Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images Even for a White House familiar with roadblocks and frustration , Thursday’s setbacks on vaccine mandates and voting rights came as hammer blows.
Aside from the immediate derailing of two key policy tenets of Joe Biden’s administration, the vaccine ruling by the supreme court, which quickly followed Democratic senator Kyrsten Sinema’s public assassination of his voting reform efforts, prompted a new round of questions over whether his presidency was doomed.
Crucially, serious agonizing is now going on about what Biden’s woes might mean for the Democratic party’s fortunes in midterm elections later this year, when Republicans are tipped to seize back control of both chambers of Congress.
With Biden’s public popularity sinking – in one poll this week to a new low of 33% – and with another centrist Democratic senator, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, having already capsized the president’s flagship $1.75tn Build Back Better domestic spending plan, some analysts say time is running short to impress voters ahead of the November polls.
“The whole first year is gone. And in the end, nothing,” said Larry Sabato, founder and director of the University of Virginia’ Center for Politics, referring to the lengthy but fruitless discussions with Manchin over the make-up of the plan. “Manchin led him down the rosy patch then threw him into the briar patch. ‘Would you change that? You changed that, well, I don’t like this thing over here. Oh, you changed that, well, there’s these two things …’”
Sabato added: “But the voting rights debacle is the worst of all because why was Biden elected other than that people wanted to get rid of Trump? It was because he was seen as experienced and competent. What’s the experience gotten us exactly? I just don’t understand how we got here.”
Several of Biden’s misfortunes, Sabato said, are not directly of his own making. He has made repeated efforts to change the minds of both Manchin and Sinema, most recently in seemingly unsuccessful late-night talks at the White House on Thursday in an attempt to salvage his agenda.