WASHINGTON (AP) — With his domestic agenda on hold and horror images in Ukraine dominating the headlines, President Joe Biden is looking for a way to show he is still making progress for Americans at a time when many feel the country is headed in the wrong direction. direction.
Six months into the midterm elections, Biden’s team is betting that smaller, discrete announcements could penetrate voters better than talking about transformational plans that have so far been aspirational. And since the global focus is on Ukraine, the White House is desperate for Americans to see Biden tackle a kitchen table issue that’s important to them – nothing more than searing inflation exacerbated by the Russian invasion.
Last week, that meant his aides positioned the big rig outside the White House so Biden could talk about efforts to get more truckers on the road. A day later, he welcomed back former President Barack Obama for the signing of an executive order updating the Affordable Care Act. And after that, he signed a bipartisan bill meant to protect the financial future of the US Postal Service.
This week, he made his heaviest domestic trip in months. On Thursday, he will visit Greensboro, North Carolina, to highlight his plans to improve domestic supply chains and a high-tech workforce. It came after Tuesday’s stop in Iowa to announce that his government was granting a waiver to allow more ethanol in gasoline throughout the year, a move that officials expect will slash 10 cents a gallon from gasoline prices — but only at 2,300 gas stations from a nation of more than 100,000. .
The White House said the public focus on the war in Ukraine was “understandable” and realistic about the challenges Biden faced in breaking through.
“While the world needs to understand and see how he led the war, the country needs to see how he continues to lead the economy,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday. “Being able to continue talking to our domestic audience about that is a huge priority. And the schedule tells us how much of a priority he has.”
All of the policies Biden touted will have a direct impact on American lives — but they are also far from the goals Biden set for himself in office. Taken together, they show how the White House is trying to regain momentum at a time when Biden is under pressure to recalibrate his ambitions.
“I think it makes good strategic sense that, if you’re going to be stymied by Congress, you take matters into your own hands,” said Eric Schultz, a communications officer at Obama’s White House.
This is a dynamic that Obama himself faced, especially in his second term, when he used his executive authority to push his agenda as much as possible.
“It’s no coincidence that this strategy came about when Republicans raised their hands and decided they didn’t want to be partners with the government,” Schultz said.
Schultz said Democrats need to show they are making progress even if they don’t pass the big laws they promised.
“Did we achieve everything we wanted? No,” he said. “But do we roll up our sleeves every day and push the needle forward? Yes.”
Despite the successes, most notably the confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to be the first black woman on the Supreme Court, much of Biden’s agenda remains deadlocked — or worse.
Lawmakers are struggling to pass a bipartisan compromise on legislation meant to help the US compete economically with China. The sweeping Build Back Better Biden bill is dead in the water, waiting for Democratic Senator Joe Manchin to decide what, if anything, he will support. Immigration reform, gun control laws, and ballot reform are no longer the talk of the nation.
That led Biden to tout the benefits of the infrastructure law passed last year — the old bridge slated to be replaced is a staple of his domestic trip — and look for other small policies that could be improved.
Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said smaller initiatives are only going to help if they “lay the groundwork for passing much bigger policies.”
“Singles are fine if they’re a prelude to a grand slam,” he said, adding that Democrats face “a motivation challenge” ahead of the midterms. “Democrats are not going to get people to the polls with a lot of singles.”
William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said Biden is trying to make the most of a difficult situation.
“He’s doing what he can now that some of his grander plans have been sidetracked,” he said.
Galston recalled a similar strategy when he worked on domestic policy for President Bill Clinton. Before the midterms in 1994, the White House worked on “running up the score” with policy proposals that were less controversial.
“It was just what happened when the White House conceded defeat on its central agenda item,” which was health care reform for Clinton.
“Those smaller victories made absolutely no difference in the midterms. The fact that they were below the radar screen was good news for passing legislation, but bad news for their political effectiveness,” he said. For Biden, “that’s likely to be the case this time, too.”