Tom with the BTRTN March 2021 Month in Review.
New presidents often have to manage the conflict between getting their “first 100 day” agendas accomplished versus dealing with the inevitable crisis du jour that competes for attention. JFK’s New Frontier ran headlong into the Bay of Pigs just months into his presidency. Bill Clinton raised the issue of lifting the ban on gays in the military in a press conference just days after the inauguration, not anticipating how totally the ensuing controversy would engulf his early presidency. Barack Obama focused his post-election political capital on his eponymous health care legislation, Obamacare, much to chief of staff Rahm Emanuel’s chagrin; he wanted Obama instead to push on jobs, jobs, jobs with the country still in the throes of the Great Recession.
Joe Biden faces something a bit different. His 100-day agenda – principally to tame COVID
and restore the economy -- is in itself
a response to a ongoing mega-crisis. Not
since FDR has a new president truly faced such a trauma-stricken nation. But in March, a whole new set of crises emerged that threatened to divert Biden from his
Biden has resolutely – in a shockingly disciplined way –
focused first on his American Rescue Plan, which was passed in mid-month, and
now has moved on to his infrastructure package (which is actually about far
more than fixing highways and bridges).
But he is being pulled massively -- from all sides – due to eruptions on
immigration (driven by a vast migrant influx at the Mexican border), gun
control (two mass killings within a single week) and voting rights (a wildly
restrictive law passed in Georgia). And
as the month ended, America was holding its breath, watching the Derek
Chauvin/George Floyd murder trial unfold, sickened by both the weight of the testimony
and the prospect of an acquittal.
Biden is making solid progress on his COVID plan, to be sure. With 17% of the country fully vaccinated at
month’s end, it is clear that Biden’s team has brought new thinking, federal muscle
and creativity to the distribution problems, and dosages are getting into American
arms at a dramatically improved rate. He
has well exceeded his initial goal of 100 million doses administered in his
first 100 days. That goal was critiqued
as being too mild, not far different from the daily rate he inherited, but he
is not only going to exceed it, he will shatter it. The US is at 156 million doses administered
after just 72 days of the Biden presidency, and will easily double his initial
goal and achieve over 200 million doses in those hundred days.
The mitigation side, however, is proving to be the far
bigger problem. While new COVID cases
dropped from 2.1 million in February to 1.6 million in March, by month’s end
the weekly numbers were growing again at a frightening clip (+13% for the last
week), and the latest daily national new case totals were the highest, at near 70,000, since early
February. More to the point, much of
America (and not just red states) were ignoring Biden’s and the CDC’s pleas
for discipline amid the onset of a potential “fourth surge.” Sure, deep red Texas and Mississippi shed
their masks and flung open their doors.
But New York, just a year removed from the worst of COVID devastation,
was also easing restrictions rapidly, even as they led the country in new cases
per capita throughout most of March. Anthony
Fauci has stated that “coronavirus restrictions should not be lifted until the
daily toll of U.S. cases falls below 10,000 cases.” The U.S. is at roughly six times that level right now – and growing, and the Biden Administration is at the mercy of foolish
governors, both red and blue, in getting it under control.
Biden’s other COVID focus has been on the economy, and he
has been extremely successful with his legislative program, featuring the American
Rescue Plan, showing off a dexterity that one might have not assumed was in his
toolkit. He affably courted the GOP in
the hopes of a bipartisan bill, but when the GOP moderates put forth their meager
best effort, resulting in a whopping $1.3 trillion gap between the parties (his
$1.9 trillion versus the GOP’s $600 million), he politely moved on. He courted Joe Manchin enough to ensure the
Democrats had 51 votes to pass the bill via reconciliation, and claimed the
mantle of bipartisanship based on public opinion, which indicated that the
majority of Republicans indeed supported his American Rescue Plan. The bottom line: while Biden strongly
supported “unity” in his inaugural address, he also realized he will be judged by
Americans of all political stripes more for what he did and whether it worked than
how he did it. And he dared the GOP to
oppose sending $1,400 checks to those in need – and they did.
Biden has been rewarded for his overall efforts to battle
the pandemic, scoring a 60% approval rating on his handling of COVID, well
above that of Trump, who languished in the low 40% range. Clearly Biden is winning that middle 20% of
the nation that is less partisan – indeed, less interested in politics in
general – and more interested in outcomes.
And, rather shockingly, at Biden’s first press conference in late March,
there was not a single question about COVID.
