Today is the second anniversary of the Biden presidency. It is either the end of his administration’s first quarter or its halfway point: at 12 p.m. Eastern Time in exactly two years, either an 82-year-old Joe Biden will be raising his right hand and uttering “So help me God” or he will be riding off into retirement.
So today offers a perfect opportunity to look both backwards and forwards, at the events and issues that have driven Biden’s past two years and those that will come into play in his next two. These two halves of Biden’s first term will be different in several important ways, which I want to examine here. (It should be noted, of course, that not everything I refer to as “in” or “out” below will truly start or stop entirely, but they are representative of the political direction and trends as they stand right now.)
OUT: Passing big bills.
IN: Implementing big bills.
A landmark achievement of Biden’s first two years was taking several issues that have long occupied Washington’s attention — gun control, infrastructure, rebooting American manufacturing — and actually hammering out bipartisan compromises on them. Biden himself played varying-sized roles in each of these legislative processes, but regardless, his pen signed all of them into law.
With Kevin McCarthy (and, by extension, the House Freedom Caucus) now in control of everything that lands on the House floor, such major bipartisan bills will be few and far between in the next two years. Which means that Biden’s focus will turn to what the White House is calling “implementation”: traveling the country ensuring that bridges are being built and semiconductor chips are being produced, and making sure Americans know that he takes credit for them.
Partly, then, this is just code for one big victory lap. As we await Biden’s formal re-election announcement, expect these “implementation” trips to form the scaffolding of his 2024 bid, as he drops into swing states and attempts to drive home a contrast between him and his predecessor, who talked about striking many of the same bipartisan deals but never sealed them.
OUT: Scant congressional oversight.
IN: A blizzard of investigations.
Of course, the other big change on Capitol Hill, now that the House has flipped from Democratic to Republican hands, is that legislating will be partly drowned out by the noise of increasing investigations. As tends to happen when the White House and Congress are being led by the same party, congressional oversight of the president practically ground to a halt in the last two years. Both investigative select committees set up by the House (on January 6th and Covid) were probing the former president, not the sitting one.
Now, Biden’s inquisitors will be making up for lost time, as he enters Year 3 of his administration facing two new anvils around his neck: not only Republican committee chairs but also a Justice Department special counsel. With the revelation that he had Obama-era classified documents in his garage and D.C. private office, Biden has handed Republicans a juicy investigative target at precisely the wrong time. While probes into Hunter Biden may not have amounted to much, a Quinnipiac poll found that 71% of Americans view Biden’s handling of the documents as “somewhat” or “very serious.”
According to the New York Times, the White House waited so long to disclose the discovery of the documents because they had hoped to “convince the Justice Department that the matter was little more than a minor, good-faith mistake.” With a special counsel now empowered to dig into the matter, that was plainly a miscalculation.
Biden said on Thursday that he has “no regrets” about his handling of the matter. “There’s no there there,” he insisted.
OUT: Guarding against inflation.
IN: Guarding against a recession.
The economic ghost of Biden’s opening years appears to be easing: inflation saw a month-over-month decrease in December for the first time in almost three years. Wholesale prices also recorded their largest decline since April 2020, the outset of the coronavirus pandemic.
In its place, though, a new financial specter has arisen: the possibility that the U.S. will enter into a recession, which would be politically devastating for Biden heading into 2024. Just this week, some of America’s largest companies — Microsoft, Amazon, Google — have announced layoffs.
Still, the unemployment rate has remained low, raising the possibility that the Federal Reserve may still be able to pull off a “soft landing”: raising interest rates enough to cool inflation but not so much that the country is plunged into recession. Whether the Fed is able to strike that balance will be hugely decisive for how Biden’s next two years play out.
OUT: Keeping the Ukraine war limited.
IN: Supporting a broader war effort.
Another anniversary is approaching: the one-year mark of Russia’s war on Ukraine is about a month away, on February 24. As that date creeps closer, the U.S. is beginning to expand its aid for Ukraine, taking moves it resisted in the early stages of the war for fear of provoking Moscow.
The U.S. has begun sending Patriot missile systems to Ukraine and is even bringing Ukrainian troops here for training on how to use, something Kyiv has been requesting for months. The Biden administration is also reportedly warming to the idea of providing Kyiv with the weapons to target Russian-held Crimea, an escalatory step that had been shot down up to this point.
Biden will also have the continued task of managing the Western alliance behind Ukraine. Fractures are beginning to emerge: the U.S. and Germany have spent this week engaged in a standoff over sending tanks. As Ukraine gears up for a major counteroffensive, the war is expected to grind on for at least several more months, raising questions about whether the West has the capabilities in place to back Kyiv for the long haul.
According to the Washington Post, Biden’s aides believes the $45 billion in Ukraine aid passed last month will “last through at least through July or August.” At that point, it is unclear how much assistance will be able to pass through the Republican-led House, whether McCarthy has promised he will not approve another “blank check” for Kyiv.
