The Memo: Left and right accuse Biden of failing to meet the moment

President Biden’s critics on both the left and the right are accusing him of going too small in response to the massive challenges facing the country. 

They warn that he and his party will pay a price at the midterm elections in November.

On the left, progressives express dismay that Biden has not done more on prized priorities, including voting rights, the battle against climate change and student loan forgiveness.

To the president’s right, conservatives and many independent voters argue that Biden is failing to meet the mark to address two huge issues — inflation and immigration. The inflation rate is at its highest point in decades. So too are the numbers of unauthorized migrants trying to cross the southern border.

In the middle, Biden is gambling that a focus on unspectacular but concrete achievements will pay dividends with voters.

On Tuesday, the president journeyed to New Hampshire to talk up the improvements to waterways that are being made possible by the large, bipartisan infrastructure deal he shepherded through Congress late last year. He spent part of his speech emphasizing the funding that will go toward dredging the shipping channel for the harbor in Portsmouth, N.H.

On Wednesday, the administration is set to unveil new measures to make federal agencies more responsive to the needs of rural communities.

On Thursday, Biden will once again be on the road, this time to Portland, where he will visit another infrastructure improvement project.

That’s all very well — so far as it goes. 

But whether announcements about harbor-dredging can really cut through at a time when the nation faces such seismic challenges is highly doubtful — especially when Biden’s approval rating has drifted down to mediocre levels and the Republican Party is hitting him again and again over inflation and immigration.

Forty-two percent of Americans approved of Biden’s job performance and 52 percent disapproved as of Tuesday, according to the weighted average of polls maintained by data site FiveThirtyEight.

A CBS News-YouGov poll earlier this month found grim results for Biden on crime, immigration and inflation. In all those categories, more than 60 percent of adults disapproved of the president’s performance. Inflation was the weakest point of all, with 69 percent disapproving and just 31 percent approving.

The criticism that Biden faces from conservative commentators and Republican politicians may be predictable. But the chorus of criticism is not confined to the right.

In a Monday op-ed in The New York Times, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) acknowledged that Democrats had “promised more” than they have so far delivered.

Warren, who competed against Biden for the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential nomination, warned: “To put it bluntly: if we fail to use the months remaining before the elections to deliver on more of our agenda, Democrats are headed toward big losses in the midterms.” 

The senator from Massachusetts highlighted several areas where she believed progress was both possible and necessary. 

Among them were student loan cancellation, the lowering of prescription drug prices and making more workers eligible for overtime pay — all things Warren asserted could be accomplished via executive order. She also called for action on more expansive priorities like climate change and a global minimum corporate tax.

Warren was polite about Biden himself in her op-ed but among others on the left there is less patience for what is increasingly perceived as a small-ball approach.

John Paul Mejia, national spokesperson for the progressive and youth-oriented Sunrise Movement, expressed disappointment that the early promise of the Biden administration had given way to a “botched legislative agenda” that has made the outlook appear “more dismal.”

Mejia also noted the likely political cost to this perceived inaction, not just in November’s midterms but in sapping the longer-term commitment of younger activists.

He noted that Democrats have controlled the White House, the Senate and the House since January 2021, and said: “if, in two years, a Democratic trifecta cannot answer to the demands of the young people that elected them, that is going to be very discouraging to that younger generation.”

The White House is not basing its appeal to voters purely on the minutiae of the provisions of the infrastructure bill, of course. 

Biden aides have repeatedly emphasized the exceptional job growth that has been seen as the nation has emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost 8 million jobs have been created during the Biden presidency. White House allies also assert that the administration deserves a lot of credit for its COVID-19 response, including the rollout of a national vaccination program last year.

Others on the center-left, broadly supportive of Biden, argue that his current approach is appropriate. They also often blame the left for legislative infighting late last year when months were spent trying, and ultimately failing, to pass Biden’s “Build Back Better” bill.

“Democrats are going to be evaluated on whether people think things are better,” said Simon Rosenberg, who heads NDN, a centrist liberal think tank and advocacy organization.  “Our first job is to explain to people how we’ve made things better.”

Hinting at exasperation with progressive critics, Rosenberg added, “If we can’t get credit for the things we’ve done, we are not going to get much credit for things that haven’t happened yet. The political communications priority is to establish that things are better.”

So far, however, it is far from clear that Biden’s message is breaking through.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.

Tags 2022 midterms Biden Immigration Inflation Joe Biden Title 42

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