Joe Biden's Remarkable Week May Just Rescue His Presidency

In one short week, Joe Biden may have pulled off a remarkable comeback. Thanks to a lot of presidential grit and some good fortune, news on the economy, the virus, Congress and even the Supreme Court has started to look a lot better for the White House.

A week ago Biden was staring into the abyss. His approval ratings were deep underwater and 70 percent of Americans thought the country was going in the wrong direction. Resurgent Republicans were poised to test the Democrats' hold on states they had won easily for years, capitalizing on voters' frustrations with a sputtering economy and an enduring pandemic that Biden had promised to end. And most embarrassingly, Biden's signature legislative achievements had been thwarted repeatedly in Congress by factions within his own party, even after he announced what he called a framework agreement. The last of those defeats forced the president to go empty-handed to global climate talks in Glasgow, where he was seen falling asleep on a video watched by millions.

Republican Glenn Youngkin's victory in Virginia's gubernatorial election did not bode well for Democrats ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, nor did the razor-thin victory by Democratic Governor Phil Murphy in New Jersey.

"When you put the Virginia and New Jersey results together with the steep decline in Biden's popularity and the normal losses for the president's party in midterm elections, it sends a grim warning to Democrats," Paul Quirk, a political scientist at the University of British Columbia in Canada, told Newsweek.

By Wednesday morning, the Biden presidency appeared to be in real peril.

During the climate summit in Glasgow, Biden had an exchange with Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who asked him how he was doing.

"So far, so good," Biden replied as he reflected on his busy week, according to the Washington Post. "There's this old joke. A guy jumps off [a] 100-story building. As he passes the 50th floor, they asked him how he's doing. And he says, 'So far so good.'"

By Saturday morning, the story was almost entirely different. Biden was able to celebrate "infrastructure week," making a dig at Donald Trump after the House passed the infrastructure bill with GOP support on Friday evening. Suddenly it was the Republicans who were at each other's throats, while in the Democratic Party, a Biden-brokered truce between moderates and progressives opened the door for yet more legislation.

"It was always likely that the Democrats would eventually reach sufficient agreement to pass the infrastructure bill," Quirk told Newsweek. "Both the progressives and the conservatives were competing at brinkmanship, trying to appear willing to let the negotiations fail if they didn't get their way."

Democrats took pride in their ability to pass a bill that would revamp the country's infrastructure, pointing out that the Trump administration was unable to do so.

Democratic Representative Adam Schiff tweeted Sunday: "For four years, Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress proclaimed that it was 'infrastructure week.' They promised a big investment in roads, bridges, and highways. And they never delivered. We did. And that's a Big F-ing Deal."

While pushing his agenda, the president gathered assurances in writing from a number of Democrats on both the infrastructure bill—already passed in the Senate—and the separate social spending bill, also known as the Build Back Better Act or reconciliation bill.

"I am urging all members to vote for both the rule for consideration of the Build Back Better Act and final passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill tonight," Biden said in a statement on Friday. "I am confident that during the week of November 15, the House will pass the Build Back Better Act."

Meanwhile, Democratic moderates and progressives called a truce, at least in the House. Progressives had stood in the way of voting on the infrastructure bill, vowing to oppose it over cuts and a new framework to the Build Back Better package that Biden announced.

The divide between moderate and progressive Democrats had widened after Biden announced a new framework to the reconciliation package that included less emphasis on climate provisions due to Senator Joe Manchin's opposition to quickly replacing coal and gas power plants with climate-friendly alternatives.

But on Friday night, moderates suggested they would vote for the Build Back Better Act in its current form after the Congressional Budget Office releases fiscal information by the week of November 15.

Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal said in a statement Friday:

"Tonight, members of the Progressive Caucus and our colleagues in the Democratic Caucus reached an agreement to advance both pieces of President Biden's legislative agenda. Our colleagues have committed to voting for the transformative Build Back Better Act, as currently written, no later than the week of November 15. All our colleagues have also committed to voting tonight on the rule to move the Build Back Better Act forward to codify this promise. The President has affirmed these members gave him the same commitment."

On Sunday, Representative Josh Gottheimer, a moderate Democrat from New Jersey, said he expects the CBO score to "match up" with the White House's analysis.

As they continue to build on their achievements, Democrats now have the bargaining advantage on the spending bill, according to Quirk. This is particularly good news, he added, for Biden and liberal Democrats who "won't face the voter backlash that major new spending programs would inevitably have produced in [the] 2022 and 2024 elections."

In another positive development for Biden this week, Pfizer and Merck made progress with new pills to treat people with COVID and decrease the risks of the disease. Pfizer on Friday announced that its oral antiviral has an 89 percent efficacy in preventing COVID hospitalizations, while U.K. regulators approved the use of Merck's molnupiravir on Thursday.

If the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) grants emergency use authorizations for both companies, the pills would be the first authorized COVID therapeutics that people can take at home. That could help Biden win over Americans who are against or hesitant about vaccines, and contribute to ending the pandemic.

Biden also benefitted from positive employment data released Friday suggesting the economy is bouncing back. Over half a million new jobs were added in October, a significant rise from the previous month, according to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The report showed that non-farm payroll employment increased by 531,000 in October—compared to 194,000 the month prior—and that unemployment dropped to 4.6 percent, from September's 4.8 percent.

"The number of unemployed persons, at 7.4 million, continued to trend down," the report stated. "Both measures are down considerably from their highs at the end of the February-April 2020 recession. However, they remain above their levels prior to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic (3.5 percent and 5.7 million, respectively, in February 2020)."

Another win for Biden this week came when Supreme Court justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett—conservatives appointed by Trump—expressed skepticism about the controversial Texas abortion ban that went into effect last month.

On Monday, Kavanaugh and Barrett questioned the structure of the law, suggesting that it was formed in a way that evades federal law and doesn't allow abortion providers to offer a "full constitutional defense."

In early September, Biden condemned the Texas law, saying it "blatantly violates the constitutional right established under Roe v. Wade and upheld as precedent for nearly half a century."

Overall, Biden's hard work to pass his agenda—and some happenstance—turned in his favor, placing him on the cusp of a presidential comeback.

But experts say that the president has to work on keeping the support he has gained as he moves forward.

"Biden will have to work to maintain support and reasonable enthusiasm among progressives and liberal activists," Quirk said on Sunday. "They will be inclined to write the party off as 'no better than the Republicans.'"

White House Chief of Staff Ron Klein said Sunday the administration must maintain support by addressing the economy and the pandemic.

"I understand that voters are tired, Americans are tired of how long it's taken to get the economy moving, to get COVID under control," he said on Meet the Press. "They are in a 'show me, don't tell me' mode. I think we are going to show them in the weeks and months ahead that we have made this progress on COVID. We have made this progress on the economy. We are past, now, the infrastructure bill."

Biden's Remarkable Week May could rescue him
In one short week, President Joe Biden may have pulled off a remarkable comeback, with good news on the economy, the pandemic, and in Congress. Above, he speaks at the White House on November 6. Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images