Senate Clashes Will Test Joe Biden's Approval Rating Honeymoon

The approval rating honeymoon at the start of Joe Biden's White House term looks to be tested as he faces a challenge pushing aspects of his agenda through the Senate.

Public opinion of Biden's tenure so far has been largely positive, with polling showing majority approval.

A The Hill/Harris X survey of 941 registered voters, carried out January 21 to 22, gave Biden 63 percent approval. While 56 percent of 11,000 registered voters in a Morning Consult poll from January 22 to 24 approved of the job he was doing so far as commander-in-chief. According to Morning Consult, this placed him 10 percentage points higher than Donald Trump at a similar point at the start of his tenure, when he received 46 percent approval.

These come with Biden having swiftly got to work pushing through priorities and dismantling the legacy of his predecessor through executive orders.

However, he now faces the task of getting aspects of his agenda through Congress. While Democrats control the House and the Senate, the situation in the upper chamber poses a more difficult terrain for the president.

With the Senate split 50/50, any dissent from within the Democratic caucus could prove to be a hurdle.

Biden's key priority is to push his COVID-19 relief plan through Congress, enacting promises such as boosting direct payments.

With this unlikely to garner Republican lawmakers' support in the Senate, with longstanding reservations among them over costs, Biden will need to hold Democrat support.

However, there have been some questions over such a significant further outlay—and the makeup of the Senate gives any Democrats with reservations more leverage than they might have if there was an outright majority for the party. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) previously expressed caution over sending out further checks and calling for future relief to be more targeted, though his tone has somewhat softened in subsequent comments.

At present, the Democrat majority holds in the face of unanimous Republican opposition only if all Democrat senators and the independents that caucus with them vote in unison—then teeing up Vice President Kamala Harris to cast the tie-breaker vote.

A bipartisan group of 16 Senators met with White House officials through a private zoom call on Sunday to discuss Biden's $1.9 trillion proposal, in which questions were raised over the spend and the distribution of more stimulus checks. Biden has expressed willingness to negotiate over the income thresholds for further direct stimulus payments.

Apart from this pushback, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has also expressed some unhappiness at Biden's early actions, while indicating his willingness to frustrate the Democrats in the Senate through his own stances early in the president's tenure.

He has hinted at moving forward with a power-sharing arrangement based on similar parameters to the one made in 2001, the last time the Senate was split down the middle. Though this came after a push for a guarantee the legislative filibuster would remain in place, which could allow Republicans a method to create hurdles for items in the upper chamber.

Support from two Democratic senators to keep this facilitated McConnell's willingness to move forward and allow plans for organizing the Senate to be formulated. Though it has been suggested he could further seek to frustrate Democrats down the line.

Without scrapping the filibuster, Democrats could still use reconciliation to push through parts of their agenda. However, this could only be used for spending and tax bills. It has been suggested this could be used to get COVID-19 relief through the Senate.

Newsweek has contacted the White House for comment on the president's approval ratings and on the potential for clashes in the Senate.

joe biden delivering remarks
President Joe Biden pauses while speaking after signing an executive order related to American manufacturing in the South Court Auditorium of the White House complex on January 25, 2021 in Washington, D.C. He faces the task of getting his agenda through the Senate with the upper chamber split. Drew Angerer/Getty Images