If $3.5 trillion 'infrastructure' bill fails, it's bye-bye for an increasingly unpopular Biden

If $3.5 trillion 'infrastructure' bill fails, it's bye-bye for an increasingly unpopular Biden
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If anyone needs a big win right now, it's the embattled 46th president. 

President BidenJoe BidenGOP eyes booting Democrats from seats if House flips Five House members meet with Taiwanese president despite Chinese objections Sunday shows preview: New COVID-19 variant emerges; supply chain issues and inflation persist MORE's poll numbers are horrifying, with support among independents in the low-to-mid 30s and even Democrats starting to express buyer's remorse, with more than 1-in-5 in a recent Zogby poll saying they regret voting for Biden. And from a messaging perspective, there is no issue to which to pivot in an effort to change narratives and news cycles. 

On the economy, which was supposed to be flying high as the country emerged from the hell that was COVID-19 in the lockdown year of 2020, the president clocks in at 39 percent approval. The August jobs number was a whopping 500,000 below expectations. Inflation is skyrocketing, sticking a virtual tax on every American, which is particularly painful for the poor and middle class. 

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The president receives just 38 percent approval on his handling of crime. The percentage of Americans who see crime as "an extremely serious problem in the United States" is at its highest level in 20 years.   

On the border and immigration, it gets worse: Just 33 percent say the president (and the vice president, who was put in charge of the crisis along the U.S. southern border) is doing a good job there. 

And don't even bother looking to foreign policy, where Afghanistan and the disastrous drawdown of the U.S. military from there may be looked back upon as the beginning of the end of the Biden presidency. 

Add it all up, and Biden is in desperate need of a big win. 

So, enter the $3.5 trillion infrastructure package, which includes $1.2 trillion for actual infrastructure – roads, bridges, trains, clean water, power grids, internet access, etc. – and another $2.5 trillion for things that have nothing to do with roads, bridges, trains, water, power grids, etc. 

If offered up as a standalone package, the $1.2 trillion actual-infrastructure bill probably would pass easily in the Senate, with relatively robust Republican support from party moderates. And Americans certainly see the money as well spent in this regard, garnering 68 percent support, per Gallup

NoLabels.org poll tells a similar story, but with this twist: "A supermajority (72 percent) of voters is for the bipartisan infrastructure plan. [But] 76 percent don’t want its passage linked in any way to the separate social spending plan."

On cue, Democrats, led by House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiFive reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season Bipartisan success in the Senate signals room for more compromise The GOP's post-1/6 playbook is clear — and it's dangerous MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerSchumer mourns death of 'amazing' father Feehery: The honest contrarian Biden administration to release oil from strategic reserve: reports MORE (D-N.Y.), have declared that the $1.2 trillion package negotiated between Democrats and Republicans will not see the light of day unless it is paired with the additional $2.5 trillion of "infrastructure," which includes things like national paid family and medical leave programs, free universal preschool and free community college for all students, as well as billions for clean energy programs, which were cut from the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal during negotiations. 

Passing the $3.5 trillion plan just one month ago appeared to be a real possibility, but then the implosion of the Afghan government occurred in mid-August. The Taliban quickly gained control of Kabul, and the administration was caught with its pants down. Then 13 U.S. service members were killed by an ISIS-K suicide bomber, sparking national outrage, and the bottom dropped out altogether — along with the president's poll numbers over the poor execution of the drawdown.  

 

The president's poll numbers looked solid just 10 weeks ago, with about 54 percent approval in the RealClearPolitics average. Those numbers have since cratered for all the reasons listed above, throwing Biden's domestic agenda into serious jeopardy as Democrats slowly move away from him.  

 

 

To that end, the most powerful “Joe” in Washington these days isn't the president but Joe ManchinJoe ManchinBiden faces new pressure from climate groups after Powell pick Five ways Senate could change Biden's spending plan With extreme gerrymanders locking in, Biden needs to make democracy preservation job one MORE, the Democratic senator from West Virginia. He told several Sunday talk shows last week that he will not support the $3.5 trillion package and made a sober, sensible argument for his decision. 

"We spent $5.4 trillion. And a lot of that really continues way into next year. We haven't dispersed it all," Manchin correctly explained to NBC's Chuck ToddCharles (Chuck) David ToddDemocrats optimistic as social spending bill heads to Senate GOP senator: Decisions on bills not made based on if they hurt or help Trump or Biden Buttigieg dismisses reported rivalry with Harris MORE

“Only thing I've said, put a pause on," he added. "Shouldn't we basically put a pause on, with all the unknowns that we have right now we're facing? Don't know where COVID's going to go. Inflation is still very high and rampant. And then, on top of that, the geopolitical unrest that we have going on, we might be challenged there. Don't you think we ought to be prepared for that since we don't have the emergency that we had with the American Rescue Plan, when the president first came in and we passed (it)?”

Without Manchin, the bill is dead. And even if Manchin could somehow be turned, Sen. Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaPragmatic bipartisanship – not hard left intolerance – is Democrats' surest path back to power With extreme gerrymanders locking in, Biden needs to make democracy preservation job one Five reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season MORE (D-Ariz.) is also a “no.” In a 50-50 Senate, all it takes is one defection. 

But let's say cooler heads prevail and the House proceeds to attempt to pass the bipartisan $1.2 trillion bipartisan package. Enter Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezGOP eyes booting Democrats from seats if House flips Greene: McCarthy 'doesn't have the full support to be Speaker' Omar calls out Boebert over anti-Muslim remarks, denies Capitol incident took place MORE (D-N.Y.), who took to social media to boast that she would gladly tank the bill. 

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"House progressives are standing up,” AOC said during a recent virtual town-hall meeting. “We will tank the bipartisan infrastructure bill unless we will also pass the reconciliation bill.” 

"This bill (the $3.5 trillion version) is absolutely a progressive victory," she added. "If it wasn't for progressives in the House, we probably would be stuck with that tiny, pathetic bipartisan bill alone."

Between Manchin and Sinema not supporting the $3.5 trillion legislation and the AOC/“Squad” wing vowing to vote against the $1.2 trillion bill if it is presented as a solo act, it’s hard to see how Biden gets that much-needed “win” here.

As we enter the fall, he's increasingly unpopular. A majority of Americans now believe the 78-year-old is not competent, focused or effective enough to handle the job. 

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"Without victory, there is no survival," Winston Churchill once said. 

Churchill was talking about World War II, but his words apply to political wars and political survival as well. And, right now, President Biden is losing the battle within his own fractured party — a battle that may cost him the war that is his presidency. 

Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill.