The White House launched a charm offensive, complete with a Tom Hanks video, to mark Joe Biden’s first year as president Thursday, but dire new polls and a major congressional setback told another story.
Biden, who was sworn in to replace Donald Trump at noon last Jan 20, marked the day by meeting with top cabinet members in charge of rolling out his signature infrastructure spending plan, a US$1.2 trillion splurge he got passed in November with rare bipartisan support.
“Our nation has never fully made this kind of investment,” Biden said, celebrating one of his biggest wins of last year – and a project that should keep delivering good news as bridges, roads and other large public works roll out.
The previous evening, the 79-year-old Democrat held an epic press conference lasting an hour and 52 minutes, longer even than the famously rambling events Trump used to stage.
Defending himself on his handling of the Covid pandemic and roaring inflation, Biden said he’d got “a lot done” in the face of unprecedented difficulties for a president.
“He was having a good time,” press secretary Jen Psaki said of his marathon performance.
Despite the cheerful messaging, Biden begins his second year as president facing a slew of bad news, including failure in the Senate late Wednesday of his cherished push for election law reforms – something he has said is needed to safeguard US democracy from Trump supporters’ attempts at fixing the vote.
The polls also seem to be getting only worse. According to new NBC and AP-NORC polls, 54% and 56% of Americans respectively disapprove of Biden’s performance.
The numbers point ominously to what most analysts expect to be a heavy defeat for Democratic legislators in November midterm elections, leading to Republicans taking control of Congress.
Asked about his sliding popularity, which is now in the area that Trump consistently inhabited, Biden told the press conference Wednesday: “I don’t believe the polls.”
Tom Hanks reassures America
Biden likes to laugh off doomsayers, telling them to share his trademark sunny outlook.
And his aides and allies did their best to spread the mood Thursday.
In a two-minute video, Hollywood legend Hanks recounted in his gravelly voice how the country’s economy is bouncing back from the pandemic. The video featured clips of ordinary people, like a UPS delivery driver declaring “the fear is gone.”
“We are strong, we are courageous, we are resilient, we are America – the land of the brave,” Hanks said in the video, which ended with Biden pronouncing: “I’ve never been more optimistic about America’s future.”
Vice-President Kamala Harris appeared on CBS, ABC and NBC networks, while Chief of Staff Ron Klain spoke on MSNBC. A slew of cabinet secretaries gave interviews to media more off the beaten track, including women’s magazines and rural outlets, the White House said.
Psaki went one step further, making a relatively rare appearance on Fox News, whose major stars outside of the news operation include right-wing host Tucker Carlson.
As for the second year, the White House seems to hope it can change gears, partly by getting Biden beyond the Washington bubble, meeting voters and spending more time with legislators in relaxed settings.
At his press conference, Biden said his top goal was to “get out” and “connect with people.”
Psaki said “he absolutely loves talking to people who agree with him, people that don’t agree with him.”
“You’ll see him out on the road more,” she said. “You’ll see him probably bring members of Congress with him on Air Force One, as he’s done recently, and he’s really enjoyed the opportunity to be able to have those free ranging conversations with them.”
As Biden began his second year, he joked about the experience of the first 12 months, telling Harris in a late-evening meeting of Democratic allies: “Sometimes it seems longer, doesn’t it Kamala?”