For months, Joe Biden’s presidency has suffered from low approval ratings, doubts about his viability for a second term and criticism over his incomplete legislative record.
But a string of victories on Capitol Hill in recent weeks — including the likely enactment of its flagship $700 billion economic legislation after it was approved by the Senate on Sunday — have bolstered the White House incumbent’s claims for a first term as president. 18 successful months, and prepared the ground for a possible political rebound.
The bill that Democratic lawmakers passed to cheers in the upper house — and which is now moving through the House of Representatives — was a crucial victory for Biden, delivering on key commitments from his 2020 campaign, even as they were watered down over months of intra-party negotiations.
“I ran for president promising to make government work for working families again, and that’s what this bill does — period,” Biden said Sunday.
The legislation includes provisions that appeal to core Democratic voters, such as measures to tackle climate change with billions of dollars in incentives for clean energy generation; measures allowing the government to reduce the cost of certain prescription drugs for seniors; and higher taxes on big business to help pay for extra spending and reduce the deficit.
The bill tops a string of recent successes on Capitol Hill for Biden, whose five decades of experience in Washington appear to have helped navigate a highly polarized political environment. In recent weeks, Congress has also passed bipartisan legislation to boost US semiconductor manufacturing and to begin strengthening US gun laws.
Still, Biden and many in his party worry that those achievements may still be insufficient or have come too late to change the prevailing political dynamic ahead of November’s midterm elections. Republicans are currently favored to regain control of the House and possibly the Senate, as voters remain disappointed with the president’s handling of the economy and high inflation.
Moreover, victories in Washington do not necessarily translate into success at the polls: Barack Obama suffered heavy defeats in his first midterm election after passing sweeping health care and financial reform plans.
Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, said Sunday he thought the tax and climate bill would be a political loser for Democrats. “The working Americans they let down will be writing the Democrats’ ballots in three months,” he said.
But Democrats believe they are now on firmer ground — both with their own base and the broader electorate — to limit any damage and perhaps even score upsets in their midterm campaigns. Meanwhile, they argue Biden, who is 79, will be on a safer footing as he ponders whether to launch a re-election bid in 2024.
“I was one of the people who was the first to support President Biden when he was candidate Biden and I think he did good things for our country. I think he has a strong record of accomplishments to run on,” Christopher Coons, the Democratic senator from Delaware, told ABC on Sunday.
Biden’s recent successes in Congress have so far failed to significantly improve his polls. According to the RealClearPolitics average, there is a whopping 17 point gap between the 56.5% of Americans who disapprove of his performance as president and the 39.5% of Americans who support him.
However, congressional polls showed clearer movement in the direction of the Democrats. While in June Americans favored Republican candidates for Congress by a margin of 3 percentage points, that advantage has now been erased. Most political observers attribute the change to the backlash against the Supreme Court’s ruling overriding the constitutional right to abortion and the draconian restrictions on terminating pregnancies in many Republican-run states.
Some of the most politically sensitive economic indicators have served Democrats and the White House in recent weeks, with gas prices gradually falling and job growth accelerating, easing fears of a short-term recession.
But Democratic strategists and pollsters say the White House still has a long way to go before it can be convinced the tide has turned.
“Nobody on the Biden team, I believe, is sitting there thinking we’re on the verge of a comeback,” said Joel Benenson, a Democratic pollster who worked for Obama.
“Although these successes are great achievements, there is a marathon, if not an ultra-marathon, to be run between now and tomorrow. [presidential] campaign,” he added. “And that is going to require a sustained effort to pass additional legislation and enact additional policies. . . that have tangible, easily accessible benefits for working and middle-class Americans to see and hear and say, “Hey, this guy fought for me and the others didn’t.”
A string of legislative victories offers a glimmer of hope for Joe Biden