Biden’s Presidency Faces Consequential Week With Democrats At Crossroads

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Biden's presidency

Biden’s presidency has come under fire for many reasons, the most prominent of which being immigration. With Biden’s approval rating on the decline, the US president needs a win in Congress, where Democrats are conflicted on his agenda.

Joe Biden has political setbacks nine months into his presidency.

Biden touted competence and a return to normalcy after four years of turmoil under Donald Trump.

President Joe Biden assured reporters at the White House that he was hopeful about the chances of his policy agenda being approved by the polarized US Congress.

However, with the resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic and Democrats struggling to pass their agenda in Congress, the United States president’s job approval rating is dropping amid increasing worries about his capacity to govern.

The tumultuous US exit from Afghanistan, an escalating migration situation at the Mexican border, and an apparent failure to settle Democratic party infighting in Congress have all combined to erode Biden’s popular support. Biden needs Democratic support in Congress to advance his domestic agenda.

Biden's presidency
Biden’s presidency

“He’s had a rough go of it between border concerns, the way the pandemic is shaping up, and Afghanistan,” said Keith Whittington, a Princeton University professor of politics.

“The administration has suffered on the policy front and in areas that matter to the public, and you might expect that to have an impact on a president’s public approval ratings,” Whittington told Al Jazeera.

According to a running average of public opinion surveys published by FiveThirtyEight.com, 49% of the American population disapproves of his job as president, while 45% approve.

As of Monday, a daily monitoring poll conducted by Rasmussen Reports indicated that Biden’s disapproval rating eclipsed his approval rating by 18 percentage points, with 40% approving of his performance and 58% disapproving. This is his lowest performance since taking office, indicating a downward trend.

The Biden administration has introduced one bill dealing with ‘traditional’ infrastructure, such as road and bridge reconstruction, and another, broader and more expensive, bill.

Biden’s Presidency Slump Approval poses a problem for congressional Democrats.

The sharp drop in Biden’s poll numbers is troubling for Democratic members of Congress. They are up for re-election in 2022 and risk losing their slim majorities in the House of Representatives and the United States Senate.

Biden’s dwindling job approval rating is already being felt in competitive US election races. According to the Cook Political Report, the race for governor in Virginia between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin has become more competitive as the political climate has shifted against Democrats.

Virginia is a swing state that has shifted to the Democratic side in recent years. In 2020, Biden defeated Trump with 54% of the vote to 44% for Trump.

“There are several factors that suggest the Democrats will struggle to retain the House majority, and the Senate will be split 50-50, meaning should they lose one net seat and the Senate majority will be lost,” said Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

With Biden’s House and Senate majorities in jeopardy, Kondik told Al Jazeera that “you’d feel better about Democrats’ chances if his approval rating were closer to what it was two months ago.”

Democratic Senator Joe Manchin voted in favor of a $1 trillion infrastructure bill but has withheld support for Biden’s $3.5 trillion budget plan.

Biden's presidency
Biden’s presidency

Now, Biden finds himself in a make-or-break scenario for his presidency as he attempts to rally Democratic legislators behind his “Build Back Better” agenda in a series of must-win votes coming up in the United States Congress.

The House is expected to vote on a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill on Thursday. Biden and Senate Democratic leaders are racing to secure support for a mooted $3.5 trillion budget plan from two Senate centrists.

Internal Democratic politics have linked the two bills, with mistrust between Democratic progressives in the House and centrists in the Senate tying their fates together.

“This is critical for Biden’s political future,” Middlebury College political science professor Matthew Dickinson said.

Dickinson went on to say that “this is his final best chance to pass his major legislative agenda.”

That many as 30 progressive Democrats in the House, led by Representative Pramila Jayapal, have indicated they will vote against Biden’s $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill except when the Senate adopts a $3.5 trillion liberal spending plan first. Two centrist Senate Democrats have voted against the bigger bill.

Democratic policy proposals on climate change, tax cuts for working families, prescription drug prices, early education, and other social issues Biden campaigned and won the 2020 election are at stake in the unknown future.

Biden's presidency
Biden’s presidency

Democrats Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have expressed concern about the Democrats’ budget plan and underpinning policy proposals costing $3.5 trillion.

Manchin has called for a “strategic pause” in Congress’s spending frenzy – the US has already authorized $5 trillion in expenditure to combat the COVID pandemic – and stated that he would support only a budget plan with a lower price tag.

The Democratic Party in Congress and Biden’s Presidency success are inextricably tied at the hip.

But even so, because House Democrats’ prospects tie to Biden’s success or failure, observers believe the political arrows point toward progressives reaching an agreement on the scope of the budget plan.

“There is immense pressure on them to put their differences aside and reach an agreement here,” Dickinson explained.

“They are all aware that they cannot realize any of their objectives unless they work cooperatively.”

Biden summoned House and Senate Democrats to the White House last week for face-to-face sessions to emphasize the need to reach an agreement, and he is continuing to prod legislators for support in private talks.

“Victory is on the line,” Biden stated Monday at the White House in response to reporters’ questioning.

Democratic leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, have rallied support for the president’s agenda.

To buy time, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi postponed a scheduled vote on the bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill by three days, through September 30, while Democrats deliberated on the best course of action.

Pelosi and others realize that the $3.5 trillion budget proposal will need to be scaled back to win the Senate.

“It usually goes the same way — all this fluster and this and that, and who’s here and who’s there – but at the end of the day, we will be reconciled for the American people,” Pelosi told reporters last week in the Capitol.

Democrats’ willingness to unite is not apparent at the moment. Pelosi and Democratic members of Congress held a closed-door meeting Monday night in the US Capitol to discuss the way forward.

Jayapal and Pelosi had a long talk during the meeting. Jayapal reiterated to the speaker that progressives would not support the bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill without an explicit agreement on the bigger $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation plan.

“We remain adamant: the reconciliation bill must be approved. It cannot be a framework,” Jayapal told MSNBC.

Failure of the House to pass an infrastructure bill and the Senate to pass a budget plan would signal political disaster for Democrats, Kondik said.

“Should Democrats fail to pass it, they will appear disjointed and largely ineffective, which may dampen Democratic turnout in 2022, when a third of the Senate and the entire House will be up for re-election,” he said.

“If it passes, there will almost certainly be a flood of favorable headlines, some goodwill from inside Biden’s party, and he will be free to move on from Afghanistan.”

Even so, it is unlikely to improve Democrats’ chances in the 2022 election.

“His party base will be pleased, but it is less certain that he will win general approval,” Whittington added.

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