OUT: Fights over Covid policy.
IN: Fights over fiscal policy.
It’s almost hard to remember now, but when Biden was sworn in two years ago, it was in front of a National Mall lined with tiny flags instead of cheering supporters. Vaccines had yet to become widely available, and about 3,000 people a day were dying from Covid. Now that number is around 500, an almost breathtaking turnaround in two years’ time.
More than 600 million vaccine doses have been administered since then, and Covid has largely faded from the political landscape, although a culture-war candidacy by Ron DeSantis in 2024 could bring pandemic-era fights back to the fore.
The early days of Covid also brought a temporary truce on fiscal policy, as Democrats and Republicans came together to pass several major stimulus packages to infuse cash into the economy. That detente is over now, of course, and the next two years will likely bring scorching fiscal fights, beginning with the debt ceiling showdown in the coming months.
OUT: Avoiding Trump.
IN: Trump’s omnipresence.
Remember the days of Biden being able to ignore his predecessor, referring to him only as “the former guy”? Those days are over. Except for a spell of campaigning in 2022 — although, even then, without his name on the ballot, it wasn’t clear his heart was really in it — Donald Trump has largely spent Biden’s presidency so far cloistered at Mar-a-Lago and on Truth Social.
Now an announced candidate for president once again, Trump’s familiar omnipresence is likely to return in the coming months. The first rally of his new campaign will take place next weekend in South Carolina; per NBC, he is also making preparations to return to Twitter, where his posts will generate much more attentions in the media.
In some ways, Biden will view Trump’s return to the fore as a political favor, just as the White House believes some of the GOP congressional investigations — or really anything that gives right-wing Republicans a spotlight — will redound to their benefit. But operating in a Trump-dominated political sphere can be difficult, as he tends to overshadow everything in his wake.
Or at least that has been true up until now: will the new Trump be a diminished presence? The 2024 cage match awaits.
A few more Biden questions...
- When will he announce for re-election? Per CNN, expect it to come some time after his State of the Union address on February 7.
- Will we see any Cabinet turnover? Biden has not had a single Cabinet secretary depart in the past two years, a feat only achieved by Barack Obama in the past 40 years.
- Another SCOTUS appointment? Sonia Sotomayor is 68 years old and Democrats are only guaranteed control of the Senate for two more years.
- Will he sit down with the special counsel? Trump never sat for an interview with Bob Mueller after months of hemming and hawing. Will Biden answer questions from Robert Hur?
- What bipartisan legislation will be achieved? Targeting Big Tech firms and China — or, with TikTok, both at the same time — are some possible areas of cooperation. Biden and McCarthy are expected to meet soon to discuss others.
- How will Biden’s age impact the next two years? Biden is the first 80-year-old president in American history.
More news you should know.
➞ The Supreme Court released a 20-page report on Thursday offering an update on its its investigation into last year’s leak of a draft of the majority opinion overturning Roe v. Wade. After 126 interviews with 97 employees, the court’s investigative team “has to date been unable to identify a person responsible by a preponderance of the evidence,” the report said. Read the report
➞ Former UN ambassador Nikki Haley confirmed in a Fox News interview that she is strongly considering a 2024 presidential run. “We are still working through things and we’ll figure it out,” the former South Carolina governor said. “I’ve never lost a race... I’m not going to lose now.” Watch the interview
Plus, more recommended reads:
- “‘Ground zero of the Republican Civil War’: The Indiana Senate race could get ugly, quickly” Politico
- “2024 Senate map is a GOP dream. But candidate strength is unsettled.” WaPo
- “Is the Joke on Joe Biden?” WSJ
What your leaders are doing today.
President Biden will host an event with mayors attending the Conference of Mayors Winter Meeting and deliver remarks on bipartisan legislation he has signed into law and the work ahead implementing them on the local level. Watch his remarks at 2 p.m. ET
Biden will also receive his daily intelligence briefing in the morning and travel to his Rehoboth Beach, Delaware vacation home in the evening. He’ll spend the weekend there.
Vice President Harris is in Los Angeles. She’ll visit Tujunga Spreading Grounds, a facility that collects rainwater, and receive a briefing on drought and flood resilience.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre will hold her daily press briefing. Watch at 1 p.m. ET
The House and Senate are on recess until next week, but they will both briefly convene today for pro forma sessions. This technically fulfills their constitutional obligation of meeting every three days, even though few members attend such sessions and no legislative business is conducted. Watch the House pro forma at 12 p.m. ET ... Watch the Senate pro forma at 1 p.m. ET
The justices will hold their weekly conference, where they discuss the cases argued this week and vote on which cases to hear in the future. The conference takes place behind closed doors.
Before I go...
Speaking of Biden, here’s a fun story: The president called in an order to D.C. restaurant Ghostburger this week. Watch the stunned employee on the other end of the call below and read her backstory via the Washington Post.
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