“I DID IT!”: Biden shimmers in the twilight after exceeding expectations | Joe Biden

tOne day Joe Biden will quietly call his 80th birthday to lunch with his family in Washington. It’s a milestone none of his predecessors reached while serving in the White House, and it’s a looming milestone as he contemplates his political future.

However, the President enters his ninth decade in a moment of unexpected power. Democrats defied history in the midterm elections, maintaining control of the Senate and dashing Republican hopes of a “red wave” in the House of Representatives.

The ruling — an unexpected performance by his party and the defeat of several candidates who rejected the election with Donald Trump’s backing — provided validation for a president who saw the election as a test of American democracy.

In the aftermath of the election, Democrats heaped the praise — a major reversal for Biden, who spent most of the second year of his presidency taking the blame for what many predicted would be an overwhelming rebuke from voters. But instead of a divorce, he found vindication.

“You did it, Joe!” Vice President Kamala Harris shouted at a post-election event with her supporters. “This victory belongs to Joe Biden,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, his one-time rival for the Democratic nomination, said last week. And when asked how Democrats weathered massive headwinds and the weight of history, Jaime Harrison, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, credited the president: “I have to thank Joe Biden.”

With the midterms behind him, and a potential re-election campaign ahead of him, Biden allies hope voters come to see the first half of his term as they do: a hard-won success story.

Biden entered the White House into a period of profound turmoil for the nation: in the shadow of the Jan. 6 insurrection and the depths of the coronavirus pandemic. As Biden pledged to confront the country’s most pressing crises and shore up America’s standing abroad, he set out to pursue an ambitious agenda.

“He’s a president who gets the moment,” said Donna Brazile, former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. “And when we look back on this period, we’ll see him as ‘Stay Joe’, someone who was able to stabilize the country and move us forward.”

In less than two years, Biden has achieved a slew of satellite policy goals, some of them with the bipartisan support he promised. The legislation he signed during the first half of his term combined has transformed America’s social safety net and provided the largest climate change investment in US history.

With a narrow Democratic majority on Capitol Hill, he helped push through a Covid relief package so broad it cut America’s child poverty rate in half. Meanwhile, the new administration has expanded and accelerated a mass vaccination campaign that has vaccinated nearly 7 in 10 American adults, though a post-pandemic return to normal has proven elusive.

Moving beyond Covid, he has reaped more legislative wins: a trillion-dollar investment in the country’s infrastructure, the first gun control measure in decades, funding to boost domestic manufacturing of semiconductor chips, expansion of benefits for veterans, and finally, after months of uncertainty Central to his economic agenda is historical climate and health care law. And soon he might sign a bill protecting same-sex and interracial marriages.

Barack Obama and Joe Biden hold a campaign rally for Pennsylvania Democrats in Philadelphia on November 5. Photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

With his nominations, Biden has quickly reshaped federal courts, including the Supreme Court, with Justice Kitangi Brown Jackson now serving as the first black female justice in American history.

“It’s as transformative a list as we’ve seen in at least one generation, if not more,” said Jeffrey Engel, director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University. “The number and scope and importance of things Biden has been through is remarkable, period, but by a slim majority, especially.”

But his successes aren’t limited to Capitol Hill, says the Biden team, which recently compiled a list on Twitter using small type To emphasize the sweep of the president’s accomplishments.

Through his executive power, Biden has responded to progressive demands by pardoning thousands of Americans convicted of marijuana possession and waiving federal student loan debts for millions of borrowers, something tied to legal challenges. He also signed two executive orders trying to protect access to abortion after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in June.

He ended the war in Afghanistan, though the chaotic withdrawal of American forces upset Americans and allies alike. When Russia invaded Ukraine, Biden rallied NATO and led the global response — a role he promised to reclaim after Trump’s isolationist withdrawal.

