Hello. Welcome to About politics, Your final week in national politics. I am Lisa Lerer, Your host.
For the new president, the first 100 days were needles, checks and normality.
In the early months of his term in office, President Biden largely followed his own agenda.
He received a $ 1.9 trillion stimulus plan, accelerated vaccine distribution, and introduced guidelines for infrastructure, childcare, education, climate change, and other democratic priorities. The media happily reported the return to norms in Washington. (Weekends! Press conferences! Grammatically correct tweets!) And Mr. Biden was allowed to be boring.
The ability to stay in the background was a remarkable change for a politician who once called himself a “gaffe machine”. Indeed, boredom has become something of a Biden superpower as the new president’s temperate tone and steady style helped deflect criticism of his administration’s proposed new federal spending of roughly $ 6 trillion.
It wasn’t that Mr. Biden stopped messaging. By swapping personality for politics, his team projected the image of a drama-free White House focused on restoring calm after the chaos of the Trump administration.
Well, this week some chaos came back.
A number of crises have shown how quickly a presidential agenda can be overtaken and why exactly the first 100 days are often referred to as a honeymoon.
Disputes are rapidly moving to the fore in the national conversation, presenting early tests for the new White House. For some in the administration, they’re an unwanted distraction that seems to detract the president from his carefully curated message.
This is not a surprising phrase: it is the unexpected that often defines a presidency. Bill Clinton took office with little foreign policy experience, but was quickly forced into chaotic conflicts in Haiti, Somalia and Rwanda. Terrorist attacks changed George W. Bush’s first term. In its second, a 90 percent approval rating built on his leadership after the 9/11 attacks was marred by his response to Hurricane Katrina, which has become a modern metaphor for an ill-treated crisis. Barack Obama took office in the midst of the economic downturn and then faced the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. And Donald J. Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic will be a central part of his legacy.
“I always say you judge presidents not by the agenda they set for themselves, but by how they react to the agenda that was set for them,” said James Zogby, founder of the Arab American Institute. “The agenda for President Biden has now been set.”
However, this White House in particular has resisted external events taking its plans off course. Mr Biden’s efforts to avoid such far-reaching crises were evident in his response to the explosion of violence in Israel and Gaza last week. His government expressed no appetite for negotiating a peace agreement, but pursued what a former ambassador to Israel called “conflict management instead of conflict resolution”.
While Mr Biden largely stuck to the decades-old democratic game book of expressing solidarity with Israel, some in his party broke the ranks to openly criticize his government for what it saw as a willingness to ignore human rights violations against Palestinians.
During a press conference Friday, the day after Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire, Mr Biden said the Democrats still fully support Israel, a position that is unlikely to satisfy many on his party’s left flank.
“My commitment to Israel’s security does not change,” he said. “Period. No shift, not at all.”
Past ceasefires between Israel and Hamas have proven fragile, making it unlikely that Mr Biden can long avoid the challenging problem.
The Supreme Court put another historically controversial topic on the government’s agenda this week when judges decided to include a Mississippi abortion ban case, the Roe v. Wade questions. While his administration has been pulling back on Trump-era reproductive rights policies, Mr Biden himself has remained silent on the issue, including when The state legislature has passed an unprecedented 549 abortion restrictions in the past four monthsAccording to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.
Abortion rights advocates have begun to push Mr Biden to be more forceful, and their demands are likely to escalate as the court hearing draws nearer.
Other challenges loom. As record numbers of unaccompanied children cross the southwestern border slightly decreased in the last monthImmigration remains a problem so intractable that it divides even Mr Biden’s allies. Fears of inflation threaten a fragile economy. And Democrats remain deeply divided over Mr Biden’s tax plans, which could make it difficult for his infrastructure proposals to pass.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict
In general, there is evidence that major government failures – the types that cause crises for presidents – are more common.
Paul C. Light, professor of public administration at New York University, has spent years following how presidents dealt with “failures” in the federal government’s machinery. Decades of government neglect, including failure to improve technology and modernize public services, have increased dramatically the number of breakdowns in recent years. Mr. Biden, he is arguingit is unlikely that they will escape long.
Biden supporters say they are not worried, citing the popularity of his coronavirus relief act and its handling of the pandemic.
“He has taken the first steps,” said former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who is likely the Democratic candidate in the running for his old office this year. “If he continues on his way and does the things he does, this honeymoon will be the fourth wedding anniversary.”
And Mr Biden’s government says it came into office to face a series of crises: a pandemic, an unstable economy, a racist reckoning, and the second impeachment trial against the president’s predecessor.
“We know how to multitask there,” Vice President Kamala Harris told NPR Days before the oath of office. “We have to multitask, which means that like everyone else, we have a lot of priorities and we have to stick to them.”
But these new issues divide Americans far more than vaccination expansion and the issuing of checks. Mr. Biden and his team have successfully avoided getting into many controversial issues with news discipline and a little luck. Whether or not they can maintain that balance when external events intrude is a far better measure of his presidency than any 100-day honeymoon.
Thank you for reading. On Politics is your guide to the political news cycle, bringing clarity out of the chaos.
On Politics is also available as a newsletter. Login here to get it to your inbox.
Is there anything you think we are missing? Do you want to see more? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.