Perhaps that was a testament to his note-perfect handling
of the crisis, but more likely it had to do with the crush of events of a kind
that a president can neither foretell nor prevent. Biden certainly wished to move on to his next
priority -- the infrastructure bill – but the headlines would not cooperate.
The first issue to emerge was a growing border problem. The Biden team has been doing its best to
avoid labeling it a “crisis,” which would feed into the Trump/FOX/Newsmax
frenzy that Biden has simply knocked down the Wall and opened up the gates,
with chaos ensuing. The New Yorker’s Jonathan Blitzer rather elegantly pointed out that,
with respect to this new migrant influx, “the word ‘crisis’ is both an overstatement
and an understatement.” On the one hand,
he said, such border surges are hardly new; there were more asylum seekers at
the border one year ago under Trump. And
yet, the sheer complexity of the issue, which has its root cause in the
desperation families feel in Honduras and Guatemala – a true crisis. This means that there are no easy answers, and
no magic bullet can stop the flow. And
Biden can rightly complain that Trump stripped away – by design – the
infrastructure to handle such influxes humanely.
While the border situation flared, a deranged man killed
eight people in a spree that covered three separate Atlanta spas. The mass killing tragedy echoed so many in
recent years – Orlando, Las Vegas, El Paso, Parkland, Pittsburgh and more. Democrats and Republicans replayed, on cue,
the outrage that predictably follows these shootings; gun control and 2nd
Amendment playbooks were hauled out, fingers were pointed, and nothing was done. The only productive aspect of the
conversation was the focus on racism against Asian-Americans, who comprised six
of the eight Atlanta victims. Violence
against Asian-Americans has surged with COVID-19, with Trump’s “China Flu”
branding having had that predictable effect.
And less than a week after the Atlanta killings came another mass
shooting, in Boulder, Colorado, as a man entered a King Soopers with an AR-15
and mowed down 10 defenseless victims, including an officer on the scene,
before being subdued.
In the wake of these new crises, as Biden announced his
infrastructure plan, activists cried out for immediate action on gun control,
immigration and voting rights. But Biden
well knows that the reconciliation process can only do so much – it can only be
applied to legislation involving government revenues, expenditures and raising
the debt ceiling. When it comes to
immigration reform, gun control and voting rights (not to mention climate
change and a raft of other hot-button issues) 60 votes are required in the
Senate. And thus came the call, swiftly
and resoundingly, to end the filibuster and let the majority rule.
Biden’s response to all this was surprisingly
resolute. Essentially, while nodding in
agreement that vast reforms were needed in all of these areas, he remained
focused on the infrastructure bill and stated quite clearly that timing was the
essence of elective politics. And, at
this point, the time was not ripe for any of those reforms, including ditching
the filibuster. With respect to the
latter, there are practical realities. For
one thing, Democrats Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona made it clear they opposed
to filibuster reform, and consequently, Schumer does not have the votes to nuke
the filibuster even if he so desired.
And for another, one can hardly fail to see the benefits of the
filibuster for a future minority Democratic Party, holding at bay GOP efforts
to outlaw abortion, strip away climate change controls, close the borders
completely, and the like.
One might argue that one solid national voting rights law
could ensure Democratic control “forever,” the GOP assigned to the role of a
permanent minority with the unleashing of restrictions that exist in so many
states today that suppress potential Democratic voters. But the two-party system has proven durable
as the parties evolve. One only has to
note the GOP has started to improve its standing among the Latino population,
particularly among Cuban-Americans, to see this in action.
And so Biden answered the challenge posed by the new crises
by holding firm to his agenda and moving on to infrastructure, to what he calls
the American Jobs Plan. And it is a
doozy of a bill, as stated, well beyond highways and bridges -- although there is
a hundred billion in it for them, too. There
is a hundred billion for broadband expansion, another hundred billion for new
schools, another hundred billion for power lines and clean energy, and almost
two hundred billion to accelerate the electric car market. The list goes on, retrofitting lead pipes for
clean water and buildings to be more energy efficient; billions more for the
elderly, the disabled, for manufacturing and job retraining. All in all, a total of $2 trillion in
stimulus, but this bill, unlike the American Rescue Plan, which was deficit
funded, will be paid for in tax hikes to corporations and wealthy citizens,
anyone who makes more than $400,000 in a year.
While Manchin has stated that he’s opposed to passing more
legislation via reconciliation, it’s easy to envision many of the billions
flowing to West Virginia schools, highways, bridges and industry, with plenty
of ribbon-cutting ceremonies with Manchin holding the big scissors, all paid
for by Big Business and elites on the coasts.
