They’re not campaign events or reelection announcements, but they might as well be – Biden’s appearances are looking a lot like he’s making a case for a second term.
It was a friendly crowd in a friendly place, a union hall in blue Northern Virginia. President Joe Biden took the mic and paced the stage, touting the economic progress during his first two years in office and warning of the “chaos and catastrophe” threatened by House Republicans.
“They campaigned on inflation” ahead of 2022 midterm elections that carried disappointing results for Republicans, Biden told members of a steamfitters union in Springfield. “They didn’t say, if elected, they planned to make it worse,” he added, eliciting chuckles from the audience.
It wasn’t a campaign event, or an announcement that he would run for a second term as president, but it might as well have been. Biden, who has said repeatedly that he “plans” to run for reelection – but has yet to make a formal declaration – has nonetheless shifted well into campaign mode, ticking off his accomplishments while blasting Republicans as dangerous to the economy and to working Americans.
He was aided by some unexpectedly good news Thursday morning: the report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis that the economy grew by 2.9% in the fourth quarter of 2022. With major banks and economists predicting a recession, that was a helpful applause line for the president, who is dealing with a public unhappy about inflation.
“They’ve been telling me since I got elected that we’re going into a recession,” Biden said, revealing some frustration with a poor-economy narrative despite overall growth and good employment numbers. “It turns out, thank God, they were wrong.”
The president noted some other encouraging numbers, including the lowest jobless rate in 50 years, a record number of new jobs created during a president’s first two years in office and the best two years for small business creation on record.
Biden also announced he was creating an “Invest in America” cabinet, composed of the secretaries of Commerce, Labor, Transportation, Treasury, Energy, and Health and Human Services, as well as the EPA administrator and senior advisers Mitch Landrieu and John Podesta. The group will be charged with ensuring that the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act and the Inflation Reduction Act are both implemented effectively, the White House said.
“It’s one thing we passed it all,” Biden said of the infrastructure bill and the Inflation Reduction Act, a sweeping domestic spending bill that includes historic funding to address climate change. “Now we have to make sure we’re on it every day.”
But without a clear general election opponent, Biden issued only broad criticisms of the GOP – especially House Republicans, who have discussed such politically explosive ideas as cutting Social Security and Medicare, dismantling the IRS and replacing income taxes with a 30% national sales tax.
Biden made a passing reference to the “last guy” who held his job, former President Donald Trump, saying the debt added during the Trump years accounted for a fourth of the current debt built up over 200 years. Trump is the only announced GOP candidate for president in 2024, with several others – including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence and Trump administration Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – are openly flirting with a run.
Biden turned his ire more broadly at Republicans in the House who are threatening to hold up a vote to increase the debt ceiling unless they get major, unspecified spending cuts in return. The debt ceiling – which was raised several times during the Trump years by bipartisan votes – allows the United States to borrow to pay bills it has already incurred.
“If Republicans want to work together on real solutions … I’m ready,” Biden said, his voice then raising in defiance as he contemplated an unprecedented fiscal default by the United States government.
“But I will not let anybody use the full faith and credit of the United States as a bargaining chip. In the United States of America, we pay our debts,” Biden added.
On paper, Biden as a candidate for reelection has bad news that may not be so bad for him, as well as good news that might still be viewed as bad by the voting public.
The president’s approval ratings are substantially improved from last July, when on average his approval rating of 37.5% was nearly 20 percentage points lower than his disapproval rating. But they are still uncomfortably low at an average of 42%, a number that has dropped slightly since Biden disclosed that classified documents were found at his home and office at the Biden Penn Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
In previous election cycles, that would be a political death knell for an incumbent since approval ratings are often interpreted as a referendum on the president.
But it may be different with Biden, experts say. If the race indeed comes down to a rematch between Biden and Trump, it will be more of a “choice” election than a referendum on Biden, they note. And Trump, with myriad legal problems of his own, provides Biden with easy lines of attack.
Further, time can help the president, says Mark Mellman, a veteran Democratic consultant. “Ronald Reagan’s numbers were at about what Joe Biden’s are today” at this point in the former president’s first term, Mellman notes. “He went on to win in a massive landslide. I’m not saying Joe Biden will win in a landslide, but it suggests you can’t really project (the 2024 result) directly from the numbers two years out.”
While Biden’s approval rating is low, “It is way too early to make any predictions for the 2024 election,” says Tim Malloy, director of the Quinnipiac poll, which had Biden’s approval in the high 30s last month. “So much will depend on where the economy is in fall of 2024, what happens with the classified document issue, who the Republican nominee is,” Malloy says.
On the economy, Biden has a more complicated messaging mission, says former White House speechwriter Ken Baer, founder and CEO of Crosscut Strategies.
“There’s always this huge disconnect between economic data and economic feelings, and how people perceive the economy,” says Baer, who was associate director of communications for the Office of Management and Budget during the Barack Obama administration.
Former President George H.W. Bush, for example, was defeated for reelection after Democrat Bill Clinton hammered him on the economy, even though the economy was already recovering by the time the election rolled around. And Biden, while touting the economic progress made during his first two years, must be cognizant of Americans’ unhappiness with inflation and gas prices – and worries about a looming recession.
“It’s probably one of the thorniest kinds of communication problems any leader has, because you don’t want to look like you’re tone-deaf to people’s perceived pain,” Baer says. But you don’t want to keep talking (the economy) down.”
For Biden, preparing for his State of the Union speech Feb. 7 as well as an expected announcement of his candidacy, the only choice is to wait. And hope for the best.
Source: US News