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For Joe Biden, results matter most

Madeline Monroe/Greg Nash

In December 1962, John F. Kennedy sat for an interview with the three television networks. The nationally broadcast program, titled “After Two Years: A Conversation with the President,” saw Kennedy reflecting on the presidency two years after being hired.

The conversation took place shortly after Kennedy diffused a potential World War III over the Soviet Union’s placement of nuclear weapons in Cuba. A year earlier, he disastrously erred when Cuban insurgents were slaughtered at the Bay of Pigs despite the covert support they received from the CIA. At home, Kennedy’s legislative program was stymied by conservative southern Dixiecrats who refused to budge on civil rights.

It was a sober president who faced his inquisitors, candidly admitting that “the problems are more difficult than I had imagined they were.” Abroad, Kennedy was chastened by a “limitation upon the power of the United States to bring about solutions” in Africa and settle the ongoing struggle between India and Pakistan, one that continues. At home, he saw that the collective powers of Congress “give advantage to delay,” thanks to senior members who “may be wholly unsympathetic to your program even though they are members of your own party.” Kennedy concluded: “The only time a President’s program is put in quickly and easily is when the program is insignificant. But if it is significant and affects important interests and is controversial, then there is a fight, and the president is never wholly successful.”

All presidents admit to being frustrated by the limitations placed on the office, and few would subscribe to the strict constructionist views held by William Howard Taft, who believed presidents can act only when expressly granted the authority to do so. Today’s presidents side with Teddy Roosevelt, who believed it is the president’s “duty to do anything that the needs of the nation demanded unless such action was forbidden by the Constitution or by the laws.” Action-oriented presidents, like Roosevelt and Kennedy, test the strictures of the office and, like the voters they serve, want results.

Joe Biden’s presidency has been one of results. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the Chips and Science Act, the Inflation Reduction Act, the PACT Act, the first major gun control legislation in 30 years and the Respect for Marriage Act all contain Biden’s distinctive signature on their legislative parchments. Key provisions in these laws will be implemented in the years ahead.

Starting in January, diabetic seniors will have their insulin costs capped at $35 a month, down from the hundreds of dollars they currently pay. Out-of-pocket prescription drug costs for seniors will be capped at $2,000 per year, regardless of whatever terrible disease the elderly may be fighting. The PACT Act provides medical and psychological support to those who are suffering from the physical and psychological costs from their military service. Shovels will strike the ground building roads, bridges, airports and rail facilities, and getting broadband into hard-to-reach communities. These achievements belie Kennedy’s assertion that it is only “insignificant” legislation that often wins congressional approval. Instead, Biden’s record puts him on a par with the legendary Lyndon B. Johnson, whose Great Society programs stand as monuments to his legislative prowess.

In that 1962 interview, John F. Kennedy noted, “There is no experience you can get that can possibly prepare you adequately for the presidency.” While there is much truth in what Kennedy said, close-up contact to the Oval Office is an invaluable asset for presidential preparation.

In 2020, it was Joe Biden’s experience that appealed to voters who wanted an end to the four chaotic years of Donald Trump. One oft-remembered moment of Biden’s 2020 campaign came when Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) gave him the penultimate of endorsements, telling his African American constituents: “I know Joe. We know Joe. But, most importantly, Joe knows us.” What is not remembered was Biden’s succinct response: “What the country’s looking for are results.” Biden then ticked off a list of issues he would try to shepherd through Congress: improvements to ObamaCare, banning the sale of assault weapons, free community college and preschool for three-four-and five-year-olds, more federal support for historically black colleges and universities and appointing the first African American woman to the U.S. Supreme Court. Two years later, Biden can point to progress on most of these issues, including the naming of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 2022, Biden also correctly read the public mood. His legislative accomplishments gave quivering Democrats a platform. And Republicans also gave Biden a powerful assist, thanks to the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade and Donald Trump’s continuing attacks on our democracy and the Constitution. When the ballots were counted, Democrats added one Senate seat and gained three governorships, marking the first time since 1934 that a Democratic president has gained seats for his party in his first midterm contest. Instead of measuring yards of drapery for their new offices, Republicans will remain a minority in the Senate while holding the slimmest of majorities in the House.

Joe Biden has understood that results, not political posturing and bickering, are why a Trump-weary public hired him. At a 2021 Cabinet meeting, Biden told his department heads: “The American people sent us here to deliver. They sent us here to make government work. And they sent us here to make a difference in their lives.”

Today, voters remain focused on results, not the squabbling and showmanship that Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans so clearly enjoy. Despite lackluster polls and Republican expressions of confidence about their future prospects, political prognosticators would be wise to place their 2024 bets on Biden. As Biden himself has said, “We’re just getting started.”

John Kenneth White is a professor of politics at The Catholic University of America. His latest book, co-authored with Matthew Kerbel, is “American Political Parties: Why They Formed, How They Function, and Where They’re Headed.”

Tags Biden administration CHIPS and Science Act Inflation Reduction Act Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Joe Biden John F. Kennedy PACT Act Respect for Marriage Act

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