Biden’s main campaign argument to the American people in his case for deposing Donald Trump was that he could make government work again, that it could do big things and deliver for its citizens, and that order not chaos could return to Washington. But now the White House ends 2021 facing a confluence of crises: Covid-19 cases are surging throughout the nation, inflation remains high in the holiday season, a renewed push on voting rights seems stalled before it can even begin, and the signature piece of Biden’s agenda is seriously, if not mortally, wounded.
The stunning decision by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on Sunday to announce his opposition to Biden’s Build Back Better legislation handed the president a stinging defeat. And unless the White House can turn the senator around, the result will not just be a profound failure to combat climate change and expand the social safety net, but also undermining the president’s central premise of competence and the vow that he could forge consensus in times of partisanship and tribalism.
Even before Sunday, Biden was struggling on these fronts. Images in recent days — soaring Covid case numbers, long lines at testing places, stubbornly high prices on the shelves — have hampered the president’s primary pitch to voters. They’ve also contributed to a national sense of discontent that has hurt him in the polls. Even though Biden’s own party holds all branches of government, stories of gridlock and intraparty distrust have dominated the headlines for months, creating an ugly depiction of a government not just failing to deliver on the president’s promises but overwhelmed by the problems it’s confronted.