US

Think small: Biden looks for ways to break through

With his vast national agenda pending and horror images in Ukraine making headlines, President Joe Biden is looking for ways to demonstrate he is still making progress for Americans at a time when many believe the country is heading in the wrong direction.

Six months away from the midterm elections, Biden’s team is betting that smaller, low-key announcements can reach voters better than talking about transformation plans that are so far only ambitious. And with the global focus on Ukraine, the White House is eager for Americans to see Biden tackle the kitchen table issues that matter to them — nothing more than runaway inflation exacerbated by the Russian invasion.

Last week, that meant aides placed large platforms outside the White House so Biden could talk about efforts to get more truck drivers on the road. A day later, he welcomed former President Barack Obama to the signing of an executive order updating the Affordable Care Act. And after that, he signed bipartisan legislation designed to protect the financial future of the U.S. Postal Service.

This week, he is on his heaviest inner journey in months. On Thursday, he will travel to Greensboro, North Carolina, to highlight his plans to boost national supply chains and the high-tech workforce. It comes after a Tuesday stop in Iowa to announce that its administration was granting a waiver to allow more ethanol in gasoline year-round, a move that authorities say would cut fuel prices by 10 cents a gallon. gasoline – but at just 2,300 gas stations across the nation is over 100,000.

The White House says the public focus on the war in Ukraine is “understandable” and realistic about the challenges Biden faces in breaking through.

“While the world must understand and see how it conducts the war, the country must see how it continues to conduct the economy,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday. “Being able to continue to speak to our national audience about this is a huge priority. And his schedule tells how much of a priority it is.

All of the policies Biden touts will have a direct impact on the lives of Americans — but they also fall far short of the goals Biden set for himself when he took 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 strategic sense that if you’re thwarted by Congress, you take matters into your own hands,” said Eric Schultz, Obama’s White House communications chief.

It’s a dynamic that Obama himself has faced, particularly in his second term, when he used his executive authority to push his agenda as far as possible.

“It’s no coincidence that this strategy emerged when Republicans gave up and decided they didn’t want to be partners in power,” Schultz said.

Schultz said Democrats must demonstrate progress even if they don’t pass the sweeping legislation they promised.

“Have we achieved everything we wanted? No,” he said. “But have we rolled up our sleeves every day and pushed the needle forward? Yes.”

While there have been successes, including Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation as the first black woman on the Supreme Court, much of Biden’s agenda remains stalled — or worse.

Lawmakers are struggling to find a bipartisan compromise on legislation to help the United States compete economically with China. Biden’s sweeping Build Back Better legislation is dead in the water, waiting for Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin to decide what, if anything, he will support. Immigration reform, gun control legislation and voting reform have disappeared from the national conversation.

That left Biden touting the benefits of infrastructure legislation passed last year — old bridges needing replacement are a staple of his domestic travel — and looking for other small policies that can be brought forward.

Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said small initiatives would only be useful if they “laid the foundation for the adoption of much larger policies”.

“Singles are fine if they’re a prelude to a grand slam,” he said, adding that Democrats face “a motivational challenge” heading into midterms. “Democrats won’t get people to the polls with a lot of single people.”

William Galston, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said Biden was trying to make the best of a difficult situation.

“He’s doing what he can now that some of his big plans have been hijacked,” he said.

Galston recalled a similar strategy when working on President Bill Clinton’s domestic policy. Before the midterm elections in 1994, the White House tried to “up the score” with less controversial policy proposals.

“That’s exactly what happened when the White House conceded defeat on its central agenda item,” which was health care reform for Clinton.

“These small victories made absolutely no difference mid-term. The fact that they were under the radar screen was good news for passing laws, but bad news for their political effectiveness,” a- he said. For Biden, “it will probably be the case this time too.”

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