On the menu today: The public remarks of President Biden get covered by the national news media, but they tend to come and go with minimal impact, in large part because the president just blurts out whatever sounds good in his head, regardless of its accuracy, and he frequently contradicts himself. Do polls matter? Is the U.S. economy doing well? Were voters sending a message in this year’s off-year elections? The answer is determined by whatever Joe Biden needs that day and has nothing to do with what he said yesterday, or even a few minutes ago. Also, the ACLU asks if Biden isn’t being fully briefed on what his administration is doing.
Polls Only Matter When They Bring Good News, Apparently
For the first few months of the Biden administration, the president often cited public-opinion polls as irrefutable evidence that his agenda was popular and that Congress, with its narrow Democratic majorities, ought to promptly pass his preferred legislation.
Biden on February 17: “The truth of the matter is, the polling data from last night, and all the polls you’ve all done — they come from you guys; not you personally, but your networks and your organizations — show that somewhere between 64 and 69 percent of the American people think we have to do this.”
Biden on February 19: “According to the polls, there is overwhelming bipartisan support. The vast majority of the American people — more than 70 percent of the American people, with all the polls you all conduct, including a majority of Republicans — want us to act, and act big and quickly and support the plan.”
Biden on March 19: “The American Rescue Plan is a plan that brings America together and benefits all America. That’s why so many polls show that over 70 percent of the country support it, including Democrats, Republicans, and independents.”
Biden on April 2: “Polls already show strong support for infrastructure investment for the American people, whether they’re Democrats, Republicans, or independents.”
Also note this White House fact sheet on prescription-drug prices from August 12: “Public opinion polls show that the majority of Americans — Republicans and Democrats — support this change.”
You may have noticed that the president’s approval rating dropped quickly and significantly around the time of the Afghanistan debacle, and support for his agenda dropped at about the same pace. The bipartisan infrastructure bill and “Build Back Better” are not popular, even if separate surveys can find support for particular provisions:
The ABC News/Ipsos poll, which was conducted using Ipsos’ KnowledgePanel, found that a plurality (32 percent) of Americans think the bills would hurt people like them if they became law, while fewer (25 percent) think it would help them. Nearly 2 in 10 (18 percent) think the bills would make no difference, and 24 percent said they didn’t know.
Even among Democrats alone, fewer than half (47 percent) think the two bills would help people like them. A quarter of Democrats think the bills would make no difference for people like them and about 2 in 10 (22 percent) don’t know how they would impact their lives. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of Republicans think the bills would hurt people like them, and so do about 3 in 10 (29 percent) independents.
A CNN poll in October found that, “Only 25 percent of Americans believe they and their family will be better off if the two bills making up Biden’s agenda pass. Meanwhile, 32 percent say they’ll be worse off, and 43 percent say they’ll be about the same. Among independents, who may be souring on Biden, only 20 percent say the bills will make them better off.”
Shockingly, right around this time, President Biden discovered that public-opinion polling doesn’t really matter and shouldn’t influence the decisions of policymakers.
Biden from Rome on October 31: “Look, the polls are going to up and down and up and down. They were high early, then they got medium, then they went back up, and now they’re low. Well, look, this is — look at every other president; the same thing has happened. But that’s not why I ran. I didn’t run to determine how well I’m going to do in the polls.”
In other words, poll numbers matter — unless they show disapproval for Biden or his agenda, and then they’re meaningless.
Wait, How Is the Economy Doing Again?
In Glasgow on Tuesday, Biden emphasized that the U.S. economy is doing well under his leadership: “Lastly, you know, if you take a look at what — what economy is growing? The United States. It’s growing. It has problems, mainly because of COVID and the supply chain, but it’s growing. We’ve created over 6 million jobs. We’re leading the world in terms of the fastest-growing economy — major economies.”
The U.S. is not the world’s fastest-growing economy; ranked by growth in 2021 by the International Monetary Fund, we’re a respectable 15th, but we’re behind Ireland, Chile, India, Turkey, China, Israel, the U.K., Hong Kong, and a handful of others.
Biden, explaining Democratic Party losses in Tuesday’s off-year elections, said yesterday that, “People are upset and uncertain about a lot of things — from COVID, to school, to jobs, to a whole range of things, and the cost of a gallon of gasoline. . . . Look, people — people need a little breathing room. They’re overwhelmed. And what happened was — I think we have to just produce results for them to change their standard of living and give them a little more breathing room.”
In Biden’s view, the U.S. has the world’s fastest-growing economy, but Americans also feel upset, uncertain, and overwhelmed, need breathing room, and are still looking for an improvement in their standard of living.
Biden’s Lessons from Tuesday
Yesterday, when asked about Virginia, Biden spoke as if Terry McAuliffe had won his bid to reclaim the Virginia governor’s mansion: “I was talking to Terry to congratulate him today. He got 600,000 more votes than any Democrat ever has gotten. We brought out every Democrat about there was. More votes than ever has been cast for a Democratic incumbent — I mean, not incumbent — a Democrat running for governor.”
McAuliffe did not get 600,000 more votes than any Democratic gubernatorial candidate had ever gotten. McAuliffe won 1,579,591 votes; four years ago, Ralph Northam won 1,409,175 votes. Four years before that, McAuliffe won 1,069,789 votes. It is accurate to say that McAuliffe won more votes than a Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate had ever received before. Then again, between 2017 and 2021, Virginia gained about 200,000 more people.
Biden continued, “No governor in Virginia has ever won when he is of the same — where he or she is the same party as the sitting president.” That is not true; in 2013, when Barack Obama was president, McAuliffe won Virginia’s gubernatorial race.
Biden saw Tuesday’s election results — where Republicans swept Virginia statewide offices, won back control of the Virginia House of Delegates, nearly beat a New Jersey governor who was supposed to be a shoo-in, gained seats in the New Jersey state legislature, and dished out a “shellacking” in New York’s local races — as an endorsement of his agenda: “I do know that people want us to get things done. They want us to get things done. And that’s why I’m continuing to push very hard for the Democratic Party to move along and pass my infrastructure bill and my Build Back Better bill.”
What the Past Week Means
One week ago today, President Biden told Congressional Democrats that, “I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that the House and Senate majorities and my presidency will be determined by what happens in the next week.”
One week has passed, and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework and the Build Back Better bill have not passed. The Democrats got beaten almost everywhere they were on the ballot on Tuesday. And as Vice President Kamala Harris declared at a rally for McAuliffe, “What happens in Virginia will in large part determine what happens in 2022, 2024, and on.”
ADDENDUM: Even the American Civil Liberties Union is publicly arguing that President Biden “hasn’t been fully briefed” on what his own administration is doing. Yesterday, the president surprised some people by insisting that reports that his administration is considering paying $450,000 per person to migrant families separated under the Trump administration are “garbage” and “not true.” The Wall Street Journal reported this, and added that, “In recent months, lawyers for the families and the government have told courts overseeing the cases that they are engaged in settlement negotiations and hoped to reach a deal by the end of November.”
It would be really shocking if these lawyers told courts a lie about settlement negotiations.
In fact, the ACLU tweeted that, “Biden may not have been fully briefed about the actions of his own DOJ as it carefully considered the crimes committed against thousands of families. But if he follows through on what he said, the president is abandoning a campaign promise to do justice for separated families.”
Is Biden being kept out of the loop? Is Biden lying? Or was Biden told about this proposal and simply doesn’t remember it?