Winter challenges are coming for Biden White House
President Biden is facing a challenging winter.
Supply chain bottlenecks spurred by increased demand threaten to hold up Christmas gifts.
Businesses are facing labor shortages, which are likely to lead to inconveniences for Americans traveling during the holiday season.
Rising gas prices will add to those headaches, and now administration officials are warning that heating homes also will cost more this year.
And as it gets colder, inside gatherings could lead to more coronavirus cases, which have started to flatline after weeks in which they have fallen.
It all adds up to a difficult winter and potentially troublesome holiday season for Biden, who has already seen his approval numbers drop amid a challenging few months for his administration. Fears that Biden’s party could lose the House and Senate in next year’s midterms are also up after a disappointing showing in last week’s elections in Virginia and New Jersey.
“It’s pretty bleak,” one Democratic strategist who spoke to The Hill said. “I don’t think people realize where we are as a party right now.”
Biden closed last week with some good news. A positive jobs report started the day out well on Friday, and the House finally approved a $1 trillion infrastructure bill by the end of the day that is a key part of the president’s agenda.
But the White House and Democrats have struggled to sell their accomplishments, stirring worries within the party.
“The White House needs to figure out how to effectively communicate what it’s trying to do or people will lose faith,” the pessimistic strategist said.
Recent polling suggests that a majority of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track.
A USA Today/Suffolk University poll taken last week before the infrastructure bill’s passage found that only 38 percent of registered voters approve of Biden’s job as president and 46 percent believe he has performed worse as president than they expected.
In some good news for Biden, the same survey did find that over 60 percent approve of the infrastructure bill.
White House chief of staff Ron Klain acknowledged when asked Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” about Biden’s low poll numbers that it has been a “rough and tough year” and that Americans have been frustrated with the pace of the recovery from the pandemic.
At the same time, he noted that job creation has picked up substantially under Biden when compared to the Trump administration, and that coronavirus deaths have fallen sharply.
“I understand that voters are tired, Americans are tired, of how long it’s taken to get the economy moving, to get COVID under control,” Klain said. “But I think what the American people are going to see is, we have put in place the strategies, the actions to turn that around.”
Strategists say the White House needs to turn a corner in convincing voters that it is taking actions at the center of their lives.
“I certainly believe that a failure to engage on those kitchen table issues like gas prices and supply chain issues, even education, caused Democrats to lose some important elections and potentially suffer an erosion of support in the suburbs,” said Basil Smikle, a Democratic strategist and director of Hunter College’s public policy program.
He suggested the infrastructure bill presents an opportunity.
“I do think there’s time to turn that around. Democrats have to be able to tie together the benefits of the infrastructure bill with respect to jobs, broadband, to how this will impact voters’ day-to-day lives,” he said.
Biden suggested in a speech on Saturday that the infrastructure bill would ultimately help relieve supply chain bottlenecks by allowing companies to get goods to market more quickly. He also said the public would begin to feel the impacts of the bill “within the next two to three months” as people are hired to work on new projects it funds. It’s unclear how long it will take the infrastructure bill to have any impacts on supply chains, however.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told reporters Monday the bill would ultimately help ports operate more efficiently, but he also stressed that ending the coronavirus pandemic would be key to resolving the supply bottlenecks.
“The best way to end a pandemic-related shortage is to end a pandemic, and that’s why the vaccine push is so important,” Buttigieg said.
In the near term, the Biden administration insists officials are also keeping a close eye on the impacts of inflation, like higher oil and gas prices.
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm acknowledged Sunday on CNN that Americans will see higher heating bills this coming winter. She also said that Biden is considering tapping into the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve to address rising fuel prices, suggesting a decision could be made as soon as Tuesday after a new Energy Department projection on gasoline prices is released.
“We’re going to continue to monitor the situation and have a number of tools in our arsenal,” White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Monday, declining to elaborate on other steps being considered.
The White House last month announced that major West Coast ports and other shippers and retailers would move to 24-hour daily operations. Biden also convened a meeting at the Group of 20 summit last week to discuss how the international community can reduce disruptions, announcing new funding to alleviate bottlenecks in Mexico and Central America.
While the White House won’t overcome the challenges it faces overnight, some predict there will be clear progress in the coming months because of the administration’s agenda.
“Since we’re Democrats, evidently a lot of people’s holiday plans already include bed-wetting while cranking ‘A Long December,’ ” Democratic strategist Eddie Vale quipped.
“Schools are open, kids are getting their shots, business mandates are working and polling shows people are starting to believe again we can get over the pandemic,” he said.
“So is everything going to be roses over the winter? No. But a few more months of COVID going down and economy going up, going to make for a very different spring and summer,” Vale said.