WASHINGTON (AP) — On July 4, President Joe Biden gathered hundreds of people outside the White House for an event that would have been unthinkable for many Americans the year before. With the coronavirus in retreat, they ate hamburgers and watched fireworks on the National Mall.
Although the pandemic was not yet over, biden said, “we are closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus.” Across the country, indoor mask requirements were falling as the number of infections and deaths plummeted.
Within weeks, even some of the president’s allies privately admitted that the speech had been premature. Soon the administration would learn that the delta variant could be transmitted by people who had already been vaccinated. The masks were back on, then came the polarizing vaccination mandates. The even more contagious omicron variant would arrive months later, infecting millions and causing chaos during the holiday season.
“We expected to be free of the virus, and the virus had a lot more in store for us,” said Joshua Sharfstein, associate dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The number of people in the United States who have died from COVID-19 nearly doubled, from 605,000 to more than 1 millionDuring the past year.
That sunny speech a year ago marked a crossroads for Biden’s presidency. The pandemic seemed to be abating, the economy was booming, inflation was negligible, and public approval of his job performance was glowing.
As Biden approaches his second July 4th in the White House, his position couldn’t be more different. A series of miscalculations and unforeseen challenges have Biden struggling to keep his footing as he faces a potentially damaging verdict from voters in the upcoming midterm elections. Even problems that were not Biden’s fault have been fuel for Republican efforts to retake control of Congress.
The resurgence of the pandemic was quickly followed last summer by the debacle of the United States withdrawal from Afghanistanwhen the The Taliban took control of the country faster than the administration expected when the US-backed regime collapsed. Then negotiations over Biden’s broader domestic agenda stalled. only to completely collapse in december.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine at the end of February caused a global increase in gas pricesexacerbating inflation that reached a maximum of 40 years. Another blow came last month, when the Supreme Court annulled the constitutional right to abortion under Roe v. Wade and restricted the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
Suddenly a reactive president, Biden has been left trying to regain the initiative at every turn, often with mixed results. The coronavirus is less of a threat than before and infections are much less likely to cause death, but Congress refuses to supply more money to deal with the pandemic.
The signed new gun restrictions into law after the massacres in New York and Texas, and is leading a reinvestment in European security as the war in Ukraine enters its fifth month. But he has limited tools at his disposal to deal with other challenges, such as rising costs Y eroding access to abortion.
“People are in a bad mood,” said Lindsay Chervinsky, a presidential historian.
the last poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows his approval rating remains at 39%, the lowest since he took office and a sharp drop from 59% a year ago. Only 14% of Americans believe the country is headed in the right direction, compared to 44%.
Douglas Brinkley, another historian, said Biden suffered a case of presidential hubris after a wildly successful run in his first five months in office, which included a trip abroad to meet with allies eager to welcome a friendly face to the international scene. He compared Biden’s July 4 speech last year to President George W. Bush’s infamous speech. “Mission accomplished” time during the second Iraq war.
“He was trying to deliver good news, but it didn’t work out for him,” Brinkley said. “Suddenly, Biden lost a lot of goodwill.”
White House officials reject the comparison, noting that Biden warned of the “powerful” delta variant in his 2021 speech. Chris Meagher, a spokesman, said deaths from the virus are now at a record low, reducing disruptions in workplaces and classrooms.
“Fighting inflation and lowering prices is the president’s number one economic priority, and he is focused on doing everything he can to make sure the economy works for the American people,” he said. “And we’re in a strong position to transition from our historic jobs recovery to steady, steady growth thanks to the work we’ve done to get the pandemic under control. COVID is not the disruptive factor that it has been for so long.”
The promise to competently address the COVID-19 pandemic is what helped put Biden in the Oval Office and send President Donald Trump to defeat. Since the beginning of Biden’s term, his public statements have been sober and cautious, wary of following his predecessor in predictions that did not come true. The nation’s vaccination program moved forward under Biden, and by April 19, 2021, all adults were eligible to be vaccinated.
Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, was an adviser to Biden’s transition team. But as he approached July 4 last year, he was concerned and felt that the administration was not heeding his warnings.
“Everyone was in this position of wanting to believe that it was all over, and not fully understanding or appreciating the potential of variants,” he said.
Even now, a year later, Osterholm is reluctant to say what the future holds.
“I want answers too,” he said. “But I don’t know what the variants are going to bring us. I don’t know what human immunity will be like.”
Biden said the virus “has not been beaten” in his July 4 speech, and two days later he held another event to talk about the delta variant.
“It seems to me that it should make everyone think twice,” he said as he appealed to people who had not yet been vaccinated.
Leana Wen, a professor of public health at George Washington University, said there is more reason to be optimistic this year than last. Immunity from previous vaccinations or infections is much more widespread, and antiviral treatments are effective in preventing hospitalization and death in vulnerable patients.
“It was premature to declare independence from COVID-19 last year,” he said. “But this year the country is in a totally different place and a much better place.”
But Wen said Biden might be careful, given how things went before.
“The administration is hesitant to make those proclamations now, when actually this is the time to do it,” he said.
Biden’s initial strategy of under-promising and over-delivering on COVID-19 was part of a concerted strategy to rebuild public trust in government. The resurgence of the virus eroded some of that confidence and diminished confidence in Biden’s job performance.
Rebuilding has proven difficult, especially as the country faces challenges, some frustrating for Biden, out of your control.
“We hope that the president is all-powerful and can fix all problems,” said Chervinsky, the presidential historian. “It’s a completely unrealistic and, frankly, dangerous expectation.”
President Bill Clinton faltered during his first two years in office and then faced a wave of Republican victories in his first midterm elections. But he later became the first Democratic president to be re-elected since Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Chervinsky warned that the current political polarization could make that rally difficult for Biden.
A key question, he said: “Is our party system so inflexible that it won’t let him back?”
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