Joe Biden marks one year in office with approval at new low

Critics assail president after gaffe-strewn press conference as Democrats reel in disarray from more self-inflicted policy losses

President Joe Biden speaks by phone with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in the Oval Office at the White House on December 9, 2021. Reuters
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

US President Joe Biden ended his first year in office on Thursday facing a string of negative headlines that augur badly for him and his Democratic Party before crucial midterm elections that will likely reset the power balance in Washington.

Only 12 months after promising to set the country on a new course, a clear majority of Americans now disapprove of the job Mr Biden is doing as president, a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Centre for Public Affairs Research showed.

“They're in disarray,” Clifford Young, head of US public affairs at the Ipsos market research group, said of Mr Biden and the Democrats.

Mr Biden and his party have been unable to defeat the Covid-19 pandemic and infighting means Democrats have no functional Senate majority on key issues, including passing federal voting protections to counter Republican efforts to make it harder for some people to vote, Mr Young noted.

“They're lost. They don't have an answer … They are not going to be able to pass any sort of voting legislation, given the filibuster in the 50/50 split. And so they're really in a bad place,” Mr Young told The National.

Only 28 per cent of Americans say they want Mr Biden to run again for president in 2024, the poll found — including only 48 per cent of Democrats. It's a grim statistic for the party as it prepares for midterm elections in November.

Mr Biden on Wednesday attempted to reset the narrative on his presidency by addressing critics during a nearly two-hour press conference.

But instead, the 79-year-old leader gave rambling and repetitive answers and was even questioned by one conservative outlet about his cognitive abilities.

At one point, Mr Biden appeared to suggest that if Russia only made a “minor incursion” into Ukraine as opposed to a full-scale invasion, it would be met with a lesser US response.

The White House quickly moved to clarify his remarks, saying any Russian military invasion would be met with a “swift, severe, and united response from the United States and our allies".

But the damage was already done.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy took to Twitter to remind Mr Biden that there was no such thing as a “minor incursion".

On Thursday morning, headlines in right-wing outlets such as Fox News and The New York Post were proclaiming the press conference a “disaster”. Republican members of Congress quickly piled on.

Republican Liz Cheney called Mr Biden's Ukraine remarks “deeply troubling and dangerous".

Mr Biden's unpopularity marks a stark reversal from early in his presidency.

The decline has come as key pieces of legislation, including the Build Back Better plan to counter climate change and patch America's frayed safety net, have died in the Senate due to opposition from two members of the Democratic Party.

Late on Wednesday, the Democrats notched another defeat when those senators refused to pass voting legislation.

In July, 59 per cent of Americans said they approved of the president's performance in an AP-NORC poll.

But his approval rating dipped to 50 per cent by late September in the aftermath of the chaotic and bloody US military withdrawal from Afghanistan and amid surging coronavirus infections and the administration’s fitful efforts to push economic, infrastructure and tax policies through Congress.

The latest poll shows Americans' confidence in Mr Biden’s handling of the pandemic — seen as a strength early on — has further eroded as the Omicron variant strains hospitals and further exhausts an American electorate that had hoped life would be back to a semblance of normality by now.

About 45 per cent say they approve of Mr Biden’s handling of Covid-19, down from 57 per cent in December and from 66 per cent in July 2021.

Americans are even more downbeat about his handling of the economy, with only 37 per cent approving.

Growing angst about his economic policies comes as inflation rose at its fastest pace in nearly 40 years last month, a 7 per cent spike from a year earlier that is increasing household expenses and eating into wage gains.

Former president Barack Obama issued a statement in support of his former vice president, noting the successes of Mr Biden's first year.

"Under President Biden’s leadership, our economy set the record for the most jobs added in a single year, with the fastest-ever one-year decline in unemployment in our nation’s history," Mr Obama wrote.

"We’ve rejoined the Paris Agreement and are taking important steps to once again lead the fight against climate change. We’ve built on the Affordable Care Act to expand access to health care. And we’ve passed a crucial infrastructure law to improve our roads and buildings. These are all promising signs that the country is moving in the right direction."

But for many Americans, such developments have not been enough to offset their sour view of where their country finds itself today.

Joyce Bowen, 61, of Knoxville, Tennessee, told The Associated Press that Mr Biden deserves credit for encouraging Americans to be vaccinated, but she expressed frustration over the administration’s response to soaring inflation.

The part-time cleaner at a public library said she and her older brother, who she helps support, have been eating less meat to offset rising grocery costs and intermittent spikes at the petrol pump that have whittled the purchasing power of her $754 biweekly paycheck.

“It's just hard to keep food on the table and gas in the tank,” said Ms Bowen, who voted for Mr Biden but said she’d prefer he didn’t run again in 2024.

The poll showed that only about a quarter of respondents were very confident that Mr Biden, the oldest US president in history, “has the mental capability to serve effectively as president” or “is healthy enough to serve effectively as president".

Joseph Courtney, 32, an Episcopal chaplain in Los Angeles, said Mr Biden has yet to deliver on his promise to build consensus with Republicans or even some of the more conservative Democratic members of Congress.

Mr Biden on the campaign trail said that his 36 years in the Senate — and eight years as vice president — would help him rebuild Washington’s “broken” politics.

“He just keeps getting railroaded time and time again,” Mr Courtney said.

“I don’t understand specifically what he’s adding to the presidency that would make me want to support him running another term.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was updated with Mr Obama's remarks.

Updated: January 21, 2022, 1:55 PM