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That Time Joe Biden Talked His Way out of a Problem
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Check the history books – Joe Biden has always talked a lot but he has never talked his way out of any problem.
In fact, more typically, he talks his way into problems.
And, politically, he enters today’s scheduled 4pm ET press conference with a lot of problems.
Any American president is the lead character in our national drama, subject to the three-part framework that drives a compelling narrative arc:
1. What challenges does he face?
2. How does he feel about those challenges?
3. What does he plan to do about those challenges?
The Dominant Media (which is now one of those challenges Mr. Biden faces) has a lot to say in this news cycle about (#1).
Said Dominant Media has many opinions about what the president should do about those challenges – but mixed reportage on what he will do (meaning #3).
One of the great black holes in American journalism today regards #2.
Do any of you have the slightest idea how Joe Biden feels about the prodigious political predicament in which he finds himself, one year into his presidency?
Is he angry? Sad? Overwhelmed? Confused? Determined? Resigned? Strategizing?
If you had to bet, history suggests that by 6pm ET, the president will be lucky to be in no worse shape than he was at 4pm ET.
Here are three ways to think about the immediate challenge Mr. Biden faces – this press conference:
1. The media, including the White House press corps, has turned on him over the last year (despite his still not being Donald Trump), over issues of competency, not ideology. The Dominant Media is oh-so-fine with a very liberal president, just not one that can’t get stuff done.
2. The rough facts (COVID, inflation, Putin, etc) on the cold ground are going to be exactly the same at 6pm ET as they were at 4pm ET (free at-home testing kits and free masks notwithstanding).
3. The challenge faced by all White Houses – balancing rhetoric between being optimistic (and taking credit) and being honest (and realistic) about what ails the nation still – is particularly acute for this administration right now.
Although Donald Trump has bailed Joe Biden out before (most significantly when he presented himself as perhaps the ONLY Republican the Delawarean could beat to win the Oval prize), rest assured that today is not a day when 45’s travails will boost 46, even if the New York Times gives it the old college try:
Even the still-running press catnip storyline of “Trump vs. DeSantis” will not distract from the pandemic or the price of bacon.
(Although do make time while you wait for the presser to start to devour Tom Edsall’s essential reading article on why Republicans (pretend to) believe Trump’s lies – and the massive implications of all that. The article is important and true – and/but won’t help Joe Biden through his press conference or presidency one bit. Probably the opposite.)
So what challenges does the Gang of 500 see for Joe Biden today?
The Associated Press frames succinctly:
[I]t is a perilous time for Biden: The nation is gripped by another disruptive surge of virus cases and inflation is at a level not seen in a generation. Biden’s approval rating has fallen sharply over his first year in office and Democrats are bracing for a potential midterm rout if he can’t turn things around.
On the pandemic, a Washington Post appraisal says this:
A year ago, Biden unveiled a 200-page plan to defeat covid. He has struggled to deliver on some key promises.
The U.S. would have been better prepared for virus curveballs if the administration had moved more quickly to boost testing, acquire real-time data on the virus and convey risks more clearly, say some co-authors, advisers
[A]fter a period when Biden’s vaccination focus appeared to be paying off, many of those problems have roared back as the delta variant, and then omicron, tore across the country. Once again, doctors and nurses are pleading for relief, as hospitalizations set new daily records and more facilities move to ration care. Many Americans say they’re confused by government pronouncements and losing faith in the agencies handling the response. Essential workers in packing plants, food service and emergency response say they still feel endangered by a virus that Biden had vowed to control.
Extreme partisan Marc Thiessen writes more globally (with only a soupcon of hyperbole):
Headline: Biden wants to brag, but most Americans think his first year was a disaster
This is the lived reality millions of Americans are facing after a year of Biden’s presidency: Inflation has reached a 40-year high, and we have a massive labor shortage, with more than 10 million unfilled jobs. Biden signed a partisan $1.9 trillion “covid relief” bill in March, yet when omicron arrived there weren’t enough coronavirus tests or therapeutics. Schools are closing again and emergency room visits for suspected suicide attempts by adolescent girls have jumped 51 percent from 2019 to 2021. At least 12 major cities broke annual homicide records in 2021, we are experiencing the worst border crisis in U.S. history, and a surge of deadly fentanyl crossing the southern border has helped fuel an increase of 30 percent in overdose deaths in the past year. The disastrous retreat from Afghanistan projected weakness on the world stage and emboldened Russia to amass troops along its border with Ukraine — putting us on the knife’s edge of a land war in Europe. And while Biden promised in his inaugural address to put his “whole soul” into uniting the country, he just gave a speech comparing millions of Americans to segregationists and traitors.
