Biden’s Advances Agenda Where He Can Via ‘Bland Leadership’

JBiden looked a bit dazed. An aide had interrupted the President’s meeting with his economic team and a handful of CEOs on a stage in the basement of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Thursday to hand him a note. “You’re trying to tell me something, huh?” Biden said. Biden received a message from the House informing him that the bill to support semiconductor chip manufacturing had been passed. He smiled wide as the staff applauded. “Been trying a long time,” Biden said.

It is possible that the President might be getting a little rest. Biden, who had just contracted COVID-19 a week earlier, seemed to be losing his ambitions regarding reducing climate change and lowering health care costs. Biden quickly recovered from the virus, thanks to both vaccine boosters as well as widely available antiviral medication. Now, Biden, who has suffered from low approval ratings for months and been blamed in large part for the most severe inflation in recent decades, is ready to sign substantial legislation.

The CHIPS and Science Act, which will invest more than $52B into U.S. computer chip companies, and create tax credits worth billions for encouraging more American investment in American chips industry. It also promises to pour billions more into cutting-edge research and securing the future of science.

Senate Democrats have also reached a deal that would allow them to move forward with an expansive bill, which includes huge investments in carbon reduction and lower prescription drug prices. Inflation Reduction Act also sets a minimum 15% corporate tax rate for large corporations.

If that bill makes it to Biden’s desk next month, it would join the CHIPS bill and Biden’s success in June ushering through the first gun safety legislation in decades and the $1 trillion infrastructure package he signed into law in November.

“There was clearly a commitment and a desire on the part of everybody in the Democratic Party—Joe Manchin, thank God, included—in trying to get as much of the big agenda items done before November,” says Ashley Etienne, a former communications director for Vice President Kamala Harris.

It is unclear if those legislative accomplishments would be enough to reverse the declines in BIden’s poll numbers. According to a CNN poll, 75% wanted Biden’s replacement as president. Biden’s approval ratings continue to hover around 40%. Biden’s approval ratings among young voters have declined. An average of polls published by FiveThirtyEight found that Biden’s approval among 18 to 29-year olds has sunk to 37% from over 55% when he took office.

There are still significant obstacles to passage of the tax bill and climate legislation. Its passage might not be enough for Democrats to win the November midterm elections. Despite the strong job market and robust consumer spending, the U.S. has seen a contraction over the last six months. Any economic effects from the CHIPS and climate change bills would be felt for years.

It falls short of Biden’s ambitious policies, as outlined during his campaign and last year when he created his wishlist for Build Back Better. Big portions of Biden’s agenda are all but dead for the foreseeable future. Biden’s campaign pledges to endow community colleges with free tuition, to invest in housing and eldercare programs, and to create guaranteed paid leave programs for caregivers of loved ones, are all dead.

Biden has been criticized from the left wing of his party for not pushing Congress harder and not taking more forceful executive actions on immigration, student loan debt forgiveness and protections for access to abortions in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

Sunrise Movement is one of the most prominent climate activism groups. They are pushing for the tax and climate deal to pass, while also highlighting its shortcomings. “Let’s be clear: this bill isn’t the Green New Deal. It’s not even @POTUS’ Build Back Better. This is the Manchin Climate Plan,” the group tweetedThis Thursday

Etienne believes it’s up to Biden, the Democratic candidate to inform Americans of their accomplishments. And the major promises Biden hasn’t been able to land? “We make the argument that we’ve made great progress, and in order to complete the task or to continue even further on these big ticket items, you need more Democrats.”

Biden’s persistent and understated navigation around the far-left voices in his party may be what voters wanted when they elected him, says Timothy Naftali, a historian at New York University. “People have been quick to describe his presidency as a flop and as unsuccessful, but each time he choses that middle lane, it yields results,” Naftali says. That “bland leadership” has been frustrating for many Americans, but after the “tumultuous” Trump era, “Biden is delivering cool, calm leadership, likely too bland for young activists, but perhaps that’s what the country needed,” Naftali says.

The passage of these bills would allow Democrats to “flip the scrip” going into the fall, says a Democratic House aide. “This isn’t a referendum on Joe Biden, this is about what we’ve done and what we’re trying to do versus what we know Republicans have as their goals,” the aide says. Democrats will argue that after they stimulated the economy and overhauled its transit system, the Democrats took measures to decrease inflation. Republicans will accuse them of wanting to control Congress and give tax breaks for corporations. They also plan to launch an investigation into Hunter Biden, restrict abortion access and open investigations into Hunter Biden.

Republicans portray Democrats as indifferent to high prices and softening on crime. They also want Republicans to expand oil drilling. The top Republican in the House, Kevin McCarthy, said this week at a conference hosted by the Trump-aligned America First Policy Institute that he planned to unveil a seven-point plan in September called the “Commitment to America.” Should they take control of the House next year, Republicans will hold hearings to “rein in” Biden’s cabinet secretaries, McCarthy said, as well as push for increased police funding, demand harsher border security policies, vote to pass a “parents bill of rights” in determining what is taught in schools, and create a House committee on China that works to reduce U.S. dependence on Chinese production of precious metals and medicine.

During his meeting with CEOs on Thursday, Biden grinned as his taciturn Treasury Secretary, former Fed Chair Janet Yellen, reported that despite the country’s gross domestic product shrinking for a second quarter, the economy is still adding jobs, American household finances are holding up, and consumers are spending money. “With skill and luck, it will be possible to maintain that strength,” Yellen said.

Biden was inspired to share a story about his family. (It doesn’t always take much. He recalled how his grandfather, a college football star who played for Santa Clara College in California in the early 1900s, liked to say that having “Lady Luck” on your team wasn’t enough—a team needed luck and skill on the bench. “We’re looking for both,” Biden said. In November, voters will decide whether Biden and Democrats can have enough of each.

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