In front of 5,300 invited guests, Biden saluted the Americans who paved the way for what he called a “hard-fought victory generations in the making”: A new law mandating federal recognition of same-sex marriage and protecting interracial nuptials.
“It’s been a long road,” Biden said, striking a celebratory tone before signing the legislation into law on Tuesday. “But we got it done.”
Biden can afford to celebrate as the year inches to a close. He and congressional Democrats are ending 2022 with a pile of late-year successes.
On the political front, Democrats defied history and the pundits in the midterm elections by hanging onto their narrow majority in the Senate and holding losses in the House to a minimum. The Democrats’ solid showing in what was supposed to be a GOP bloodbath comes as Biden himself is deciding whether to run for a second term.
The president’s approval rating has ticked up slightly in the closing weeks of 2022. Forty-five percent of voters in a new USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll said they approve of Biden’s performance, a two-point increase since October. Even more encouraging for Democrats, Biden leads former President Donald Trump by seven points in a hypothetical rematch in 2024, the poll showed.
In other news, a government report released this week showed inflation slowing in November for the fifth month in a row even though prices remain elevated from a year ago. Gas prices are falling, down sharply from last summer’s record highs, and are lower than they were this time last year.
WNBA star Brittney Griner is home from a Russian prison camp after the Biden administration negotiated a prisoner swap. A freight rail strike has been averted heading into the holiday season after Congress intervened at Biden’s request.
And a state dinner earlier this month for French President Emmanuel Macron – the first of Biden’s presidency – solidified the return of the White House social season after a prolonged pause triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The president is exiting the year with significant political winds and momentum, both in terms of his legislative record and really defying expectations,” said Ben LaBolt, a longtime Democratic strategist. “He exits the year with some extra spring in his step.”
Republicans are begrudgingly acknowledging Biden’s triumphs and re-examining their party’s political miscalculations.
“Conservatives’ hostility to the Biden administration on our terms tends to blind us to just how effective Biden has been on his terms,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich lamented in a recent blog post.
“We dislike Biden so much, we pettily focus on his speaking difficulties, sometimes strange behavior, clear lapses of memory, and other personal flaws,” Gingrich wrote. “Our aversion to him and his policies makes us underestimate him and the Democrats.”
Biden’s aides and other Democratic strategists credit his political skills and legislative acumen –sharpened during his nearly 40 years as a U.S. senator from Delaware – with helping him navigate the presidency during his first two years in office despite Democrats holding the narrowest of majorities in the House and the Senate.
In short, they say, he knows how to get things done.
“Experience is definitely an asset for him. Particularly legislative experience,” said a Biden adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “He brings the most of that to the presidency of anyone who’s ever been in the office.”
Most fundamentally, the adviser said, “he has kept his promises. And he’s done that by keeping his eye on the ball and sticking to plan, sticking to his principles, and continuing to work hard despite the narrowest majorities anyone has ever had.”
One of the most important keys to his success: He isn’t easily distracted by his critics, the adviser said.
“He sticks by his guns,” the adviser said. “He stays focused on his goals and does not get deterred by people saying your strategy is wrong or message is wrong.”
White House spokesman Andrew Bates noted that Biden is the only president in nearly a century not to lose a single incumbent senator in the midterm elections.
“That’s because his record of fighting for middle class families, mainstream values and the rule of law connects with the American people,” Bates said.
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‘A historically divided time’
LaBolt, who has worked for both Biden’s and former President Barack Obama’s administrations, predicted that Biden’s poll numbers will continue to rise and that he will be in a solid position to face potential competitors if he chooses to run for a second term.
“We live in a historically divided time,” LaBolt said. “But there are still persuadable voters out there, and that’s ultimately what decides elections.”
Ron Bonjean, a GOP strategist with close ties to Republicans on Capitol Hill, believes a combination of factors has accounted for Biden’s successes.
In the midterms, Trump handpicked lackluster congressional candidates and pushed a message that failed to resonate with voters, giving Democrats an opening and keeping the GOP from gaining a larger majority, he said.
In terms of legislation, Democrats have held majorities – albeit narrow ones – in the House and the Senate for the first two years of Biden’s presidency, “so they should be able to get some things done,” Bonjean said. “And even with tight majorities, they have found a way to do it.”
“President Biden has had to deal with lots of squeaky wheels in the last couple of years, and the ability to do that and to actually accomplish what they set out to do is notable,” Bonjean said. “Those aren’t easy tasks to accomplish.”
Still, Bonjean said, Biden’s and the Democrats’ legislative accomplishments are disconnected from the things that Americans care about most. Their ability to communicate those successes to Americans fell short largely because of the backdrop of crime and inflation, he said.
“The issues that Democrats were successful on, or the legislation Democrats are successful at pushing through, did not relate to kitchen table issues back home for Americans,” Bonjean said.
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‘Scene setter’ for 2024 presidential election
To be sure, Biden’s triumphs haven’t come without significant pushback.
A new law that Biden championed to reduce inflation was soundly criticized by Republicans who argued it would do nothing to lower consumer prices and was just a Democratic ploy to push through climate change initiatives favored by the party’s left wing.
Conservatives slammed the prisoner swap because it freed Griner, a celebrity basketball player, from a Russian prison but left behind Paul Whelan, a former Marine who has been imprisoned in Russia for four years. The Biden administration says the Russians did not let the U.S. decide . The choice was Griner – or no one.
Even the Democrats’ unexpectedly strong showing in the November midterms was tempered by a defection within their ranks. Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema announced last week that she has left the Democratic Party and registered as an independent, erasing the Democrats’ one-seat pickup in the midterms but still leaving them with a narrow majority.
Sinema’s party switch is unlikely to have much impact on the Senate, but the Republican takeover of the House will complicate Biden’s efforts to push legislation through Congress.
Bonjean doesn’t foresee any significant bills making it to Biden’s desk over the next two years, other than measures to fund the government or respond to national emergencies such as hurricanes and wildfires.
“Issues may pass the House but land with a thud in the Senate,” he said. “Issues that Democrats push in the Senate are going nowhere in the House. Congress is really going to be a megaphone for both sides to use on how they would lead the country. It’s a scene setter for the (next) presidential election, really.”
For now, though, Biden is on a roll as he weighs the possibility of another presidential run.
“He exits the year with some extra spring in his step,” LaBolt said.
Michael Collins covers the White House. Follow him on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS.
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