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President Joe Biden enters his second year in office fighting to pass his signature legislation in a divided Congress, and facing the lowest approval ratings of his tenure. Judy Woodruff assesses his job performance with Democratic Party strategists Faiz Shakir, an adviser to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Matt Bennett, who worked for both of Bill Clinton's presidential campaigns.
President Biden enters his second year in office fighting to pass his signature legislation in a divided Congress and facing the lowest approval ratings of his tenure.
Joining me now to assess the last 12 months of the president's term and where he goes from here are two Democratic Party's strategists.
Faiz Shakir is an adviser to Senator Bernie Sanders. And he managed Sanders' 2020 presidential campaign. And Matt Bennett worked for both of Bill Clinton's presidential campaigns. He is now a co-founder of the think tank Third Way.
Hello to both of you. Great to have you with us.
Faiz Shakir, I'm going to start with you.
We heard President Biden say yesterday that, yes, it was a year of challenges, but there was also enormous progress. How would you size up his first year in office?
Faiz Shakir, Democratic Strategist:
One of the most important accomplishments of this Biden administration is empowering workers.
I mean, he lifted the income floor at a time when millions of people were losing jobs, out of work, with stimulus checks, with unemployment benefits, with child tax credits, small business payroll support. What happened? Workers gained power. They got the ability to change jobs, move jobs.
And as a result, if you look at household wealth and wage gains among the people in the bottom 50 percent of America, they are increasing. That is a huge accomplishment. It reverses decades of a trend of working-class people losing. And so that is one of the most major accomplishments. Obviously, there's still business left undone.
We haven't done the structural changes to provide things like paid leave, address climate change, expand health insurance. Those are the economic challenges experienced during COVID that still have yet to be fully completed. And I'm hopeful that they will be.
Matt Bennett, how do you see the first year?
Matt Bennett, Democratic Strategist:
I agree with Faiz. I think those were real accomplishments. I think there were some other things too.
I mean, if you look at the Rescue Plan, and the bipartisan infrastructure bill, they, combined, were $3.1 trillion. That is the size of the New Deal in real dollars. That is an enormous accomplishment. And he's going to be addressing these infrastructure problems for the first time really since the 1960s in a big and concerted way.
That's going to change people's lives in really fundamental ways. It will create jobs, but it will also change the way people are using roads, and their water is going to be cleaner, and broadband is going to be expanded. It's going to be a fundamental difference for Americans.
So I think he had some really significant accomplishments. I think one of the problems, though, is that, in the first year of a presidency — and this is true of every president — your reach often kind of exceeds your grasp. Every new president tries to do something that they're unable to do.
When I served with President Clinton, it was health care. President Obama couldn't get cap-and-trade legislation done. President Trump tried to repeal the ACA. It always happens.
But I think now, in this year, it's time to talk about the accomplishments.
So, Faiz Shakir, is that the main explanation for why the president's public opinion ratings are down? We know that's certainly not the only measurement of what's going on.
But the fact that it has been a noted, notable drop, and especially among independent voters, is it mainly because he tried to do more than he could get done?
I think the president is dogged by perception of weakness, and it hurts him.
And I think part of that comes from the legislative strife, inability to manage — get a voting rights bill across, but it's particularly BBB, the Build Back Better Act. And in that — in my view — I have a difference with Matt on this — is that Joe Manchin, more than any other person in America, has been responsible for Biden's falling political standing, because, with the perception of Biden being seen as weak, it looks like Joe Manchin is in charge, it's President Joe Manchin that we have to cater to.
And, as a result, we haven't had votes in the Senate on this critical piece of legislation. We have had months and months of negotiations. And that doesn't help Joe Biden. When he's unable to deliver, it looks like you have got a weak president. Obviously, he is also afflicted with COVID.
But if you were acting, if you were able to pass Build Back Better, it would also show that I'm taking on the biggest challenges we have got in COVID as well.
Well, it's interesting you should say that, because I want I want to pick up on something President Biden said at his news conference yesterday talking to the reporters.
He said: "You guys have been trying to convince me that I'm Bernie Sanders. He said: "I'm not. I like him. But I'm not Bernie Sanders. I'm not a socialist. I'm a mainstream Democrat."
But, of course, that doesn't assuage what Republicans are saying. And I want you to listen just to a short clip of what the Republican minority whip in the, Senate John Thune, had to say at a news conference they had.
SEN. JOHN THUNE (R-SD):
Pretty much on every level — you can go right down the list — this administration has been a failure. And I believe the only way they can fix and cure that is to quit listening to the far left, to get away from the radical agenda that is driving their decision-making process, and come to the middle.
So, Matt Bennett, I don't expect you to necessarily agree with the Republican line of thinking, but does — but is there a seed of a problem? How do you see whether the president has been leaning too far to the left or not?
Well, first of all, just to be clear, I definitely do not agree with Senator Thune or what the Republicans are saying about Joe Biden or about Democrats.
But it is true that Joe Biden inherited a very, very broad coalition and a very narrow congressional majority. I mean, he has no margin at all in the Senate and a three-or-five vote margin, depending on the day, in the House, which means he has to kind of negotiate between people as far apart ideologically as folks like Bernie Sanders and Joe Manchin or Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez and Joe Manchin.
That's a pretty tough thing to do when you can't lose any of their votes. And I think, during that first year, when he was trying to do really big things legislatively, and he achieved some, and he might achieve more, that's where he kind of ended up.
I think, now, though, is a moment to pivot and to start to talk to the American public in ways that he was talking in 2020. And, as he said yesterday, he's a mainstream Democrat. He's very good at talking to folks about the problems in their lives in a way that really resonated. And I think that's what he will do.
Faiz Shakir, is that going to work? I mean, is that the formula for 2022?
The formula would be, in my mind, two major things.
One is, it needs to be a year of executive actions for Joe Biden. If Congress can't act, he will. He will do everything in his power to address climate change, health care, immigration reform, criminal justice.
But, simultaneously, in the Senate, in the legislative arena, it's got to be a year of votes. And I think we have been dogged by this. I mentioned, Judy, that we haven't had any votes on Build Back Better, right, for months and months. And I'm glad that Senator Schumer took a vote on voting rights. Now it needs to happen on Build Back Better.
And if it were to fail, I think we continue with breaking that out, as the president suggested, and having votes on each piece. You want to reduce prescription drug prices, let's put it up for a vote. Let's see where they stand.
And I think that also serves a political benefit, Judy, as you head into the 2022 midterms to say, make the choices clear for the American public, who stands where, and call people to the carpet, because, otherwise, Manchin is basically talking behind the scenes and sometimes in the press, and we don't know where he would actually vote. And it's time for some votes.
So, Matt Bennett, is that a formula, to hold the votes, to know where everybody stands, even if they go down and don't pass?
I'd say I'm not a fan of that. I think I land where Speaker Pelosi does, which is, you don't take votes very often that you know you're going to lose.
Look, I think that had to do that Freedom to Vote and the Lewis bill, which are very important. And I think Senator Schumer was right to bring those up. But I don't think you want to have a series of votes in either House of Congress where you're in the majority, and you keep losing.
I do think, though, that there will be behind-the-scenes negotiations that continue with Senator Manchin over Build Back Better fast. Faiz and I actually agree. we should pass that bill. We hope that Senator Manchin comes around on that.
But I also think that President Biden needs to get out there and start talking to people about the things that you were talking about at the top of this broadcast, about inflation, about COVID, about the things that they are struggling with. I think he's very good at doing that. And I think that's what he will do.
So much to consider.
We thank the both of you, Faiz Shakir and Matt Bennett. We appreciate it.
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