This is, no doubt, a challenging time for the White House.
Which means it is great news that so much advice is being handed out by the Gang in the run-up to the press conference, some from friends, some from those less friendly.
* Bill Galston in the Wall Street Journal advocates “facing facts” and “shifting strategies,” along with a clear-throated denunciation of the horrors of the Atlanta speech:
A Memo on Saving the Biden Presidency
* Bret Stephens has a compact list: Fire Ron Klain, focus on issues voters care about, be more centrist, be more of a unifier, get tough on Putin, and make a public declaration of lame duckery.
(WWoN note to Bret: Won’t happen; will (eventually) happen; probably won’t happen; can’t happen; trying to happen; c’mon, man.
* The Reds are obsessed with the “Even Jennifer Rubin” edition of advice:
My educated guess is that the commander in chief will view these attempts to help him as not worth a warm bucket of piss.
What does Mr. Biden plan to do?
Per the Associated Press, not much:
In advance of the session, set for 4 p.m. EST Wednesday, his 365th day in office, Biden gave no indication that he felt a reset was in order.
Per a Ron Klain interview with Politico, more more more of the same:
“It does not surprise me that despite progress on Covid, despite progress on the economy, voters are not going to give us a passing grade yet,” White House chief of staff Ron Klain said in an interview. “But President Biden was elected to a four-year term, not a one-year term….”
“The president became president at a time of great crises in the country. A Covid crisis, an economic crisis. The voters didn’t say ‘Go do a little bit,’” said Klain. “We put forward three key proposals: Covid relief, infrastructure, and Build Back Better. We had a bold agenda and achieved two of the three.”
The challenge, Klain continued, “is not that we have tried to do too much, but that we have more to do.”
Per Jen Psaki, what her pal/boss Ron said:
The White House said Biden would use his appearance to highlight progress made but also to “level” with the public about the challenges ahead.
“The work is not done, the job is not done, and we are certainly not conveying it is,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday. “So, our objective, and I think what you’ll hear the president talk about tomorrow, is how to build on the foundation we laid in the first year.”
CNN.com has a long look, touting “reset” and blaming Klain:
Joe Biden enters the second year of his presidency looking for a reset after a tumultuous first 12 months
"Over the last year, the White House has allowed the left to hijack and misinterpret the rationale for Biden's election," said one former Democratic official in regular touch with the President, speaking to CNN on condition of anonymity to talk candidly about the West Wing. "He was not elected to transform the country."
White House chief of staff Ron Klain, a longtime Biden adviser, is at the middle of those internal tensions. He is seen by some observers as pushing his own agenda or being too quick to side with demands from liberals, which raises expectations that ultimately lead to disappointment.
CNN incredulously also puts up the new White House backgrounder spin (which can also be found in an – also semi-incredulous -- NBCNews.com piece which says the touted silver bullet is for Mr. Biden to “engage more directly with Americans”):
Heading into a tumultuous midterm election year, where Democrats are already bracing for the prospect of losing control of the House and possibly the Senate, the White House said Biden will spend more of his time communicating directly with the American people, rather than trying to negotiate deals in Congress.
That promise, however, rings familiar. The administration has repeatedly promised that Biden would spend more time on the road selling his plans, yet he has traveled less than most recent predecessors….
Growing anxious ahead of this year's midterm elections, many Democrats have issued various calls for a strategy reset -- on Covid, the economy and communications. Some have privately questioned whether Biden -- whose public schedule sometimes contains only a few events per week -- is doing enough to promote his accomplishments and break through to voters.
Biden's speeches often rely on the same lengthy passages, recited verbatim from a teleprompter. When he does leave Washington, his events have tended to adopt a familiar look: a tour of a factory or plant, a speech to a group of unionized workers and up to an hour of shaking hands afterward. His top-visited state, aside from Delaware where he travels home on weekends, was Pennsylvania.
So, to sum up: Joe Biden faces a lot of challenges as he prepares to try to talk his way out of them at a 4pm ET news conference; we don’t know how he feels about all of these challenges, but we do know that to the extent he plans to make any changes to address these challenges, those changes involve talking more directly to the American people, but if past is prologue, he probably won’t actually do that much travel, and, even if he did, that tactic wouldn’t help much, nor will Donald Trump.
In other words, this is the best way to prepare to watch the news conference:
See you tomorrow with the Wide World of News post-game wrap up.
Except this isn’t a game.
And a Putin invasion would throw the entire board up the air and scramble every calculation.
Except this isn’t a game.