Overcoming Covid and outfoxing the Republicans: Joe Biden’s having an unusually good week — and he won’t let Thursday’s recession talk spoil his mood.
When the 79-year-old tested positive for the coronavirus last week, it seemed nature had decided to pile in on his already daunting list of manmade woes: highest inflation in four decades, lowest polls of his presidency, and a tiny Democratic congressional majority apparently unable to get anything done.
Fast forward to Wednesday and Biden, declared Covid free by his doctor, emerged from the White House residence to cheers from staff in the Rose Garden.
The sun was shining — literally and politically.
“Now I get to go back to the Oval Office,” he said to applause, sounding as if he were opening a birthday present.
There were reasons for the spring in Biden’s step well beyond the beneficial effects of the five-day course of the therapeutic Paxlovid that helped him through Covid.
The Senate, where Democrats and Republicans are split 50-50 and almost never cooperate, chose Wednesday to pass a bill pouring $52 billion into domestic manufacturing of semiconductors — the high-tech widgets at the heart of almost every piece of modern equipment. Republicans were on board.
If approved by the House, the decision to throw federal weight behind private homegrown production will create thousands of high-skilled jobs and, crucially, begin addressing dangerous US overreliance on foreign companies.
For Biden the bill fits neatly into one of his core priorities, restoring the kind of government-backed research and development that he says will decide whether the United States can keep up with China.
Then a few hours later, with Biden still in the Oval Office, came startling news of another potential Senate win.
This time it wasn’t warring Republicans who had been brought around but the ever-unpredictable Senator Joe Manchin — a conservative Democrat from tiny West Virginia whose one vote in a 50-50 Senate gives him veto power over just about everything.
For 18 months, Manchin has played with Biden’s nerves, haggling on every item. When it came to the president’s signature Build Back Better bill, a behemoth of social and climate-related spending, the West Virginian negotiated seemingly forever before finally refusing to go along and leaving Biden defeated.
So it was a surprise Wednesday when Manchin announced he supports a smaller, yet still impressive bill set to allocate $369 billion for clean energy and climate initiatives and $64 billion for state-funded healthcare.
Biden thanked Manchin for his “extraordinary effort.”
– Recession, what recession? –
Not only did Manchin finally come good, but he cannily announced his move only after Republicans had been lured into voting for the semiconductors bill — something some of them say they would never have done if they knew the Democrats were about to spring the second, bigger spending package.
Democrats are suddenly on a roll and Biden, even with approval ratings stuck below 40 percent, feels his constant optimism will be proved right.
As data came out showing the US economy shrinking for a second successive quarter, his staff worked overtime to get the ‘R’ word out of the conversation.
“The way that we see is that we are not currently in a recession or a pre-recession,” Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.
Biden, for sure, was not apologizing: “We are on the right path,” he said as the news came out.