It was a friendly crowd in a friendly place, a union hall in the blue north of Virginia. President Joe Biden took the microphone and strode across the stage, touting economic progress during his first two years in office and warning of “chaos and catastrophe” threatened by House Republicans.
“They campaigned on inflation” ahead of the 2022 midterm elections that returned disappointing results for Republicans, Biden told members of a steam mechanics union in Springfield. “They didn’t say that if they were elected, they planned to make it worse,” he added, drawing laughter from the audience.
It wasn’t a campaign event, or an announcement that he was running for a second term as president, but it might as well have been. Biden, who has repeatedly said he “plans” to run for re-election but has yet to make a formal statement, has nonetheless gone into campaign mode, highlighting his accomplishments while criticizing Republicans as dangerous to the economy and to citizens. American workers.
It was helped by some unexpectedly good news on Thursday morning: the report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis that the economy grew 2.9% in the fourth quarter of 2022. With major banks and economists forecasting a recession, that was a useful applause line for the president, who is dealing with a public unhappy with inflation.
“They have been telling me since I was elected that we are going into a recession,” Biden said, revealing some frustration with a poor economy narrative despite overall growth and good jobs numbers. “Turns out, thank goodness, they were wrong.”
The president highlighted some other encouraging numbers, including the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years, a record number of new jobs created during a president’s first two years in office, and the best two years on record for small business start-ups.
Biden also announced that he was creating an “Invest in America” cabinet, made up of Secretaries of Commerce, Labor, Transportation, Treasury, Energy, and Health and Human Services, as well as EPA Administrator and Senior Advisers Mitch Landrieu and John Podesta. The group will be charged with ensuring that the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act and the Inflation Reduction Act are effectively implemented, the White House said.
“It’s one thing that we pass everything,” Biden said of the infrastructure bill and the Inflation Reduction Act, a sweeping domestic spending bill that includes landmark funds to address climate change. “Now we have to make sure we do it every day.”
But with no clear opponent in the general election, Biden has only issued broad criticism of the GOP, especially House Republicans, who have discussed politically explosive ideas like cutting Social Security and Medicare, dismantling the IRS and replacing income taxes. income with a national sales tax of 30%.
Biden made a passing reference to the “last man” to serve, former President Donald Trump, saying that the added debt during the Trump years represented a quarter of the current debt accumulated over 200 years. Trump is the only announced Republican candidate for president in 2024, and several others, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence and Trump administration Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, are openly flirting with a run.
Political cartoons about Joe Biden
Biden directed his anger most broadly at Republicans in the House who are threatening to delay a vote to raise the debt ceiling unless they get significant unspecified spending cuts in return. The debt ceiling, which was raised several times during the Trump years by bipartisan votes, allows the United States to borrow to pay bills it has already incurred.
“If Republicans want to work together on real solutions…I’m ready,” Biden said, his voice rising in defiance as he contemplated an unprecedented tax default by the US government.
“But I will not let anyone use the full faith and credit of the United States as a bargaining chip. In the United States of America, we pay our debts,” Biden added.
On paper, Biden as a re-election candidate has bad news that may not be so bad for him, as well as good news that the voting public might still see as bad.
The president’s approval ratings have improved substantially since last July, when on average his 37.5% approval rating was nearly 20 percentage points lower than your disapproval rating. But they’re still uncomfortably low at an average of 42%, a number that’s dropped slightly since Biden revealed classified documents were found in his home and office at the University of Pennsylvania Biden Penn Center.
In previous election cycles, that would be a political death sentence for an incumbent, as approval ratings are often interpreted as a referendum on the president.
But it may be different with Biden, experts say. If the race comes down to a rematch between Biden and Trump, it will be more of a “choice” election than a referendum on Biden, they note. And Trump, with myriad legal problems of his own, provides Biden with easy lines of attack.
Also, time may help the president, says Mark Mellman, a veteran Democratic consultant. “Ronald Reagan’s numbers were similar to Joe Biden’s today” at this point in the former president’s first term, Mellman notes. “He won in a landslide. I’m not saying Joe Biden is going to win in a landslide, but he suggests you can’t really project (the 2024 result) directly from the numbers two years from now.”
While Biden’s approval rating is low, “it’s too early to make any predictions for the 2024 election,” says Tim Malloy, director of the Quinnipiac poll, which drew Biden’s approval rating in the 30s last month. “A lot will depend on where the economy is in the fall of 2024, what happens with the classified documents issue, who the Republican nominee is,” Malloy says.
On the economy, Biden has a more complicated messaging mission, says former White House speechwriter Ken Baer, founder and CEO of Crosscut Strategies.
“There’s always this big disconnect between economic data and economic sentiment, and how people perceive the economy,” says Baer, who was associate director for communications at the Office of Management and Budget during the Barack Obama administration.
Former President George HW Bush, for example, was defeated for re-election after Democrat Bill Clinton criticized him over the economy, even though the economy was already on the mend when the election came around. And Biden, while he touts the economic progress made during his first two years, must be mindful of American discontent with inflation and gas prices, and concerns about a looming recession.
“It’s probably one of the thorniest types of communication issues any leader has, because you don’t want to appear deaf to people’s perceived pain,” Baer says. But you don’t want to keep talking (of the economy) down.”
For Biden, who is preparing for his State of the Union address on February 7, as well as the long-awaited announcement of his candidacy, the only option is to wait. And she hopes for the best.