Biden returns from Middle East trip with narrowed window for political wins before November

Biden’s aides say he often uses the return flight from overseas to chat with exhausted staffers about domestic items that are next on his list. A week ago, that likely would have included renewed attempts to pass the sweeping social safety net and climate bill he has championed for more than a year.

“He had so many hopes and plans for the things he wanted to do,” first lady Jill Biden told Democratic donors in Nantucket over the weekend while her husband was overseas. “But every time you turned around, he had to deal with the issues at hand.”

It’s a sentiment widely shared in the West Wing and among Biden’s Democratic allies, many of whom see the year gone by – starting with a resurgent Covid-19 after Biden declared “the absence of the virus” followed by the America’s disorderly and deadly withdrawal from Afghanistan – like one crisis after another.

A slew of decisions – including easing some tariffs on China and resolving student loan debt – have been postponed, but are expected to come due in the coming weeks after months of deliberations, internal disagreements and, according to some officials, Biden’s delays in his decision making.

White House officials point to lower gasoline prices, progress on drug price reform and a proposed competitiveness bill aimed at countering China as potential wins ahead, though there are still unclear what political advantage the Democrats can get from it before November.

Meanwhile, with Republicans looking set to win a majority in the House, Biden’s legal team continues to brace for what they expect to be an onslaught of surveillance investigations from a newly powerful GOP.

Biden was in a punchy mood when he returned to the White House just before midnight this weekend, chiding a reporter who asked him if he regretted the punch from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“Why don’t you talk about things that matter? I’m happy to answer a question that matters,” he said, holding his hand over his eyes to shield them from a bright spotlight.

It was the latest in a string of testy responses Biden has given recently to questions about his decisions or policy stance.

He told a reporter standing on the beach in Rehoboth, Delaware, that she sounded “like a Republican politician” for asking about economic experts predicting a recession. And he flatly dismissed a question in Saudi Arabia about whether he could be sure an incident like the 2018 murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi wouldn’t happen again.

“God loves you, what a silly question,” the president said.

On the day of his departure for the Middle East, Biden was leaving a celebratory congressional barbecue on the South Lawn when a reporter asked what his message was for Democrats who did not want him to run again.

“They want me to run away,” Biden said as he walked towards him. “Read the polls. Read the polls, Jack. You are all the same. This poll showed that 92% of Democrats, if I ran, would vote for me.

Biden’s familiarity with the New York Times/Siena College poll released last week was hardly surprising, though he once said he doesn’t believe polls about his approval ratings. The survey showed nearly two-thirds of Democratic primary voters would prefer another candidate to Biden in 2024, although it also showed a close race between him and former President Donald Trump in a potential rematch.

Concerns among Democrats about Biden’s leadership — and, increasingly, his age — have grown stronger in recent weeks. Rampant inflation has caused some Democrats to distance themselves from the White House, which has struggled to contain voter anger.

White House inflation assurances draw backlash from frustrated swing-state Democrats
“I said for a while that I thought he and the administration were too slow to respond,” Senator Maggie Hassan, a vulnerable New Hampshire Democrat who is up for re-election this fall, told Manu Raju this week. from CNN. When asked if she would support Biden in 2024, Hassan replied, “If he shows up, I will support him.”

Representative Elissa Slotkin, a Democrat from a competitive Michigan district, said inflation and the economy “should be the start of every press conference at the White House and every other relevant department and agency.” She said attempts by some top Democrats to downplay or project the end of inflation were not well received by voters.

“I’m from Michigan,” she told Brianna Keilar on CNN. “We’re just pretty clear about what’s going on and I think people can feel and see the spin, and I don’t think they like it.”

Jared Bernstein, a top White House economic adviser, said in an interview with CNN on Sunday that the drop in gasoline prices over the past month was an achievement worth bragging about.

“If we’re going to talk about the damage that these high energy prices are having on family budgets, I think we need to talk about the benefits when those prices go down a bit,” he told Dana Bash on “State of the Syndicate.”

Still, he acknowledged that the reduction of about 47 cents per gallon from a month ago was not likely to register for many Americans.

“The President is unequivocal in not calling it mission accomplished on any of these points. We are talking about a totally insufficient drop when it comes to relieving family budgets that they need.”

Democratic frustration with the White House over abortion and guns

It’s not just inflation where Biden faces a backlash from fellow Democrats. His cautious response to the Supreme Court ruling slashing the nation’s abortion rights was lambasted by progressives, who were appalled as the president and White House ruled out options like trying to expand the High Court or allow abortions on federal property. .
Some Democratic activists were also furious when it emerged that Biden intended to nominate an anti-abortion Republican as a federal judge in Kentucky, in part what sources described as a potential deal with the Chief Justice. minority in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, who represents the state. Last week, the White House said it had scrapped the plan, citing opposition from fellow Republican senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul.
After series of Supreme Court setbacks, Democrats question whether Biden White House is able to meet urgent demands

Biden signed an executive order before going abroad aimed at protecting access to abortion. But many of his allies have pushed him to do more, including declaring a public health emergency — a step some officials view with skepticism.

“I think we can and should do more right now, especially where women in states like mine are in crisis,” Democratic Rep. Lizzie Fletcher of Texas told CNN’s Poppy Harlow last week.

On guns, too, Biden is under pressure to do more. While a signing ceremony last week for the first major piece of gun legislation in decades was a celebratory moment, it was briefly interrupted when a father whose son was killed during the 2018 Parkland mass shooting protested.

“We have to do more than that,” shouted Manuel Oliver. “I tried to tell you for years!”

On abortion, guns and other issues – including controlling inflation – Biden and his aides point out that their options for acting through the executive branch are limited and suggest that some of their colleagues’ proposals Democrats would not hold up in court.

Biden said this week he was ready to take executive action to tackle climate change after Manchin torpedoed what had been another attempt to pass new clean energy spending, as well as tax hikes on the wealthy, citing concerns about inflation.

It was a disheartening result, but not entirely surprising to some administration officials. Attempts to woo West Virginia, including a rare invitation to Biden’s Delaware home for breakfast last fall, had previously resulted in similar disappointments. This time, administration officials left negotiations to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and many felt their skepticism confirmed after Manchin’s announcement last week.

Still, it was a seemingly decisive blow to the sweeping legislative ambitions Biden entered office hoping to achieve. While Manchin says he’s open to another look once new inflation numbers come out next month, the window to adopt even a scaled-down version of the president’s agenda is closing fast.

Even Biden, who describes himself as a “congenital optimist”, told reporters in Saudi Arabia that he had “no idea” whether Manchin was negotiating in good faith.

As he returned to a quiet White House late Saturday night, Biden offered about as much optimism as he could muster when asked if inflation would start to decline.

“I hope so,” he told reporters gathered in the dark.

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