were Gerald Ford and Donald Trump). But don’t write off Biden. He has the kind of stubborn persistence that eventually yields results.

The short honeymoon period in which Biden was hailed as a transformative leader in the mould of Lyndon B. Johnson was “always a mirage”, said Rich Lowry on Politico. The reality is that Biden is a “default president” at the helm of a“middling administration”. He looked good in contrast to Trump, but now that his predecessor is less visible, Biden has been “stripped down to a more natural level of support”. His administration will have to “muddle through” the best it can.

The big challenge facing Biden, said David Ignatius in The Washington Post, is delivering his domestic agenda. He has pledged to “build back better”, with a $1.2trn infrastructure package and a $3.5trn social spending plan. The latter plan is causing wrangles within Democratic ranks, with progressives demanding it be delivered in full, and moderates baulking at the cost.

The key player is Joe Manchin, said Jonathan Chait on NYMag.com. The Democrat senator from West Virginia has called for a “pause” on the $3.5trn policy, arguing that it may stoke inflation. While he hasn’t ruled out voting it through in the end, the danger is that his objections will upset negotiations and lead to progressives voting down the infrastructure bill, fuelling an impression of “dysfunction” that further undermines the administration and its chances of getting legislation through Congress. “Even if Manchin doesn’t want to destroy Biden’s presidency, he may do so by setting off a vortex of failure Biden loses the ability to escape.”

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