With his second year in the White House beginning, President Biden will have to address a slew of domestic and foreign challenges as the impending midterms loom on the near horizon. If the President is to amend the course of his presidency, he will need to quickly improve his performance or risk losing the tight majority his party has in Congress and potentially condemning his presidency of two grueling years with a GOP-controlled Congress.
Biden’s 4 challenges: the Economy, foreign policy, Congress, and COVID
It’s all about Inflation
As usual, the economy is one of the most important issues in the minds of voters and will probably be the most pressing challenge the Biden administration faces in 2022. Right now, the country is facing an unprecedented spike in prices, especially consumer goods and energy prices, as shown by the December report of the Bureau of Labor Statistics which showed a 6.8% overall increase in prices, the highest since the early 1980s.
The numbers are even worse when it comes to energy prices, as the BLS reports an astonishing 33.3% year increase in the prices of all types of energy. Most troublesome for the pockets of millions of Americans (and the political fortunes of the Democratic party) is the fact that gas prices have been leading the price spike in the energy sector in the last year, as the price has increased 58.1% in just a single year.
To the dismay of the White House, the analysis that forecasted inflation was going to be a transitory phenomenon has been destroyed by reality and has forced experts to change their initial assessments over the issue.
Despite the attempts of some economists and members of the administration to downplay the effects of inflation, the American voter is very concerned about inflation. A Gallup poll shows that 45% of Americans say inflation is causing “total hardship” and 35% say it is causing “moderate hardship” in their household. Similarly, a YouGov/CBS News survey showed that 67% of Americans disapprove of the way the President is tackling inflation.
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Democrat’s civil war on Capitol Hill
The ongoing conflict among Congressional Democrats has made it particularly hard for Biden to get his legislative agenda passed through Congress as the radical Progressive wing of the Democratic Party spent the entire year trying to get their massive trillion-dollar spending bill through their razor-thin majorities in Congress despite the clear warning against it from moderate Democrats in the Senate.
Even after managing to pass his bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, to the frustration of the progressive wing, the president is still trying to get his colossal spending plan through the Senate, where Senators Manchin (D-WV) and Sinema (D-AZ) have been extremely reluctant to support the measure. Biden spent his entire 2020 trying to convince Manchin that passing such a gigantic bill was in their interest, yet he failed as the West Virginian argued that the wise thing to do was to stop any further massive spending at a time when the national debt and inflation are out of control.
The administration will probably make a last attempt over the following months to get anything passed in Congress that they can then sell in the campaign trail during the fall. However, it seems to be an uphill battle, especially after Manchin was proven right on his concerns over inflation.
Russia, China, and the fear of another Foreign Policy debacle
If Biden’s domestic front is looking bad, his foreign policy challenges look even worst. The administration that promised the world that “America is back” after four years of Trump was responsible for the catastrophic end of the war in Afghanistan (which is when Biden’s approval ratings began to tank) and the embarrassing rift with France over the AUKUS submarine deal. In 2022, the Biden White House will have to be very cautious over another potential foreign policy debacle that could tarnish even more the image of the president.
The most immediate challenge would be the growing tensions between Russia and Ukraine, as Putin amasses thousands of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border and the Kremlin takes increasingly aggressive rhetoric towards Kyiv. The President has said that America will act decisively if Moscow decides to invade Ukraine, however, it remains unclear specifically how would Biden react to a Russian attack against Ukraine. A military response against the invasion could be extremely inflammatory yet responding with ineffective sanctions could be seen as another show of weakness by Washington D.C.
The other lingering threat that Biden could have to face this year is a belligerent China pressuring Taiwan in Beijing’s attempts to annex the island. Taiwan remains one of the most important geopolitical hotspots in the world, and any action from Beijing (who already has been more aggressive against Taiwan) could easily escalate into a full-fledged diplomatic crisis.
Biden’s COVID trap
The last challenge Biden will have to face is how to handle the almost certain COVID outbreaks in the future. The Democratic Party has been a strong proponent of implementing harsh measures (lockdowns, school closures, vaccine passports, etc.) to stamp the virus. However, after two years of COVID being constantly in the news, the American people are becoming tired of the subject, as a Monmouth poll showed that 60% of Americans feel “worn out” over the changes they have endured due to the pandemic.
The latest Omicron surge led to some universities and schools to go virtual again, despite the new variant being milder than previous strains of the virus, while the administration has delivered mixed messaging over the appropriate approach for self-isolation, the booster campaign looks lethargic, and there is a significant shortage of COVID tests nationwide, which many experts blame on a slow federal response.
Another outbreak of COVID-19 will again put the Biden administration in the position of having to decide between a heavy-handed approach to stamp the virus or more restrained measures to contain the disease. Since both options have shortcomings, Biden will have to carry the burden of its consequences of probably reaping little of the rewards as the American public grows more frustrated with COVID each day.
The party of incumbent presidents tends to perform badly during the midterms if Biden wants to defy the odds and keep at least one house of Congress (something that looks unlikely today) he has little to no margin of error when tackling these challenges.
Daniel is a Political Science and Economics student from the University of South Florida. He worked as a congressional intern to Rep. Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) from January to May 2020. He also is the head of international analysis at Politiks // Daniel es un estudiante de Cs Políticas y Economía en la Universidad del Sur de la Florida. Trabajo como pasante legislativo para el Representate Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) desde enero hasta mayo del 2020. Daniel también es el jefe de análisis internacional de Politiks.