- The Washington Times
Friday, August 5, 2022

President Biden is on a roll for a commander in chief with historically low approval ratings, scoring a string of legislative and foreign policy wins that are giving Democrats fresh hope of avoiding a drubbing in the November midterms.

Mr. Biden has been able to get a slew of significant bills through the evenly divided Senate with overwhelmingly bipartisan support, including a $740 billion package on Sunday that addresses his climate, health care and tax hike priorities.


Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, gave credit to Mr. Biden on Sunday for several bipartisan wins, including on infrastructure, gun control and social media.

“He’s signed things that made sense. The infrastructure bill, the gun thing, we’ve been working on this for years. We sort of found the sweet spot,” Mr. Graham said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

The president also secured the backing of longtime holdout Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, to support the climate and spending bill, giving it the momentum needed to pass.

The past week was perhaps Mr. Biden’s most successful as president, starting with the killing of the world’s most wanted terrorist and ending with the unemployment rate falling to its lowest level in 50 years.

In between, Mr. Biden celebrated when Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, Arizona Democrat and another crucial holdout vote, endorsed his spending bill, gas prices hit a 50-day low and voters in red-state Kansas gave Democrats hope in the midterms by overwhelmingly rejecting an amendment that would have resulted in a ban on most abortions.

“For anyone that doubted whether Joe Biden’s policies or approach to governing works, this week is further proof about his ability to lead in the times of crisis,” said Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright. “Poll numbers don’t reflect his ability to govern.”  

The string of victories is a much-needed lifeline for Mr. Biden and congressional Democrats. Political analysts have been predicting that Democrats will lose both the House and the Senate in the November midterm elections.

Mr. Biden’s personal popularity has been fading. A New York Times/Siena College poll released last month found that 64% of Democrats want someone other than Mr. Biden to be the party’s nominee in 2024. A CNN poll put that figure as high as 75%.

Things had been looking abysmal for the president. In addition to low poll numbers within his own party, he was criticized for his slow response to the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, his climate bill was dead in the water and he tested positive a second time for COVID-19.

Mr. Seawright said the string of victories is a game-changer for the midterms, now less than 100 days away.

“For all those who predicted doom and gloom, what’s their prediction now? What are they saying now with 54 days of dropping gas prices and a strong economic jobs report?” he said.

Republicans say Mr. Biden and congressional Democrats have too many hurdles to overcome for one good week to make a difference. They note that inflation is still at its highest level in 40 years, gas prices are well above where they were last year and Mr. Biden’s approval rating is mired in the low 40% range.

“Prices are still unbelievably high, products still cost more, and families are still struggling to pay for food and gas. Just because Biden is having a good week doesn’t mean that’s coming to an end,” said James Keady, a political strategist.

Although Mr. Biden’s reversal of fortune has created some momentum for Democrats, political watchers wonder how long it will last. The president is on a winning streak while many voters are on vacation and not paying attention. Political forecasters also caution that it’s hard to predict three months into the future based on one good week.

“There are ebbs and flows in every administration,” said Stephen Medvic, a professor of politics and government at Franklin & Marshall College. “I think this can help Democrats avoid a worst-case scenario of losing 40 to 60 [House] seats, but historically the president’s party always does terribly in the midterms. It might make things less bad.”

Ironically, Mr. Biden was racking up victories while sidelined by COVID-19. He made few public appearances while isolating in the White House after seven straight days of testing positive for coronavirus infection.

Mr. Biden’s biggest victory was perhaps on Friday with one of the best jobs reports of his presidency. Employers added 528,000 jobs in July, more than double the prediction of Wall Street analysts.

The overall unemployment rate fell to 3.5%, the Labor Department said.

The strong report helps Mr. Biden argue that the overall economy remains healthy despite two consecutive quarters of negative growth in gross domestic product, which has spurred Republican criticism about a recession.

The jobs report wasn’t the only good news for Mr. Biden last week.

On Aug. 1, Mr. Biden announced that the U.S. had killed Ayman al-Zawahri, one of the masterminds of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. After eluding capture for more than 20 years, al-Zawahri was killed by a CIA drone strike while standing on a balcony in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Democrats and Republicans celebrated the operation. Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican and a longtime opponent, said the president “deserves credit” for the strike.

The successful operation put Republicans in the awkward position of crediting Mr. Biden and gave the president justification for his strategy of combating terrorist threats without U.S. boots on the ground. It simultaneously gave him a talking point against criticism for last year’s bungled withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“This is a massive thing that Republicans and Democrats on both sides of the aisle should be cheering,” Mr. Keady said. “But also you have to remember there have been massive foreign policy failures by this administration in Afghanistan and elsewhere. So does this one victory make up for those string of failures?”

Also, gas prices hit their lowest levels in about eight weeks to an average of $4.11 per gallon, down more than 70 cents per gallon since the beginning of July, according to AAA, the automobile group.

The administration has celebrated more than 50 straight days of falling gas prices.

Still, energy prices are volatile. Some analysts say gas prices could surge again in October. JPMorgan Chase and others have warned that Russia could shut down its gas supply altogether in retaliation for stricter sanctions over the war in Ukraine.

The worst-case scenario might not transpire, but some Democrats are on edge.

Voters in Kansas on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected an amendment that would have allowed the state Legislature to ban abortions. The convincing victory for abortion rights activists could mobilize voters to support pro-choice candidates in the midterm elections. Turnout in the Kansas elections was up nearly 60% from the primaries in 2018.

“The vote in Kansas does suggest that the country, even in conservative areas, are not as ideological as many want them to be,” said Robert Rowland, who teaches presidential rhetoric at the University of Kansas. “That does provide some opening for Biden because it can save a candidate when their opponents overreach too far.”

Mr. Keady said claims that the Kansas vote could be a bellwether for the midterms are overblown.

“Americans are not one-issue voters,” he said. “The abortion referendum is a one-issue microcosm vote. Americans are still going to have to make a decision on gas prices, leadership, and if they are better off now than they were a year and a half ago.”

Mr. Biden scored another victory Thursday when Ms. Sinema endorsed his domestic agenda after reaching a deal with party leaders. The agreement gave Democrats the 50 votes needed to push Mr. Biden’s climate and spending bill through the Senate.

The bill, dubbed the Inflation Reduction Act, is a scaled-back version of Mr. Biden’s Build Back Better package, which stalled for more than a year because of opposition from Ms. Sinema and Mr. Manchin.

Mr. Manchin announced last week that he would also back the president’s plan, kicking off Mr. Biden’s winning streak.

“It is a tremendous opportunity for us in the fall,” said Mr. Seawright. “People are going to feel it when gas prices go down and when unemployment goes down.”

Also in the past week, the Senate passed two measures that Mr. Biden championed by decisive bipartisan margins. Senators voted to approve an expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, with the addition of Finland and Sweden, by a 95-1 vote. A measure to aid veterans exposed to toxic burn pits passed by an 86-11 vote.

Those legislative victories come on the heels of two other bipartisan wins for Mr. Biden. The Senate in June passed his gun safety bill by a 65-33 vote, and a bill to invest billions of dollars in domestic semiconductor manufacturing cleared the Senate last month by a 64-33 vote.

Ramsey Touchberry contributed to this report.

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.


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