Facing setbacks on a slew of administration policy promises, the White House told reporters Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday that President Joe Biden and his administration could "do hard things."
This resurrects a meme seldom heard since last summer when press secretary Jen Psaki used it to bat back questions amid plummeting job approval ratings and political crises at home and abroad.
"You do hard things in White Houses," Psaki told reporters Thursday, using a mantra popularized by self-help author Glennon Doyle, who promised to help Biden "go get the white women" during his presidential campaign. Psaki's response came not long after Biden conceded to reporters that his effort to rally Democratic senators around a push to change the filibuster rule had "missed this time."
In a heated address this week in Georgia, Biden said he supported changing the rule to allow voting rights legislation to pass without Republican support. Biden "knows that he was elected to do hard things and to advocate for hard things," Psaki told reporters en route to Atlanta.
But the president was dealt a blow Thursday when, shortly before he was set to arrive on Capitol Hill to push members of his party to back the proposal, key Democratic Senators reiterated their opposition to significant rule changes.
It was the second legislative collapse in less than a month for Biden, whose sweeping social spending bill, known as Build Back Better, had stalled weeks earlier amid a standoff with a key Democratic senator, and the third time in three days that Psaki insisted that Biden and voters were aligned on the president's mandate, with the latter electing Biden "to do hard things and to fight for hard things."
The last time the public heard this refrain was in August as Biden's approval numbers collapsed, his eviction moratorium expired, Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, and coronavirus cases surged despite the president's pledge for a "summer of freedom." In June and July, obstacles to Biden's voting rights pledge emerging in Congress earned the same treatment.
Approaching one year in office, the White House is spending more time defending Biden's record.
"What's your message to Democratic voters out there who said they voted for lawmakers to protect voting rights, turn the tide on global warming, lower prescription drug prices, reform police departments, raise the minimum wage, tackle student debt [but] have gotten none of it?" Psaki was asked during a press briefing on Friday.
"Our message to them is that we're still fighting for absolutely every component of what you just listed," Psaki replied. "And that right now, we're dealing with the realities of the fact that we have a very slim majority in the Senate and in the House. That makes things more challenging than they have been in the past."
The result has frustrated Biden's supporters. On Tuesday, angered by the lack of action on Democrats' federal election bills, activists boycotted the president's Georgia address, telling him to stay in Washington until he could deliver concrete progress.
Biden's pitch to satisfy ardent Democrats may have succeeded. Activists praised the president's remarks, even as some allies suggested that the invectives "went a little too far."
But it appeared unlikely to move the Democratic senators needed to push voting and election legislation to his desk.
After Biden sat down with Sens. Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema at the White House on Thursday, an official called the meeting a "candid and respectful exchange of views about voting rights." These descriptors were only marginally warmer than those employed by the administration after a heated blow-up with China in Alaska last year, which a statement by the secretary of state called "a very candid conversation on an expansive agenda."
Biden faces other difficulties, including record inflation, that could prove challenging for Democrats wading through an election year.
White House officials insisted last year that rising inflation was transitory, but higher prices for gas, groceries, and other daily essentials were still evident by the end of last year. In December, prices jumped 7% year over year, logging a four-decade high.
"Inflation is political cyanide for incumbents," economist Stephen Moore told the Washington Examiner.
"It's not spinnable," he said in an earlier interview. "People feel it. People see it."
A Quinnipiac University poll this week found that just 33% of respondents approved of Biden's job as president amid concerns over his handling of the economy and COVID-19.
For now, the White House appears confident that Democratic voters will continue to back them.
"I bet a lot of Americans who have conveyed their advocacy for a lot of those issues, issues the president cares deeply about, have also cared deeply about getting the pandemic under control, have also cared deeply about ensuring schools are open across the country, that small businesses are functioning, that our economy is up and running," Psaki insisted. "And those have been the top issues, basically in every piece of data we've seen across the board."
Original Location: Biden agenda tested after week of hard setbacks
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