Biden is enjoying much-needed wins. But will the highs overshadow the lows?

WASHINGTON — President Biden and his top advisers have spent months trying to move forward amid a seemingly endless drumbeat of discouraging news: rising inflation, high gas prices, a crumbling agenda, a dangerously slowing economy and a plummeting approval rating, even among Democrats.

But Mr Biden has finally caught a series of pauses. Gas prices, which peaked above $5 a gallon, have fallen every day for more than six weeks and are now closer to $4. After a year-long debate, Democrats and Republicans in Congress passed legislation last week to raise $280. billion in areas such as semiconductor manufacturing and scientific research to strengthen competition with China.

And in a surprising turnaround, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin III, a Democrat who had single-handedly supported Mr Biden’s boldest proposals, agreed to a deal that would allow the president to deliver on his promises to cut drug prices. tackle climate change and make companies pay higher taxes.

“The work of the government can be slow and frustrating and sometimes even furious,” Biden said at the White House on Thursday, reflecting the impatience and anger among his allies and the fatigue of his own staff. “Then the hard work of hours and days and months of people who refuse to give up pays off. History is being made. Lives have changed.”

Even for a president who has become accustomed to the highs and lows of governing, it was a moment to feel whipped. Since taking office 18 months ago, Mr. Biden has celebrated successes such as the passing of the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill and plowed through crises such as the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. Gas prices rose; now they come down. Unemployment is at an all-time low, even if there are signs of an impending recession.

Presidential politics is rooted in a slower era, before Twitter, and sometimes it can pay off to have the patience to wait for a deal to finally come. But with congressional elections approaching in a few months, the challenge for Biden is to ensure that his latest successes resonate with Americans who remain highly skeptical about the future.

The magnitude of the Senate deal was received like a splash of icy water over Washington, which had all but written off the possibility that Mr Biden’s far-reaching ambitions would revive this year. Republicans were quick to attack the proposal, with Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, mocking what he described as “huge tax hikes that will pound workers.”

In the West Wing, aides were forced to scramble to come up with topics of conversation for a deal hardly anyone saw coming. If Democrats manage to get through the compromise reached with Mr. Manchin, they will put the country at the forefront of tackling the world’s changing climate and lower drug prices, even as it raises money from corporations to make it happen. lower the federal budget deficit.

If approved by Congress, the deal will give Medicare the power to negotiate lower prices for millions of Americans, extend health care subsidies under the Affordable Care Act for three years and require companies to pay a minimum tax — something many progressive Democrats have demanded it for years.

“For months, the environmental community, President Joe Biden and leader Chuck Schumer, and economists have been pointing out that climate action would reduce inflation and lower energy costs for Americans,” Melinda Pierce, legislative director of the Sierra Club, said in a statement hours after the election. deal was announced. “We are pleased that the Senate recognizes the opportunity they have before them. Climate action cannot wait a day longer.”

For Mr. Biden, that kind of success can’t come soon enough.

This fall’s election will determine which party controls the House and Senate, with many pundits predicting a Democratic beating. And doubts about the president’s future grow just as quickly as his popularity declines. A New York Times/Siena College poll conducted in early July found that 64 percent of Democrats wanted someone other than Biden to become the party’s candidate by 2024. A CNN poll later in the month put that figure at 75 percent among Democratic and Democratic-skewed voters.

And even as Mr. Biden greeted news of the Senate agreement on Thursday, his own comments underscored the murky reality he and his administration continue to face — a litany of promises that go unfulfilled, with little evidence that there are more surprising victories in the world. lie ahead.

During his remarks, the president himself mentioned many of the items of his 2020 campaign agenda that remain stalled: more affordable childcare; assistance to the elderly and those who care for them; cheaper kindergarten; efforts to meet the cost of housing; student debt relief and tuition-free community college; and money to cover health care for the poor in states that have refused to expand Medicaid.

The president’s failure to deliver on those promises has left many who were once his most ardent supporters disappointed, angry and — in some cases — even willing to abandon him for someone else.

Alexis Steenberg, 19, a college student in eastern Pennsylvania, helped convince her father to vote for Mr. Biden in 2020 because of his promise to wipe out thousands of dollars in student debt. Now, as one of those debt-ridden college students, she’s angry that Mr. Biden hasn’t kept that promise.

“It’s so frustrating because I tried. I did everything I could to convince my father to vote for someone I knew wouldn’t do it alone,” she said in an interview. “And the reason I pulled him over didn’t go through at all.”

Ms Steenberg is a Democrat and supports Mr Biden’s priorities, she said, but wants to vote for another candidate.

“I’m one of the 75 percent who think someone else should run,” she said. “Not only because he doesn’t keep his promises, but also because it seems he can’t express his thoughts enough to the public or the people behind the scenes who help him.”

Mr Biden, she said, “just floats on as the term ends.”

Going forward, aides believe Mr. Biden needs to find a way to better communicate the progress he’s made to people like Ms. Steenberg.

The stimulus plan he pushed through at the start of his tenure distributed hundreds of billions of dollars to individuals and businesses amid the pandemic. His $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill is making massive investments in clean energy, broadband and long-delayed projects to repair crumbling roads, pipes and bridges.

David Axelrod, top adviser to President Barack Obama, wrote on Twitter on Friday that Mr. Biden was “a victim of his own expansive expectation.”

“He is quietly amassing a record of historic victories over infrastructure, weapons, manufacturing – and now perhaps Rx prices, climate and energy,” wrote Mr Axelrod. “Not another New Deal, but pretty damn impressive in a 50/50 congress.”

Still, Biden has struggled thus far to ensure his victories break the often grim messages that dominate the news coverage. Critics, including some members of his own party, say his manner of speaking does not convey the sense of urgency that many Americans feel.

“I think we want to be inspired,” said Jamie L. Manson, the president of Catholics for Choice, who was disappointed after Mr. Biden’s speech following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Dakota Hall, the executive director of the Alliance for Youth Action, which advocates for young people and people of color, said Mr Biden’s promises are on the campaign path for bold change in some of the areas.

Mr Hall said he saw Mr Biden regularly promoting his administration’s progress in making small, incremental changes.

“That’s absolutely necessary,” he said. “But that’s not the change people were going to vote for.”

“They want someone who shows their anger, bangs their fist on the podium and says enough is enough,” added Mr Hall. “They don’t get that from Biden, do they?”

White House officials are aware of the frustration, but they say it is misguided. They say the president has fought for all of his priorities but has been blocked by forces beyond his control: Republicans refusing to compromise, a handful of conservative Democrats, and global events such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the economic fallout from the pandemic.

They argue that sometimes Mr Biden’s achievements are not appreciated. They point to the massive negative coverage he received when gas prices rose rapidly and the relatively smaller amount of coverage as gas prices fell following his decision to release a record amount of oil from the country’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP, said Democrats should direct their anger at lawmakers — including Republicans and a few Democrats — who have prevented the president from making more progress. He urged people to vote in November to elect more people who support Mr Biden’s agenda.

“We need a Senate to do their job,” he said.

On Twitter last weekFormer President Barack Obama, often frustrated with Congress for pushing his own agenda, said change could be halted.

“I am grateful to President Biden and those in Congress — Democrat or Republican — who are committed to serving the American people,” Obama wrote. “Progress doesn’t always happen all at once, but it does happen — and this is what it looks like.”

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