President Biden leaves after giving a press briefing at the White House, June 2. Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters
After six months in office, President Biden can claim some success. He signed a $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill passed on a straight party vote, began reassuring allies that America values them, and restored normalcy and decency to the presidency. But he faces a growing list of challenges, and there are reasons to be concerned about his ability to handle them.
The president’s main problem is the massive mismatch between the narrow margins of Congressional Democrats — a handful of seats in the House and Senate 50-50 — and his outsized political expectations, many of which require large margins in the Senate to win approval. Mr. Biden pretends to have a mandate to make transformative changes that he never actually campaigned for.
The mismatch shows in the slow pace of Congress’s work. One example is the Democrats’ inability to move forward with their unprecedented federal takeover of local elections. Time has become a critical issue for this initiative and others, with Congress set to stop in August. Even if it did not, it would not be easy to complete the administration’s growing backlog of legislation.
Keep in mind the necessary things. There has to be a budget decision, which is difficult to implement. Although only a simple majority is required in each room, the decision still needs to make provisions for key parts of the budget. The debt ceiling should also be raised as early as August and, of course, the budget approved. And while it would have been easy for Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to approve a global corporate tax rate, its passage through Congress is hardly guaranteed.
Biden’s plan for American jobs suffers from Bernie Sanders-style ambitions coupled with the Democrats’ weak control of Congress. The scale of Biden’s tax increases is unpopular in the suburbs, and the jump in capital gains tax rates and taxes on inherited assets is loathed in farm and ranch country. Moreover, the Federal Responsible Budget Committee says the $3.5 trillion White House price is misleading. Kill budget scams and their real cost is $5 to $5.5 trillion. Voter resistance to these astronomical levels of spending is likely to increase.
The president’s biggest political challenge does not come from the Republicans: it is his increasingly divided party. Mr. Biden is to the left of most Americans on many financial and cultural matters, and Democratic leaders’ words and actions about crime and education — especially the extremism of the K-12 curriculum — endanger party candidates in temperate regions. But the left remains unhappy with the president because he has not been more aggressive about their priorities. This will become a bigger problem as the mid-term approaches. Democrats can’t afford a radical agenda or a frustrated norm, but Mr. Biden may be able to give them both.
The issues facing the president are many, starting with his response to the Delta-led wave of Covid – urging a return to masks and lockdowns or not? The southern border is overwhelmed with record numbers of illegal crossings. The White House has responded to rising crime figures with the absurd narrative that Republicans support withdrawing police funding. Biden dismissed core inflation, even though it reached its highest level in 40 years in April. The Obama administration’s executive order on “Dreamers” was also ruled illegal, increasing pressure for legislative reform — another tough one to pass.
The president also faces daunting international tests. The Taliban are devouring Afghanistan, an expected outcome given Biden’s surrender there. Cuba is teeming with crowds protesting against communism. Vladimir Putin directs veiled threats to Ukraine. Iran will soon have a hard-line new president. Russian and Chinese hackers attack critical infrastructure of the United States; Xi Jinping spends his days thinking about how to undermine America’s global standing.
Mr. Biden’s words and actions on all of these challenges raise questions about his competence. His decision on Afghanistan shows he has learned nothing from the fallout from the 2011 withdrawal from Iraq – which forced a redeployment of troops there in 2014. Mr. Biden is so deaf that he originally set September 11 as the date for the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. And when the president says that his massive spending “will not increase inflation, but remove inflationary pressure”, it seems far from reality.
Mr. Biden’s supporters may note that Gallup and other polls have consistently shown him majority approval of the job. But that may change as his agenda gets complicated. Mr. Biden must prove he is more capable of getting things done than he appears to be. Otherwise, Creedence Clearwater Revival will play into the minds of many voters: “I see a bad moon rising / I see trouble on the way.”
Mr. Rove helped organize the American Crossroads Political Action Committee and is the author of “The Triumph of William McKinley” (Simon & Schuster, 2015).
Magazine editorial report: This week’s best and worst from Kim Strassell, Kyle Peterson, Mary O’Grady and Dan Henninger. Photo: Virgin Galactic/EPA/Shutterstock/Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly
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