There will be lots of twists and turns in getting this one done, but
Biden has already demonstrated a mastery of the art, honed in 36 years of
dealing in the Senate.
Or he may be dealing with the aftershocks of the Chauvin
trial. It is hard to imagine a more open
and shut case of murder, a clearer case of needlessly taking a man’s life,
captured so painfully on a cell phone on the scene that has now been seen by
tens of millions. Chauvin’s lawyers are
surely putting George Floyd on trial, straining for any semblance of exculpatory
evidence, and attempting to divert the jurors from the horror of the reality of
those nine long minutes. Acquittals are
the order of the day in many prior cases of police brutality, and we shudder at
the potential of such a verdict, and of what America might look like in the
minutes, hours, days, weeks and months that would follow. George Floyd’s death raised a firestorm in
this country, a long overdue reckoning with racial injustice. If those jurors don’t return a guilty verdict,
Joe Biden would find himself with a crisis to manage that could not await
Trumpland has been muffled as the business of Biden
dominates the airwaves and the blogosphere, but the remnants remain utterly
astonishing. This month’s madness entry
comes from the legal defense team of Trump lawyer Sidney Powell, who was sued
by Dominion Voting Systems for defamation in stating that their voting machines
were rigged to switch millions of Trump votes to Biden. This was proven false on the merits, and
Powell’s defense team instead offered this juicy defense: that “reasonable people would not accept [Powell’s] statements as
BIDEN APPROVAL RATING
Joe Biden’s approval rating remained in the mid-50’s in
March, though his disapproval rating continued a modest rise (and thus his net positive
shrank to +14).
BIDEN APPROVAL RATING
HOW BIDEN IS HANDLING COVID-19
The same dynamic was at work
with the public view of how Biden is handling COVID-19. But his approval rating on this measure is stronger than his overall approval rating, and thus hit net positive is much higher.
BIDEN HANDLING OF COVID-19
The “Bidenometer” began to reflect the early days’ impact
of the Biden Administration, moving from the baseline zero to +4. An uptick in consumer confidence and in the
Dow-Jones drove the increase, although those were partially offset by rising
gasoline prices. The +4 measure means
that on average, our five economic measures have improved by 4% since Biden’s
As a reminder, this measure is designed to provide an
objective answer to the legendary economically-driven question at the heart of
the 1980 Reagan campaign: “Are you
better off than you were four years ago?”
We reset the Bidenometer at this Inaugural to zero, so that we better
demonstrate whether the economy performs better (a positive number) or worse (a
negative number) under Biden than what he inherited from the Trump
This exclusive BTRTN measure is comprised of five
indicative data points: the unemployment
rate, Consumer Confidence, the price of gasoline, the Dow-Jones Industrial
Average and the U.S. GDP. The measure is
calculated by averaging the percentage change in each measure from the
inaugural to the present time.
Using January 20, 2021 as a baseline measure of zero, you
can see from the chart below that under Clinton the measure ended at +55. It declined from +55 to only +8 under Bush,
who presided over the Great Recession at the end of his term, then rose from +8
to +33 under Obama’s recovery. Under
Trump, it fell again, from +33 to 0, driven by the shock of COVID-19 and
Trump’s mismanagement of it. Now we will
see how it does under Biden.
(all as of last day of term, except GDP which is rolling last 12 months)
End Clinton 1/20/2001
End Bush 1/20/2009
End Obama 1/20/2017
End Trump 1/20/2021 (base= 0)
Biden February 2021
Biden March 2021
Price of Gas
GDP (last 12 months)
If you would like to be on the Born
To Run The Numbers email list notifying you of each new post, please write us
BTRTN calculates our
monthly approval ratings using an average of the four pollsters who conduct
daily or weekly approval rating polls: Gallup Rasmussen, Reuters/Ipsos and You
Gov/Economist. This provides consistent and accurate trending information and
does not muddy the waters by including infrequent pollsters. The outcome tends to mirror the RCP average
but, we believe, our method gives more precise trending.
the generic ballot (which is not polled in this post-election time period), we
take an average of the only two pollsters who conduct weekly generic ballot
and You Gov/Economist, again for trending consistency.
The Bidenometer aggregates a set of
economic indicators and compares the resulting index to that same set of
aggregated indicators at the time of the Biden Inaugural on January 20, 2021,
on an average percentage change basis. The basic idea is to demonstrate whether
the country is better off economically now versus when Trump took office. The indicators are the unemployment rate, the Dow-Jones Industrial
Average, the Consumer Confidence Index, the price of gasoline and the GDP.