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Wake Up To Politics - September 3, 2021

Wake Up To Politics: Biden’s August was tough. Septmeber could be worse.
Wake Up To Politics - September 3, 2021

Good morning! It’s Friday, September 3, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 431 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,159 days away.

Happy Friday! There will be no issue of Wake Up To Politics on Monday in observance of Labor Day. I hope you have a nice weekend, and I’ll see you back in your inbox on Tuesday!

But first, let’s take a look at the issues that will dominate Washington in the month ahead — and why they might bring even more bad news for President Biden.

Analysis: Biden had a grueling August. September might not be much better.

President Joe Biden is coming off perhaps the toughest month of his presidency: between the chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal and a resurgence in COVID-19, as well as historic flooding caused by a massive hurricane, it seemed like he faced crisis after crisis throughout August.

But Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) just served up a reminder that September may be just as hard. Manchin wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday calling for a “strategic pause” on Biden’s proposed $3.5 trillion spending package.

Democrats are hoping to pass the sweeping package through the reconciliation process, as part of a complex, two-step maneuver that will also involve the passage of the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan. Each bill is a top priority for a different flank of the Democratic Party: Progressives won’t back the bipartisan bill without the reconciliation bill, vice versa for moderates (including Manchin, who drafted the bipartisan bill).

But Manchin threw a wrench into those plans Thursday, writing in his op-ed: “I, for one, won’t support a $3.5 trillion bill, or anywhere near that level of additional spending, without greater clarity about why Congress chooses to ignore the serious effects inflation and debt have on existing government programs.”

“For the first time,” New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait wrote after Manchin threatened to derail Biden’s expansive domestic agenda, “Biden is staring at the plausible vision of a failed presidency.”

Joe Manchin is threatening to block President Biden’s sweeping economic agenda. (Photo by Third Way)

Manchin is providing a preview of what September will bring for Democratic lawmakers: an intense flurry of legislative horse-trading and headaches until either the party settles on a reconciliation package amenable to both sides or the efforts fall apart and fail.

“We are staring at one of the most consequential months on Capitol Hill in years,” Punchbowl News journalist Jake Sherman wrote on Twitter, noting not only House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s September 27 deadline for an infrastructure vote but at also the September 30 government funding deadline.

All government funding is set to expire on the last day of the month, meaning Democrats and Republicans must come together to pass a continuing resolution (CR), or risk a government shutdown.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is scheduled to hit the federal borrowing limit later this fall; Democrats are hoping to use the CR to also raise the debt ceiling, although Republicans say they won’t go along with that. So add the possibility of America defaulting on its debts to the issues facing Washington this month.

And those are not the only challenges coming Biden’s way in September. Another big storyline throughout the month will be the California recall election, which is taking place on September 14.

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) has been leading in the latest polls of the contest, but the fact that the election is happening at all — and that Biden might have to go to California to help campaign for Newsom — is embarrassing for Democrats. If the election turns out to be close, that embarrassment will only be compounded.

The Supreme Court also added another issue to Biden’s list on Wednesday, when the justices declined to block a restrictive Texas abortion law. Biden quickly promised a “whole-of-government effort” to respond, but it is unclear what he will be able to do.

Pelosi has announced that the House will vote on a reproductive rights bill later this month; however, like the struggle over voting rights, the vote will only serve as a reminder of the limits on Democratic power. Any House-passed abortion bill is dead on arrival in the Senate; any efforts to advance it will likely spur more complaints from progressives that Biden hasn’t pushed hard enough on such issues, and launch another round of Democratic hand-wringing about the filibuster.

If Gavin Newsom struggles in his upcoming recall election, it could prove embarrassing for his entire party. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

Not to mention, the crises of August are not going away any time soon. There may not be any U.S. troops left in Afghanistan, but headlines about the Americans and American allies who are still there — and about the Taliban regime that took power within days of Biden’s withdrawal — will continue to haunt the president throughout September.

The 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks will also ensure Afghanistan stays on the news, as will the debate over resettling refugees and an expected spate of forthcoming congressional hearings on the withdrawal.

Coronavirus, too, remains as much of a headache as ever, with cases continuing to rise and hospital beds filling up in some states.

Biden goes into September — and all of these difficult fights — in a significantly weakened position. In Afghanistan, Republicans have finally found a potent attack line for Biden, and his approval ratings are quickly dropping as a result. In a Washington Post/ABC poll released this morning, 44% of respondents said they approve of how Biden is handling his job, a six-point slide since June. Meanwhile, 51% said they disapprove of his job performance, a nine-point increase.

It was the first time Biden’s approval rating had been underwater in the Post/ABC poll since he took office. And other polls have shown a similar decline: according to FiveThirtyEight, the president’s average disapproval rating now outweighs his average approval rating, 48.5% to 45.8%.

Each of the recent polls tell the same story: The Afghanistan debacle, and the resurgence in Covid cases, materially dented Biden’s image among many Americans, especially independent voters. Just 26% of Americans said in the Post/ABC poll that they supported Biden’s handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal; his disapproval rating among independents jumped 14%, while his approval rating even dipped 8% among Democrats.

The August crises dented some of Biden’s credibility and punctured the image he campaigned on, as a steady leader and savvy bureaucratic operator.  

The long list of high-profile battles awaiting him in September offer plenty of opportunities to rescue that image — or to reinforce the negative perceptions built up in August. With some of his most prized legislative priorities on the line, and the 2022 midterms looming, the stakes could not be higher.


What’s happening in Washington today. (All times Eastern)
Executive Branch
President Joe Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing at 9 a.m. At 10 a.m., he will deliver remarks on the August jobs report. Biden will then depart for New Orleans, Louisiana, where he will arrive at 1:10 p.m.

At 2:15 p.m., Biden will receive a briefing from local leaders on the impacts of Hurricane Ida. At 3:35 p.m., he will tour a neighborhood in LaPlace, Louisiana, and deliver remarks on his administration’s response to Ida. At 4:55 p.m., he will inspect the damage from Ida by taking an aerial tour of hard-hit communities, including Laffite, Grand Isle, Port Fourchon, and Lafourche Parish. At 6 p.m., he will meet with local leaders from impacted communities in Galliano, Louisiana.

Biden will then depart New Orleans; he will arrive in Wilmington, Delaware, where he will spent the weekend, at 10:10 p.m.

White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre will hold a press gaggle aboard Air Force One during the flight to New Orleans.
Legislative Branch
The Senate will convene briefly at 1:30 p.m. for a pro forma session. The chamber will not fully convene again until September 13.  

The House will convene briefly at 12 p.m. for a pro forma session. The chamber will not fully convene again until September 20.  
Judicial Branch
The Supreme Court is on recess until October 4.

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