WASHINGTON – President Biden began his second year in office by attacking Republicans, adopting new forceful attacks designed to define a choice for voters between Mr. Biden’s Democrats and a still-ruling Republican Party. former President Donald J. Trump.
The high pitched tone comes as Mr Biden seeks to revive his agenda, which has largely stalled in Congress. And as the midterm elections near the end of the year, the president faces a challenge he has largely avoided so far: dragging Mr. Trump and other Republican leaders into conflict. of ideas more direct.
On Thursday, Mr. Biden delivered a fierce speech promising a settling of scores with Mr. Trump and pledging to use all the powers of his office to thwart the undemocratic forces unleashed by the 45th President. It was the most glaring example since Mr Biden took office of his efforts to pit the two parties against each other, lamenting “the big lie told by the former president and many Republicans who fear his wrath.”
A day later, he took another opportunity to focus on the differences between the two sides by cheering the news that the unemployment rate had fallen to 3.9%. He predicted Republicans would accuse him of failing to address the economic pain caused by soaring inflation in recent months.
â€œMalarkey,â€ Mr. Biden said. â€œThey want to flout the recovery because they voted against the legislation that made it possible. They voted against tax cuts for middle class families. They voted against the funds we needed to reopen our schools, to keep the police and firefighters working, to reduce health care premiums. “
“I refuse to let them stand in the way of this recovery,” he added. “Now I am focused on keeping this recovery strong and lasting, despite Republican obstruction.”
For some of Mr. Biden’s Democratic allies, the change in tone is a welcome change from the dominant theme of the president’s first year, when he focused more often on his drive to unify the country and struggled to negotiate with members of his own party.
Now, they say, it’s time for Mr. Biden to focus not only on his own accomplishments, but also on how the Republican Party threatens to undo those efforts if it returns to power on Capitol Hill – something which has not been at the center of his presidency so far.
“What Biden, the White House, and the Democrats at large must do is force a choice that not only takes into account the Republicans’ criticisms, but what is their solution?” said Robert Gibbs, who served as President Barack Obama’s press secretary in the year leading up to the 2010 midterm election. “It’s going to be crucial before 2022 and then finally set the table for 2024.”
Mr. Gibbs said Mr. Biden, then vice president, often advised Mr. Obama to focus on his rivals from the other party.
â€œWhat he used to say to President Obama was, ‘It’s hard when you’re compared to the Almighty. It’s easier when you’re compared to the alternative, â€Gibbs recalled.
Republicans are not backing down from the fight. Mr. Trump issued a statement describing Mr. Biden’s speech as “the last breaths of a corrupt and discredited leftist political and media establishment,” and promising to fight back at the polls.
The stakes are high. Mr Biden and his party are at serious risk of losing their already bare majorities in the House and Senate in the midterm elections, a result that would most likely deprive the president and his team of any real hope of meaningful progress in Congress for the remainder of its mandate.
And the obstacles to progress are steep.
In his first year in office, Mr. Biden saw his political efforts at home and abroad disrupted by Supreme Court rulings, supply chain issues, lawmakers in his own party and, most importantly , variants of the coronavirus that have spread – endlessly, it seems, to everyone’s dismay – the need for masks, vaccines and social distancing.
Mr Biden has had a few major successes to note: He passed a Covid recovery law early in his term and he struck an agreement with some Republicans on a $ 1,000 billion measure to invest in projects to infrastructure across the country.
But the virus is still rampant – an almost constant reminder of Mr Biden’s campaign year commitment to finally end the pandemic. Its $ 1.8 trillion social policy legislation is struggling at best and practically dead at worst. A voting rights bill, he said, will rectify an “existential threat” to the country facing the highest odds in Congress. Russian President Vladimir V. Putin hits his chest on the Ukrainian border. Climate change is getting worse every day.
Democrats hope the president can start changing those realities by March 1, when he delivers his first State of the Union address at a joint session of Congress, giving a formal assessment of the country under its direction so far.
â€œThis is your best opportunity to stand before the American people and make your point about what you can do before fall and what the choice will be,â€ said Jennifer Palmieri, a veteran Democratic communications expert who has worked for Mr. Obama and Hillary Clinton.
In order for that to happen, the Biden team needs to sort out a number of things, depending on who wants it to be successful.
The pandemic, which polls say is the biggest drag on the president’s popularity, must start to recede – at least in the daily lives of most Americans. And the administration must be seen doing more to address people’s frustrations, such as the current shortage of Covid tests which has led to long queues and empty shelves in drugstores.
Administration officials note that Mr Biden has authorized the purchase of 500 million home tests that Americans will be able to request for free. The first tests will ship this month, they say, with more to follow.
The two-year economic rebound from the pandemic may be one of the president’s best stories to tell on March 1. Job growth slowed somewhat in the second half of last year, but unemployment is so low that many employers are struggling to find workers. If he were to deliver the State of the Union speech now, Mr Biden could rightly claim to preside over a booming economy.
Still, inflation has driven prices up and that adds to a disconnect for many people: They don’t feel as good about the economy as the numbers suggest. Republicans took advantage of weaker than expected job growth to attack Mr. Biden’s policies on Friday.
â€œWhether it’s sluggish job growth, high inflation or a massive supply chain crisis, Democrats are doing a horrible job managing the economy,â€ said Mike Berg, spokesperson for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Jen Psaki, the president’s press secretary, has repeatedly criticized people’s feelings of living in a pandemic for this disconnect.
“It’s less about data than what people experience in their day-to-day lives,” she said last week. â€œIt doesn’t look normal. They fear there will be labor shortages and canceled flights, or that there will not be enough teachers in the school due to the spread of Omicron. We understand that. “
At the heart of the administration’s response to these sentiments is an effort to pass Mr Biden’s social policy legislation, known as Build Back Better. The president argues that passing the bill will lower the prices of things like child care and prescription drugs, which will make people more secure in their financial future.
But the legislation got mired in a row with West Virginia Democrat Senator Joe Manchin III who opposes some of the plan’s provisions and how it would be funded. In the Senate, where Democrats control exactly 50 of the 100 seats, Mr. Manchin’s support is key to the bill’s passage.
The spectacle of the president locked in desperate negotiation with a member of his own party has been going on for months, with little evidence of a resolution in the near future. White House officials are hopeful that lawmakers will be able to strike a deal with Mr Manchin in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, Mr Biden is keen to avoid another foreign policy spectacle like the hasty evacuation of Afghanistan that followed the president’s troop withdrawal. But this is not entirely under his control.
Mr Biden has steadily increased threats of sanctions against Russia if Mr Putin sends troops across the Ukrainian border. Whether those threats will be enough to hold Mr. Putin back for the long term, it may help determine whether Mr. Biden has a positive story to tell when he speaks to Americans in March.
White House officials are starting to reflect on this speech. In comments to reporters on Friday, Mr Biden was – as usual – optimistic, dismissing concerns that the burdens imposed by the pandemic would never be lifted.
â€œNo. I don’t think Covid is here to stay,â€ he said, previewing the kind of message Wizards hope they can deliver in seven weeks. â€œThe new normal won’t be what it is now. ; it will get better.