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The Memo: Political winds shift against Biden

The atmosphere is changing fast for President BidenJoe BidenMellman: Trump voters cling to 2020 tale FDA authorizes another batch of J&J vaccine Cotton warns of China collecting athletes' DNA at 2022 Olympics MORE.

Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinProgressives rave over Harrison's start at DNC US, EU pledge to work together on climate amid reported dissension on coal Senate to hold hearing on DC statehood bill MORE’s (D-W.Va.) opposition to weakening the filibuster has thrown the president’s legislative agenda into flux. 

The COVID-19 vaccination push has hit serious resistance, meaning Biden could fail to meet a key benchmark for the first time. 

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And the economic picture is mixed, with some weaker-than-expected employment data and new fears about inflation, even as jobs return and businesses reopen.

It all marks an abrupt change from Biden’s first months in office, when he pushed through a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, vaccinations were being snapped up by tens of millions of Americans desperate to receive them, and the president was able to use his executive powers to roll back some of the most controversial policies enacted by his predecessor, former President TrumpDonald TrumpKushner lands book deal, slated for release in 2022 Biden moves to undo Trump trade legacy with EU deal Progressives rave over Harrison's start at DNC MORE.

Almost all presidents arrive at the bracing moment when they realize their honeymoon period is over. Biden can take some comfort from the fact that, if he has arrived at that point, it’s not the result of any egregious gaffes on his part.

But the reality is he is facing a period of much harder sledding — and that this coincides with a time when Democratic fears about GOP meddling with the electoral system are at fever pitch.

The Democratic grassroots are angry about Manchin’s assertion that, in addition to not backing reform of the filibuster, he is also opposed to the most expansive effort to protect voting rights, the For The People bill.

Manchin had already indicated he held these positions. But his emphatic reassertion of them in a weekend op-ed for his home state paper, the Charleston Gazette-Mail, left many Democrats dismayed.

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Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons told this column: “Manchin’s rationalization in his op-ed was that bipartisanship was the marker of worthwhile legislation. He didn’t actually make an argument about the merits of the [For The People] bill or the merits of any other legislation … So what Sen. Manchin is doing is giving Republicans the decision-making power for whether or not he will support a bill, regardless of its intended outcomes.”

Some Democratic lawmakers took an even harsher view.

Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) tweeted that Manchin’s position on voting rights was such that his “op-ed might as well be titled, ‘Why I’ll vote to preserve Jim Crow.’ ”

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) called Manchin “the new Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Schumer to trigger reconciliation process on Wednesday | Four states emerge as test case for cutting off jobless benefits GOP senator: I want to make Biden a 'one-half-term president' McConnell presses for 'actual consequences' in disclosure of tax data MORE” in an interview with CNN’s “New Day” on Monday. The West Virginia senator “is doing everything in his power to stop democracy and to stop our work for the people,” he added.

Manchin has always been a political anomaly.

His state voted for Trump over Biden by almost 40 points in November. Realistically, his seat — and thus the Democrats’ working Senate majority — depends upon him taking a vastly different stance than colleagues from more progressive states.

But the anger among Democrats is an acknowledgement of how difficult it will now be for Biden to pass substantial legislation — and not just on voting rights. 

Action on everything from immigration to gun control seems less likely today than a few days ago.

The drama comes as the White House is already facing significant resistance to its vaccination efforts. According to a Washington Post report Monday, the nation is now averaging fewer than 1 million shots per day, down from a peak of 3.4 million daily vaccinations in April.

The drop-off has little to do with supply. There are abundant vaccinations, but a shortage of people willing to take them.

Up until now, Biden has under-promised and over-delivered when it comes to vaccinations. Now it seems likely that he will miss his target of having 70 percent of adults vaccinated by the July 4 holiday.

White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiLawmakers urge Biden to be tough on cybersecurity during summit with Putin Fox's John Roberts says for media, no Biden-Putin presser is a loss Harris highlights COVID-19 vaccination safety, efficacy in SC event to kick off tour MORE said at a Monday media briefing that the administration would “use every tool at our disposal” to keep the vaccinations surging ahead, but she avoided making any firm commitment on numbers.

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Democrats emphasize that they are not in a panic, even as they acknowledge Biden is sailing into more turbulent waters.

They note that his robust start has given him a sizable reservoir of goodwill. His job approval ratings have been positive and remarkably stable.

“All of the polling numbers have shown that the president remains in a very strong position. And from Day One he has said he is committed to working with both parties to move his agenda. I think at this point the American public are fully behind the president,” said Dan Sena, a former executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Jerry Austin, a Democratic strategist in Ohio, emphasized the achievements Biden had already racked up.

“Just imagine if he had failed on managing COVID or on getting the stimulus. We would be talking about a different kind of president. He would be weak, but he is strong now,” Austin said.

As always, much will depend on the economy. The latest figures released Friday showed that 559,000 jobs had been created in May, nudging the unemployment rate down to 5.8 percent from 6.1 percent. 

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But the nation is still more than 7 million jobs short of where it stood before the pandemic and the memory of April’s jobs report — which came in way below economists’ expectations — is still fresh.

Some Democrats worry that the Manchin decision will inevitably mean government spending has to be scaled back, which could curb the recovery further — though they also suggest a possible silver lining if they can pin the blame on Republicans for obstructionism.

The Manchin issue “creates more problems,” said New York-based Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf. “It will force Biden to compromise more on the monies we know he wants to spend. But the good news is that it gives [Democrats] an issue to run against — that the Republicans blocked the real recovery.”

But such comments are themselves an acknowledgement that Biden’s window for real legislative achievements may be beginning to close. 

Given the unified Republican opposition, it may not be long before it slams shut completely.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.