WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden promised voters in 2020 that he knew how to get things done in Washington and could bring stability to the capital. It seemed to be a message out of step with the more combative era brought by Donald Trump.
But Biden prevailed, and as he seeks a second term, he is again trying to frame the race as a referendum on jurisdiction and governance, pointing to the bipartisan debt limit and budget legislation he signed on Saturday as another example of the success of his approach.
The deal the Democratic president brokered with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and other Republicans averted disaster from a US government default — and staved off another threat until after the 2024 election — while largely protecting the national agenda that formed the backbone of what he hopes will form his legacy.
His approach, favoring pragmatism over Trumpian pugilism, will be tested like never before in the upcoming campaign, with his approval ratings even among Democrats low despite the results he has achieved, largely due to concerns over his age as the oldest person ever. seek the presidency.
“The results speak for themselves,” said Jeff Zients, Biden’s 80-year-old chief of staff. “This level of support shows that we have obtained a bipartisan agreement which, above all, protects the priorities of the president. And now we have a lead on executing the president’s priorities.
Biden’s allies say his strategy reflects his broader vision for the presidency: ignore everyday chatter and focus on sustained impact.
“He was the epitome of Joe Biden,” said longtime Biden confidant and former Delaware senator Ted Kaufman. “He really understands the institutions, how they work, how they interact and what their limitations are. That’s the incredible advantage he has having 36 years in the Senate and eight years as vice president.”
That perceived advantage — longevity — is also perhaps Biden’s steepest hill as he seeks four more years.
Biden, aides said, devised a strategy soon after Republicans took over the House in November and stuck to it throughout the talks, despite misgivings from members of his own party. He pressed Republicans to set their budget priorities, then hammered them in public for unpopular proposed cuts once they did, to enter negotiations with the strongest possible hand.
“He believes in the institutions of American governance. He approached this with the goal of making the presidency and Congress work and the way they were designed to work,” said Mike Donilon, senior adviser to the president.
As the talks progressed, Biden stepped out of the limelight to allow Republican leaders to claim a victory — needed to sell it to their caucus — and quietly reassured Democrats that they would like the agreement as they learn of it.
The result is a deal that White House aides say exceeded their projections of what a budget deal would look like with Republicans in charge of the House. It essentially freezes spending for next year, rather than the deep cuts proposed by the GOP, and protects Biden’s infrastructure and climate laws and Social Security and Medicare spending.
From the Biden team’s perspective, it’s as much a better outcome than the debt limit showdown of 2011, when Biden was a negotiator for then-President Barack Obama and House Republicans forced them to agree to deeper budget cuts that they say have hampered the country’s recovery. of the Great Recession.
Biden has consistently faced criticism from some in his own party for agreeing to tougher work requirements for some federal food aid recipients and accelerating environmental reviews of infrastructure projects.
But the White House sees an upside: The authorization changes will speed implementation of Biden’s infrastructure and climate laws, and Biden aides point out that projections from the Congressional Budget Office show that exclusions from Work requirements for veterans, homeless people and those leaving foster care will actually increase the number of people eligible for federal food assistance.
“While the rest of us sweat cycles of micro-news and who’s up and who’s down on Twitter, the president is playing the long game,” said Obama spokesman and Democratic strategist Eric Schultz.
“He ran for president pledging to restore Washington to functionality after his predecessor, and it’s hard to argue with his record,” Schultz added. “He has proven that he can win important Democratic victories while working in good faith with the other side.”
Biden drew a red line in negotiations that the debt ceiling was to be extended until after the 2024 presidential election, worried both in substance and style about the possibility of another showdown in a even more stormy political environment.
His sentiment may be right, but voters are increasingly concerned about his age and record, a message continually reinforced by future Republican challengers and the conservative media ecosystem.
“Biden has amassed a series of impressive accomplishments on a bipartisan basis and demonstrated that he can do it without being the center of attention,” said presidential historian Lindsay Chervinsky. “That’s what American voters said they wanted at the time. But 2024 will have a completely different context.
Biden, she said, should argue that the stability he has brought is under threat from his opponents and hope that voters’ memories are long enough.
White House aides say the deal gives them ‘wiggle room’ until the 2024 election to focus on getting people to feel the impacts of the legislation Biden has signed into law, as well as to begin to set their priorities for what he would do with another term and more Democrats in Congress.
Biden himself on Friday pointed to the contrast with the race-fighting nature of Republicans and his grown-up posture in the room. He called on both sides to ‘join forces as Americans to stop yelling, bring the temperature down,’ even as he highlighted GOP opposition to his efforts to raise personal and corporate taxes wealthy and cut tax breaks.
“Republicans have defended each of these special interest loopholes,” Biden said, testing a campaign line he is expected to focus on in the coming months. ” Each. But I will come back. And with your help, I will win.”
Despite Biden’s protests and his goal of offloading himself and future office holders from the potential for future “hostage takings,” Biden has still proven unable to break the debt ceiling cycle used as leverage. in the negotiations. Princeton University historian Julian Zelizer said it made the deal a “mixed bag”, warding off crisis now but which could come back to haunt him and subsequent presidents.
“The Republicans just started again. It happened when he was vice president, it happened when he was president, and it will happen again,” he said. “A lot of Republicans always wanted the tactic more than the outcome – he didn’t stop that.”
Zelizer acknowledged that Biden may not have other options — a proposal to use the 14th Amendment to pay bonds without Congressional approval was untested and had its own pitfalls.
“When you have a threat like that, you have to negotiate,” he acknowledged.
But for Biden’s team, it’s the results that matter.
“He had his eyes on the prize, which was, ‘How is this deal going to be done? And how do I do that to move this deal forward? Said Donilon. “We need to ensure that our politics come together in the times when they need to. And so I think it will actually be a reassuring moment for the country.”