| Washington Wrap |

Biden’s Approval Ratings Tank

Elected to restore sanity, Biden's in big trouble

Exactly a year ago, Joe Biden entered the Oval Office as the 46th president of the United States. After the stormy Trump years, many hoped for a quiet, “boring” term of solving problems and seeking bipartisan cooperation in Congress. Biden got off to a promising start: a February 2021 CBS survey showed him getting 61 percent approval.

This week, the CBS survey showed his approval at just 44 percent. These are the lowest positive ratings of a president at this point in the past 40 years — with the exception of Trump, whose approval ratings one year in were just 37 percent. All the other presidents, Obama, Bush, Clinton, Bush Sr. and Reagan, had approval ratings between 49 percent and 82 percent one year into the job. Here we look back over the past year to find out why his ratings have sunk so dramatically — what challenges he faced, where he succeeded and where he failed.



Biden declared during his campaign that he would “shut down the virus, not the country.” During the first half of 2021, he seemed to be doing just that. His administration effectively managed the vaccine campaign. Every community center, basketball, and auditorium was converted into an immunization center, and within weeks, tens of millions of people had gotten the jab. As European countries moved sluggishly, the US saw a fast track recovery.

But after that, the wheels came off. Federal policies became confusing, and the arrival of the omicron variant brought total frustration. Frequently changing directives, lack of clarity on quarantine policies, shifting recommendations on masks — all of these eroded public trust in Biden’s handling of Covid. States stepped into the breach and began adopting their own policies, which often differed greatly from each other.

It left a deep impression on voters. In July, 66 percent of CBS survey respondents said Biden was doing good work on Covid. In January, that number had sunk to 49 percent.



First, the positives: The stock indexes are soaring. The S&P 500 has risen 22 percent since his inauguration, the Dow Jones is up 16 percent, and the Nasdaq 12 percent. When Biden was inaugurated, the unemployment rate was 6.4 percent, and now it is 3.9 percent — very close to a historic low reached during the Trump administration.

But the problem tarnishing his presidency more than any other is inflation.

A year ago, few analysts would have predicted that Biden’s undoing would come from inflation, something we recall mainly from the 1970s and ’80s. But the December report showed an annual inflation rate for 2021 of 7 percent — the highest it’s been since 1982.

Inflation has many causes, but the bottom line is very bad for the president. Not everyone follows the news; not everyone is interested in what laws passed Congress or what cases are being heard by the Supreme Court. But almost everyone feels the price pinch at the supermarket, and almost everyone feels the shock of paying $4 for a gallon of gas. The only ones who don’t feel it are the fabulously wealthy.

The CBS survey from the beginning of the week sends Biden a warning signal: 70 percent of the respondents are dissatisfied with the president’s handling of inflation; 63 percent said that their opinion of him would improve if he solved the inflation issue, compared to just 24 percent who said that their view of him would improve if he managed to pass his $4 trillion Build Back Better spending plan.


Foreign Policy

The defining impression here is Biden’s hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan, which is remembered collectively as a spectacular failure, with chaotic and humiliating images of Afghan allies hanging on to US aircraft — and, of course, the deadly terror attack against American forces at the height of the pullout.

But the Afghanistan disaster aside, Biden’s big challenge was and remains the strategic conflict with China and Russia. Biden faces few good choices with an increasingly aggressive China, but 59 percent of CBS survey respondents gave him low marks nevertheless. With regard to Russia, the United States is trying to bring together an international coalition to prevent an invasion of Ukraine, but with limited success so far. While NATO allies are supporting the US, many other nations are trying not to get involved in the dispute. Vladimir Putin doesn’t appear to be very cowed by Biden’s threats.

The president faces another major challenge with the Iran nuclear agreement. Tehran is playing for time: They come to the table for talks in Vienna, and back home they continue to enrich uranium. The Americans openly acknowledge this, but refuse to impose a clear deadline on the talks, trying to leave room for diplomacy. Biden’s challenge in 2022 is to set clear red lines for Iran — otherwise the foot-dragging will continue.



Biden came in promising two big spending packages. He managed to pass the first one — a massive $1 trillion infrastructure package affecting roads, bridges, tunnels, ports, Internet, and more. But the results from this will only be seen in five to ten years.

The second package, the $4 trillion Build Back Better bill, covers an array of social issues from tax credits for children to education and health insurance subsidies. The massive bill has run aground on the steadfast opposition of West Virginia’s Senator Joe Manchin and the lukewarm attitude of Arizona’s Senator Kyrsten Sinema — both fellow Democrats. The bill looks dead for now, and for a president who began his term with hopes of being a modern-day FDR, this is a disappointment.

Biden — himself a 47-year Senate veteran — called for ending the filibuster in hopes of getting his sweeping voter registration legislation passed. But this failed too when Manchin and Sinema refused to go along.

Biden is stuck in a vicious cycle: He can’t pass anything in Congress, and for fear of losing his majorities in both houses in the 2022 midterms, he is pressuring his party holdouts — which only causes them to dig their heels in further. Manchin and Sinema have both seen their approval ratings rise with their own voters, even as Biden’s are sinking.

The Democrats promised that after four years of the Trump roller coaster, they would get Congress functioning again. One year in, that’s not happening — and not because of the Republicans, but because of Democratic infighting.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 895)

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