Many Democrats now say Biden and Harris deserve credit for highlighting threats to democracy and reproductive choice during the midterm elections. Despite warnings from party strategists that these issues were not at the forefront, Democrats now believe they have helped counter attacks from Republicans focused on inflation and crime and won decisive victories in battleground states.

“She’s been crucial to framing this election,” said Cornell Belcher, a Democratic pollster. “If you remove ‘democracy’ and take ‘choice’ out of this cloud of electoral words, it will be a goddamn bloodbath.”

In his final major pre-election speech, Biden warned that electing candidates who deny the results of the 2020 election and will not commit to accepting the results of 2022 is a “path to chaos.” The most prominent of these candidates lost, while abortion helped propel Democrats in states where the right was under threat.

“We went through this midterm election to a dead end and actually got a seat in the Senate, it’s historic,” Belcher said.

Not everyone agrees that the election was a resounding victory for the president. Some have argued that the election was a rejection of Republican extremism, rather than a reflection of Biden’s political strength.

To win, Democrats had to edge Biden, whose approval ratings have swung in the low 40s, due to pessimism about the state of the economy. According to the 538 Tracking Complex of public opinion polls, Biden’s numbers are lower at this point in his term than any president since Harry Truman.

“Ironically, he probably would have gotten more credit if he had done less,” said Selinda Lake, a Democratic pollster who has worked for Biden.

Before Democrats could sell an initiative to the public, Lake said, they were already bogged down in their next legislative battle. But she said the White House will have a new opportunity to present its agenda as many of its plans begin to roll out in the coming months.

At an event with business and labor leaders on Friday, Biden assured Americans they will soon feel the impact of legislation he signed earlier this year that caps healthcare costs and energy prices.

“We got through them this year, but now they’re really going to kick in,” he said. “It will accelerate in the coming months.”

Republicans found Biden’s wealthy record highly offensive, blaming his spending policies for worsening inflation. They also threatened to use their new House majority to investigate the withdrawal from Afghanistan, aspects of his response to Covid and his administration’s handling of the US-Mexico border.

Democrats are also uniformly dissatisfied. Progressives still resent Biden’s bipartisanship and argue he still has a lot to do to deliver on the bold promises he made as a candidate. While Biden’s student debt relief plan and some of his immigration policies split his party.

The Democrats’ running of the legislation will almost certainly give way to a new era of gridlock in a divided Washington next year. But with a Democratic majority in the Senate, he can continue to fill judicial vacancies — and he will face renewed pressure to exercise his executive power to work on issues like climate and immigration.

Biden said his decision to run for president in 2020 was due to his concern with the Trump presidency, specifically his predecessor’s refusal to condemn white supremacist violence in Charlottesville. He saw his mission not only to defeat Trump but to defeat the forces of Trump.

After the midterm elections, Biden announced the decline of those anti-democratic forces.

Days later, Trump, 76, announced that he would run for president again. Biden, the oldest president in American history, who would have been 82 at his inauguration in 2025, must decide whether to have a tough campaign, likely against a longtime foe, and, if he wins, another four years in the White House.

Two-thirds of midterm voters, including many Democrats, said they don’t want Biden to run for re-election, according to polls. In polls, voters rate the president’s age as a major concern. Biden said it was a “legitimate thing” for voters to consider him while insisting he had the mental and physical stamina for the job.

Senior advisers are already working to set the stage for the 2024 campaign. Biden said he “intends” to run again but will discuss it with his family over the holidays before announcing a decision, possibly early next year.

History provides many examples of presidents who “conceived of a mission and chose to serve only one term,” Engel said.

But he continued, “There is no historical precedent for a president who has the issue of age as it is and feels at the same time that the survival of the country might hinge on his candidacy again.”

In an “unstable world,” where Russia issues nuclear threats, Trump tries to make a comeback, and American democracy continues to come under assault, Lake said voters are likely to turn again to the candidate who offers steady and tested leadership.

In 2020, she said, Americans “chose stability over instability and democracy over tyranny and violence, and this contradiction still exists today, perhaps even stronger.”

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