NEW YORK — Joe Biden staked his campaign and now his presidency on the grounds that the government itself could still function, even in times of fractious political division.
When the Senate voted with bipartisan support this week to begin work on an infrastructure bill that Biden had backed, he seemed to have a proof of concept.
But the victory was overshadowed by a rising delta version of the coronavirus, which forced the resumption of mask guidelines, stymied the country’s economic recovery and threatened Biden’s central promise that he would lift the United States out of the pandemic.
The first six months in office for the president, for which he has scored strong marks in most public polls, include the full vaccination of more than 60% of Americans, the creation of more than 3 million new jobs and the passage of a sweeping $1.9 trillion COVID-19 pandemic. relief bill. And in recent days, he’s made progress along the track to massive, two-pronged infrastructure that could inject $4.5 trillion into the United States economy, while he also oversaw future moves on voting rights and immigration. Is.
But the delta strain of the virus, coupled with stubborn vaccine hesitation among a significant portion of the US population, has raised alarm about another punishing wave of the pandemic, a prospect that has already left financial markets over the prospect of prolonged inflation. Eyes on.
And now Biden has entered a more challenging phase of his presidency as the virus has once again proved to be a resolute foe that could now herald the country’s fragile return to normalcy.
“I know it’s hard to hear. I know it’s depressing. I know it’s exhausting to think that we’re still in this fight,” Biden told reporters at the White House on Thursday. Know that we expected it to be a simple, straight line, without any problems or new challenges. But this is not real life.”
At the same time, the response of the administration has hardly been smooth. The administration has been criticized about its messaging on the virus, including this week’s confusing guidance on when and why vaccinated people will have to resume wearing masks indoors.
Biden himself declared July 4 the day to declare his “freedom” from the virus in front of 1,000 mask-free people at the White House. But just a few weeks later, White House staff and journalists had to wear face coverings again, regardless of vaccination status.
“He broke his word. He broke his own rules,” said Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. “And now he has broken the trust of the American people.”
Any president should be able to set aside the most organized, carefully laid out plans for dealing with a sudden crisis. Trump was overwhelmed by the pandemic, his best reelection argument – a strong economy – vanished overnight, while his administration’s erratic and sporadic response to the virus was harshly judged by voters.
Biden’s White House is more organized and has spent months working carefully on its infrastructure plan, which the president has prioritized for months to focus on the voting rights of some in his own party. Moving in a big way on so-called tough infrastructure—highways, broadband Internet access, mass transit—the Democrats-only budget solution vote for the remainder of the plan.
Although the talks were left for dead more than once, Biden’s stakes in reaching the aisle paid off, as 17 GOP senators voted to advance the nearly $1 trillion bipartisan plan. It marked a significant victory for the White House, even though many twists and turns are certainly ahead, including keeping all Democrats in line with a $3.5 trillion reconciliation plan.
Biden called it necessary to prove that the two sides could still work together as a demonstration of what democracy could still do for its people.
“Our economy has grown more than most Wall Street forecasts in the six months before we put our plan in place,” said Biden, who predicted that the infrastructure deal would be “the most important in the long run.” This momentum is going to continue over the period.” Investments to rebuild America in nearly a century.
Biden has pushed his widely popular agenda directly into conservative strongholds—he’s held nearly half a dozen events in Republican-controlled districts in recent weeks—in an effort to portray Republicans as a party, his next fall. Hoping to rein in it when it tries to help maintain a democratic majority in Congress.
Keeping a close eye on inflation, the president is betting that voters will reward him for his policies, as the White House argues that it is the Republicans who focus solely on identity politics rather than deliver honesty to their voters. are running.
But that strategy depends on a policy that works – that’s what makes the virus so dangerous.
If another wave causes businesses or schools to close, not only will public confidence in Biden’s handling of the virus certainly falter, but the economic recovery will likely freeze, making the central argument of Democrats mid-next fall. growing in.
“We’re not out of the woods,” Gibbs said.
Additional reporting contributed by Associated Press writer Josh Bok in Washington.