Joe Biden Races Against Time to Achieve Priorities, Avoid Midterm Meltdown

Despite his promise to "heal the soul of America," after one year in office Joe Biden's approval rating sits at 43%, per a recent Gallup poll. This is the second lowest such rating of any modern president in his first year, a mark eclipsed only by his immediate predecessor, Donald J. Trump.

While White House Spokeswoman Jen Psaki blames the low approval on "fatigue from COVID" and political infighting. But Democrats are concerned about how this lagging support will affect their Party in the 2022 midterms, with all seats in the House of Representatives and 34 seats in the Senate up for re-election.

A lot can, and likely will, happen between now and then.

"When the bell rings for the 2022 election season," U.S. pollster John Anzalone said, "things are going to look a lot different than today."

Voters have expressed frustration about Biden's presidency, accusing him of failing to fulfill key campaign promises that got him elected.

While he spent much of his first year encouraging bipartisan cooperation, his approval among Republicans sits at just 5%. Chris Rasmussen, a historian and professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University, says it is time for Biden to focus on his base.

"To some extent, Biden assembled a lot of elements of the so-called Obama coalition,'" he said. "He had African Americans and women, and to some extent, young people voting for him, and their enthusiasm for Biden has slipped a little bit."

Rasmussen said Biden has achieved some of his goals, but the achievements have not been recognized.

"If you think about Obama and Biden, they both have a lot of accomplishments, but they don't seem to get credit," he said. "I think they haven't promoted their accomplishments as much as they should have. And also, of course, the media landscape has changed."

Laying Out Priorities

The Biden administration has listed its top five priorities as pandemic recovery, reducing the costs of living, voting rights, climate change, and restoring the international renown of the U.S.

But Rasmussen said all priorities are not equal.

"I would publicly focus on the pandemic and the economy," he said. "Biden needs to do whatever could be done to keep afloat during this pandemic and be seen addressing it. He also needs to do whatever he can do to tamp down inflation."

"For those other issues," Rasmussen added, "I would negotiate a bit more behind the scenes until I felt ready to have some success."

Despite a year of pushing tests and vaccinations, the coronavirus pandemic is still in full swing.

According to Johns Hopkins University, there were more than 7 million new cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. in December, with more than 38,000 deaths. Overall, the more than 827,000 American deaths from the pandemic are the highest per capita of any country in the Group of Seven (G7), comprised of France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, Canada and the U.S.

Despite media pressure and vaccine mandates from both private and public organizations, just 65.3% of eligible Americans have been fully vaccinated. Less than 30% of the population has received the additional booster shot believed necessary to protect against the Omicron variant.

"There's been sort of an ongoing battle with the White House to do more," Gregg Gonsalves, an associate professor of epidemiology at Yale University told Reuters. "Biden should get on TV tonight and say, 'I want you to mask up.'"

"Masks ... and vaccination are by far the two most important interventions," said former CDC Director Tom Frieden in the same report.

Persistent Inflation Nags the Economy

With the economy in flux, the White House has blamed pandemic uncertainty for most of the troubles that have arisen during his first year in office.

"Disruptions related to the pandemic have caused challenges in our supply chain, which have sparked concerns about shortages and contributed to higher prices," Biden said in a November press conference.

But as inflation reaches a 29-year high and the cost of groceries, rentals, automobiles and gasoline have all been affected, American voters appear to be growing weary of explanations and are looking for relief.

Voting Rights Under Threat

Protecting and securing voting rights demand the president's attention, Rasmussen said. In the last four years, these rights have been under threat in states like Georgia, Iowa and Texas, where policymakers look to purge voter rolls, add restrictions and relocate polling stations in the name of "election security."

"[The Supreme Court] took away some of the federal government's power to oversee what the states were doing," he said. "Since that time, we've had a lot of states find ways to make it harder for people to register or show up to vote."

"Now, states are changing how the vote is counted and certified, handing that authority over to elected legislators," Rasmussen added, "and that's very worrisome."

Many of the restrictions target Black and Latino voters, as well as those in lower socioeconomic groups and people with less formal education — constituencies Biden must focus on if he, and his Party, hope to remain in power.

"African Americans were a big part of propelling Biden to the nomination and the White House," Rasmussen said. "If the Democrats sit there all year long and let the Republicans continue to gerrymander districts and find ways to discourage people from voting, I don't think that will be forgiven or forgotten anytime soon."

Restoring U.S. Global Leadership

While Biden must focus on domestic priorities like pandemic recovery, reviving the economy for the middle and lower classes and protecting voter rights, he has also made commitments to international priorities, including addressing climate change and restoring America's global standing.

Biden marked the importance of both in an official White House statement, entitled the Biden-⁠Harris Administration Immediate Priorities. "President Biden will take steps to restore America's standing in the world," the document stated.

That may be an uphill battle.

"A lot of America's influence around the world is our example, our institutions, and our culture," Rasmussen said. "Yes, we have a big military and economy, but we also have the soft power of people around the world who admire some things about the United States, despite its imperfections."

"If we're no longer going to be a beacon of democracy," he added, "we're forfeiting a lot of the soft power influence we have around the globe."

Meeting the Climate Challenge

That influence is critically important when it comes to protecting democracy around the world and forming global coalitions to address the threats of climate change.

Biden noted the importance of addressing climate change in his State of the Union address last year.

"My attempt was to make sure that the world could see there was consensus that we are at an inflection point in history," he said. "If we act to save the planet, we can create millions of jobs, economic growth and opportunity and raise the standard of living just about everywhere on the globe."

While Biden has taken tangible steps, such as rejoining the Paris Climate Accords and pushing for a 50% decrease in emissions by 2030, the U.S. is still one of the global leaders in emissions per capita, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

Environmental activists like Kassie Siegel, director of the Climate Law Institute at the Center for Biological Diversity, are losing patience.

"We're simply out of time," Siegel told Rolling Stone. "He can use his powers to stop supercharging the climate crisis, or he can just keep repeating talking points, approving fossil fuel development, and listening to Joe Manchin, which makes him nothing more than a disaster tourist."

She called for Biden to take stronger stances on issues like fracking, offshore drilling and scaling back the use of fossil fuels.

The Game Clock is Ticking

Joe Biden and the Democrats are in a race against time. With midterms in November, they only have 10 months to re-excite their base and convince them that their early optimism was warranted.

Rasmussen said it isn't really that complicated.

"They just need to get things accomplished and explain to the American public what they have accomplished," he said.

Delaware Election
Quinn Rochester, 2, reacts as her mother casts a ballot during the midterm elections at the Milford Senior High School polling location on November 6, 2018 in Milford, Delaware. Joe Biden and the Democrats have 10 months to make their case to the American public before the next midterms. Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images