Joe Biden is neither more nor less a competent president than he was two months ago. Its staff is neither more nor less competent.
But suddenly images of Biden as a weak septuagenarian at the top of a mismanaged White House gave way to those of a seasoned leader, smiling behind aviator sunglasses, whose battle-tested team responded to a series of national priorities. A winning streak does it for you.
This did not happen because of a change in strategy or a reshuffling of personnel, although at low times the allies wanted him to take these ritualistic actions. It’s a combination of luck, skill, and persistence from a president and a Democratic party determined to act unilaterally where Republicans wouldn’t and to compromise where Republicans would.
Gas prices, which hurt Biden when they soared, were down for two months. The president did not cause any movement. But the fluke has eased some of the inflationary pressures that remain its biggest political problem.
Late last month, weather conditions paved the way for a CIA drone to kill al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri on the balcony of his home in Kabul. The precision strike, planning for which began last spring, confirmed Biden’s claims that the United States could fight terrorism in Afghanistan even without troops on the ground.
In Congress, Biden has proven critics wrong on both counts. Politicians and pundits describing a failed legislative agenda had written their critiques before the play ended.
Progressive lawmakers who scorned the former senator’s comments about working with the GOP have seen Congress make bipartisan investments in infrastructure, domestic semiconductor manufacturing and veterans’ health care. They joined a critical mass of Republicans to pass them.
Others who have complained that Biden has veered too far left have seen Congress take the most significant government action ever to curb climate change. Not a single Republican voted yes. All Democrats have done it.
That doesn’t make Biden a modern FDR or LBJ. He can’t claim a singular monument to rival Social Security, Medicare, or even the Affordable Care Act, though he’s made it stronger.
Proposed investments to expand economic opportunity through child care, child tax credits, paid vacations and universal pre-kindergarten have failed. The bipartisan gun safety law that ended years of congressional paralysis has failed to heed its call to ban assault weapons. He failed to secure legislation to protect the right to vote at a time when Republican extremism threatens democracy and the rule of law.
Partisan mathematics imposed the fundamental constraint. To act alone on the small number of priority initiatives sheltered from Republican filibuster, the Democrats can only endure a few defections in the House and none in the Senate. The climate package only prevailed because Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, after months of resistance, finally agreed to join his party colleagues.
This legislative tightrope makes what Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have achieved all the more remarkable. Labeling them “victories” on the political scoreboard, as if governance were a sporting event, obscures their impact on American life.
The 2021 infrastructure act, which eluded Biden’s two immediate predecessors, means $550 billion for new federal investments in roads, bridges, airports, public transit, railroads, the high rural flow, drinking water and charging stations for electric vehicles, among others.
The semiconductor bill provides more than $52 billion to boost domestic manufacturing of vital components for products ranging from cars to computers, reducing America’s dependence on foreign suppliers.
The so-called “burning stoves” bill extends new health care and disability benefits to millions of veterans exposed to toxins while on duty.
The Inflation Reduction Act — named to attract Manchin despite having a negligible impact on inflation this year — means Medicare beneficiaries will pay no more than $35 a month for insulin and no more than $2,000 per year in drug costs. For the first time, Medicare can use its market power to negotiate lower prices from drug companies.
The IRA is also spending $370 billion on clean energy development and tackling climate change, which analysts say will help the United States cut carbon emissions 40% below levels. of 2005 by 2030. It maintains American leadership at a time when extreme weather events increasingly endanger the world in relief.
Biden’s low public reputation has begun to rise slightly. Democrats in the 2022 ballot gained ground on anger over the conservative Supreme Court’s decision to end the constitutional right to abortion.
But that doesn’t mean voters will reward them in midterm elections this fall. Republicans need just a net gain of four seats — well below the historic average for the party that doesn’t hold the White House — to regain control of the House.
Nor does it mean Biden will follow the precedents of Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan in recovering from early setbacks to win a second term. At 79, Biden looks like the longest-serving chief executive in American history as restless young Democrats consider new leadership.
But it does mean that the president and his party have capitalized on the opportunity government control has given them over those two years. They did much of what they sought to do in public service.