But the legislative process has been marked by intense Democratic infighting and the failure to move the rest of Biden’s Build Back Better agenda. Increasingly, the president’s ambition felt more like an overreach, out of step with the Democrats’ slim margins in Congress. Biden made repeated, personal attempts to move the Senate’s two centrist Democrats, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.). There were some breakthroughs. But on the big ticket items, including voting rights, there has not been success. It has left Biden appearing, at times, as president of the Senate rather than the nation as a whole, as his administration became bogged down in the legislative morass. Republicans, with few exceptions, were eager to play obstructionists and polling suggested a nation nervous about inflation also wanted Biden to scale back.
“They misread their mandate,” said Alice Stewart, a Republican strategist and veteran of several GOP presidential campaigns. “Their mandate was to unify the country and put an end to Covid. But he has been persuaded by the left to try to enact transformational change and social spending and election reform that the public does not want.”
The White House has made no apologies for the scale of its agenda.
“The president became president at a time of great crises in the country. A Covid crisis, an economic crisis. The voters didn’t say ‘Go do a little bit,’” said Klain. “We put forward three key proposals: Covid relief, infrastructure, and Build Back Better. We had a bold agenda and achieved two of the three.”
The challenge, Klain continued, “is not that we have tried to do too much, but that we have more to do.”
For as shaky as the end of Year One was, the White House sees reasons for optimism as Biden begins his second in office. Though voting rights legislation seems stalled, the Build Back Better spending agenda could be revived, albeit a scaled back version. There are signs that the Omicron variant, less deadly than Delta, has peaked in parts of the country it first hit. And some economists believe that inflation will ease before voters head to the polls for November’s midterm elections.