President Biden has been on a much-needed hot streak of late.
But that hasn’t stopped members of his own party from expressing doubts about whether he should seek a second term.
It’s a worrisome situation for Biden, who is sensitive about his age and has had problems before, sometimes feeling he hasn’t been given the respect he deserves during half a century in politics.
Now he’s heading into the middle of his first term with a growing list of accomplishments — and Democratic incumbents are growing increasingly emboldened by their view that he should stand aside.
The past few weeks have seen new momentum behind a presidency that not long ago seemed directionless.
The gun reform bill — a modest but most significant step on the issue since the 1990s — passed. Also enacted legislation supporting the American semiconductor industry.
Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man before taking over the terrorist network, was killed in a US drone strike in Afghanistan on July 31.
Perhaps most notably, Democrats are on track to pass a bill that would curb drug prices, begin to address climate change, raise some taxes on the very wealthy and, perhaps, control inflation.
It could also point to the $1 trillion infrastructure bill Biden signed into law late last year and an economy that, of all its other problems, has seen good job growth during his presidency.
On Friday, the latest employment figures showed the country added more than half a million jobs in July — a figure that beat even the most optimistic forecasts. The unemployment rate fell to 3.5 percent, matching a 50-year low hit in early 2020, shortly before the Covid-19 pandemic took hold.
“More people are working in America today than before the pandemic began,” Biden said in remarks Friday at the White House. “In fact, more people are working in America than at any point in American history.”
Yet for all that, Biden is battling dismal job approval numbers and a palpable lack of enthusiasm among many of his fellow Democrats.
As of Friday evening, a RealClearPolitics poll averaged nearly 57 percent of Americans disapproving of his job performance and just 40 percent approving. The biggest single culprit is inflation, which is at its highest point since the early 1980s.
According to Democratic strategist Mark Longbaugh, there are question marks about whether Biden will seek a second term, “related to his age and performance to date. People are just looking at that and going, ‘Is he really the strongest Democrat trying to keep the White House in 2024?’
Sen. Longabaugh, who was a senior adviser to Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) 2016 presidential campaign, explained that he shared those doubts. He also noted that the public mass of discontent with no apparent parallel in recent decades was “an extraordinary situation”.
Biden’s defenders note that some of the criticism, both explicit and implicit, is coming from the left — a strand of the party that has long distrusted the president.
When progressive Republican Cory Bush (D-Mo.) was asked late last month if she wanted Biden to run for another term, she replied, “I don’t want to answer that question.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.), asked by CNN’s Dana Bash in June if she would commit to supporting Biden for a second term, said, “We’ll cross that bridge.”
But not all disagreements are predictable.
Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), a moderate, replied, “No, I don’t” when asked in a recent radio interview if he wanted the president to seek a second term. He added, “I think the country will be better served by a new generation of attractive, well-equipped, dynamic democracy.
In the past few days, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (DN.Y.) ruffled more feathers during the first televised debate by saying she did not “believe” Biden would seek a second term. Maloney then went on CNN to apologize to the president but repeated, “I think you’re not going to run.”
On top of all this, there are some Democrats who are positioning themselves for the presidential race should Biden not decide to seek another term. The most obvious example is California Governor Gavin Newsom (D), although Illinois Governor JB Pritzker (D) is another name that has attracted attention.
Some Democrats who are more supportive of Biden roll their eyes at the shenanigans.
“I think it’s a typical Democratic handshake that I’ve seen before the midterms of every Democratic president since I’ve been an adult,” said strategist Julie Roginsky, citing the party’s heavy losses in the 1994 and 2010 congressional elections. During the first term of former President Clinton and former President Obama respectively.
But that president faced no credible suggestion that he should surrender the White House after just one term.
Roginsky placed some of the blame for Biden’s predicament on what he described as “the White House’s massive communications problem.”
She argued that the president and his aides were spending more time on defense than attacking the GOP’s “extremist” positions on key issues like abortion and electoral denial.
Still, Biden faces a bigger question.
If he responds to suggestions that he should step down at the end of his tenure, he gives the story a boost. If he remains calm, he does nothing to provoke the opposition.
It’s a problem from which there is no escape – despite recent good news.
The Memo is a reporting column by Niall Stanage.