WASHINGTON – Last Fourth of July, President Joe Biden gathered hundreds of people outside the White House for an event that would have been unthinkable for many Americans the year before. As the coronavirus subsided, they ate hamburgers and watched fireworks over the National Mall.
Although the pandemic is not yet over, Biden said, “we are closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus.” Across the country, requirements for indoor masking were easing as the number of infections and deaths plummeted.
Within weeks, even some of the president’s allies privately acknowledged that the speech was premature. The administration will soon learn that the delta variant can be transmitted by people who have already been vaccinated. Masks are back, then came polarizing vaccination mandates. The even more contagious omicron variant would arrive months later, infecting millions and wreaking havoc during the holiday season.
“We were hoping to get rid of the virus, and the virus had much more in store for us,” said Joshua Scharfstein, associate dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The number of people in the United States who have died from COVID-19 has nearly doubled, from 605,000 to more than 1 million, in the past year.
That sunny speech a year ago marked a crossroads for Biden’s presidency. The pandemic seemed to be abating, the economy was booming, inflation was negligible, and public approval of his job performance was glowing.
As Biden approaches his second Fourth of July in the White House, his position couldn’t be more different. A series of miscalculations and unforeseen challenges have Biden scrambling for stability as he faces a potentially damaging verdict from voters in the upcoming midterm elections. Even problems that weren’t Biden’s fault have fueled Republican efforts to regain control of Congress.
The resurgence of the pandemic was quickly followed last summer by the failure of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, when the Taliban seized control of the country faster than the administration expected after the US-backed regime collapsed. Negotiations on Biden’s broader domestic agenda then stalled, only to collapse completely in December.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February triggered a global spike in gas prices, fueling inflation that hit a 40-year high. Another blow came last month when the Supreme Court struck down the constitutional right to abortion in Roe v. Wade and limited the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
Suddenly a reactive president, Biden is left scrambling to regain the initiative at every turn, often with mixed results. The coronavirus is less of a threat than before and infections are far less likely to lead to death, but Congress is refusing to provide more money to deal with the pandemic.
He signed new gun restrictions into law after the New York and Texas massacres and is leading a reinvestment in European security as the war in Ukraine enters its fifth month. But he has limited tools at his disposal to address other challenges, such as rising costs and eroding access to abortion.
“People are grumbling,” said Lindsay Czerwinski, a presidential historian.
The latest poll by the Associated Press Center for Public Affairs and NORC shows his approval rating remains at 39 percent, the lowest since taking office and down sharply from 59 percent a year ago. Only 14% of Americans think the country is moving in the right direction, down from 44%.
Douglas Brinkley, another historian, said Biden was suffering from a case of presidential hubris after a largely successful first five months in office that included an overseas trip to meet with allies excited to welcome a friendly face back to the international scene. He compared Biden’s Fourth of July speech last year to President George W. Bush’s infamous “Mission Accomplished” moment during the second Iraq War.
“He was trying to deliver good news, but it didn’t work out,” Brinkley said. “Suddenly, Biden has lost a lot of goodwill.”
White House officials rejected the comparison, noting that Biden warned of a “powerful” delta variant in his 2021 speech. Chris Meagher, a spokesman, said deaths from the virus are at a record low right now, reducing disruptions to jobs and classes rooms.
“Fighting inflation and lowering prices is the president’s number one economic priority, and he is focused on doing everything he can to make sure the economy works for the American people,” he said. “And we’re in a strong position to move from our historic jobs recovery to solid and robust growth because of the work we’ve done to get the pandemic under control.” COVID is not the disruptive factor it was for so long.”
The promise to competently handle the COVID-19 pandemic is what helped get Biden into the Oval Office and send President Donald Trump to defeat. Since the beginning of Biden’s tenure, his public statements have been sober and cautious, wary of following his predecessor in predictions that fell short. The nation’s vaccination program saw its progress under Biden, and by April 19, 2021, all adults were eligible to be vaccinated.
Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, was an adviser to Biden’s transition team. But as the Fourth of July approached last year, he grew anxious and felt the administration was not heeding his warnings.
“Everybody was in that position of wanting to believe it was over and they didn’t fully understand or appreciate the potential of the options,” he said.
Even now, a full year later, Osterholm is reluctant to say what the future holds.
“I want answers too,” he said. “But I don’t know what the options will bring us. I don’t know what human immunity will look like.
Biden said the virus was “not defeated” in his Fourth of July speech and held another event two days later to talk about the delta variant.
“It seems to me that it should make everyone think,” he said as he called on people who had not yet been vaccinated.
Leanna Wen, a professor of public health at George Washington University, said there is more reason to be optimistic this year than last. Immunity from vaccines or previous infections is much more common, and antiviral treatments are effective in preventing hospitalization and death in vulnerable patients.
“It was premature to declare independence from COVID-19 last year,” she said. “But this year the country is in a very different place and a much better place.”
But Wen said Biden may be cautious given how things have gone before.
“The administration is hesitant to make these proclamations now when it’s actually the time to do it,” she said.
Biden’s early strategy of under-promising and over-delivering on COVID-19 was part of a concerted strategy to restore public trust in government. The resurgence of the virus has eroded some of that confidence and reduced confidence in Biden’s performance.
A recovery that has proven difficult, especially as the country faces challenges, some, frustratingly for Biden, beyond his control.
“We expect the president to be all-powerful and able to solve any problem,” said Czerwinski, the presidential historian. “This is a completely unrealistic expectation and, frankly, dangerous.”
President Bill Clinton stumbled during his first two years in office, then rode a wave of Republican victories in his first midterm elections. But he later became the first Democratic president to be re-elected since Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Czerwinski warned that today’s political polarization could make such a recovery more difficult for Biden.
A key question, she said: “Is our partisan system so flexible that it won’t allow him to come back?”
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From one Fourth of July to the next, a steep slide for Biden
Source link From one Fourth of July to the next, a steep slide for Biden