Saturday, April 3, 2021

BTRTN: The Biden Agenda Meets a Confluence of New Crises

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 intended course. 

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.

Georgia was also the scene of a different kind of terror, the kind of cold-blooded legislative malpractice that one can hardly believe can occur in our democracy.  Georgia’s GOP leadership had achieved near heroic status in their determined staredown of Trump just a few months before, opposing his attempt to subvert his 2020 election loss to Joe Biden by demanding they somehow “find” 12,000 Trump votes.  But having defended the integrity of their voting process, and proven its accuracy, they proceeded, nevertheless, to revise their voting laws based on the canon of Trump’s Big Lie.  The restrictions had one goal:  to disenfranchise Black voters who led the way not only to Biden’s November victory but the twin January Senate wins by Jon Ossoff and Rafael Warnock over two GOP incumbents, which threw the Senate into Democratic control.  One can draw a straight line from those victories to the bold legislative agenda that Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer have begun to implement through the magic of reconciliation – and continue to trace it to the act of the Georgia legislature.  The photo op of Governor Kemp signing the bill at his desk, surrounded by four other white men, beneath a photo of a Georgia plantation, said it all.

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 better “timing.”

 

MONTHLY MADNESS

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 fact.” 

 

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

 

2021

 

Jan

Feb

Mar

Approval

55

55

54

Disapproval

34

38

40

Net

+21

+17

+14

 

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

 

2021

 

Jan

Feb

Mar

Approve

64

61

60

Disapprove

29

32

34

Net

+34

+29

+26

 

BIDENOMETER

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 inaugural.

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 Administration.

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.

 

Presidents >>>

Clinton

Bush

Obama

Trump

Biden

Biden

Measures (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

Bidenometer (Now) >>>

55

8

33

0

0

4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  Unemployment Rate

4.2

7.8

4.7

6.7

6.3

6.0

  Consumer Confidence

129

38

114

89

91

110

  Price of Gas

1.27

1.84

2.44

2.46

2.72

2.94

  Dow Jones

10,588

8,281

19,732

31,188

30,932

32,982

  GDP (last 12 months)

3.9

2.2

1.4

-3.5

-3.5

-3.5

 

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Notes on methodology:

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.

For 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 polls, Reuters/Ipsos 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.

 

1 comment:

  1. What I've found interesting is the various dogs that didn't bark.

    Biden is enjoying a rare climate of support. Senate Democrats, from Sanders & Warren to Manchin & Sinema, are speaking for their policy positions without uttering personal attacks. House Democrats, who have often been an unruly bunch, have more often been celebrating wins and pitching next steps. The only prominent and repeated criticisms have been senior Democratic Representatives targeting Joe Manchin as a stumbling block on HR-1/S-1 and voting rights more broadly.

    3 months without a major pie fight between the Democratic left and right or incrementalists and "bold thinkers" -- seems unusual to me.

    ReplyDelete

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