“A misfortune never arrives alone,” as the old adage says. Sadly, this seems to apply to the presidency of Joe Biden, which has suffered a series of major blows over the past few weeks.
Joe Biden went into the summer with a stable and clear majority, fluctuating between having 52% and 54% of the country behind him. As of now, his approval rating seems stuck at around 45%. If he doesn’t get back on his feet, his party will be in danger approaching the midterm elections of 2022. In certain strategic states, the reports are downright brutal: In Michigan, a state carried by Biden and essential to Democrats’ success, his approval rating has fallen below the 40% mark. In Iowa, a state twice carried by Barack Obama, he won only a miserable 31%; literally twice the number of voters in the state, 62%, voice disapproval of Biden’s job.
The clear and definitive end of the new president’s honeymoon period was the catastrophic United States withdrawal from Afghanistan in August. However, it is clear that Biden’s troubles are not limited to this issue alone — far from it. In particular, another issue was present well before Afghanistan was spoken of and remains worrisome: COVID-19.
The Initial Decline
It might be argued that things really began to turn sour for Biden on the pandemic front in the weeks preceding the American withdrawal from Afghanistan. Ironically, this crisis was his greatest political asset during the 2020 campaign against Donald Trump, but also in the course of the first few months of his term, when he was able to play Santa Claus by distributing doses of vaccine by the hundreds of millions while celebrating “independence from a deadly virus.”
However, there lies the core of the problem for Biden: His administration has undertaken commitments that it has not honored. In some cases, it quite simply could not honor them. At the international summit on the pandemic organized by the White House on Sept. 22, no one felt much like celebrating.
Only in recent weeks has Washington announced a massive campaign for the administration of the third doses of vaccine for the entire American population, even circling Sept. 20 as the launch date. The snag? It did so without even having allowed the regulatory process to follow its course — and on Sept. 17, a committee of experts from the Food and Drug Administration, while authorizing a third dose for the segment of the population most vulnerable to the virus, opposed the administration of an additional dose to the entire population by a 16-2 vote.
That vote followed enormous internal tensions that had, notably, led to the stunning resignation of two senior officials of the FDA. Clearly, those officials were against what they saw as undue political pressure on the part of the White House on the vaccine approval process.
And still to this day, the most important advisers to the president, Dr. Anthony Fauci at the top, do not limit themselves to presenting vaccination for what it is — the best tool for avoiding serious complications of COVID-19. They continue to maintain in the national media that if a sufficient majority of Americans gets vaccinated, they will be able to “eliminate” the virus. This is a dubious promise, to say the least, in light of the experience of countries such as Israel, Norway and Iceland, which have attained particularly high rates of vaccination without eliminating COVID-19.
It is, above all, politically speaking, a risky promise. And it is framed in rhetoric that has been used for weeks. Even in July, Biden falsely declared to Americans: “You’re not going to get COVID if you have these vaccinations.” And in September, Fauci maintained that they could be satisfied only if the number of cases registered in the United States remained below the 10,000 mark … out of a little more than 330 million people (which represents an infection rate registering at around 0.003%). Never since the spring of 2020 has the United States maintained a level that low for more than a few days.
Even presuming that testing continues, it is doubtful that such an objective is realistic in the short term. That is particularly true in a context in which vaccines limit transmission, but do not halt it. Moreover, the administration itself recognizes that vaccines lose their efficacy with time, that vaccination rates stagnate … and that it cannot, at present, ensure the future of additional doses!
In short, by continuing to set the bar too high for themselves, the president and his team are, in a way, putting themselves in the hot seat.
In March, according to a national Ipsos poll, 70% of Americans were saying that they approved of the way that Biden was managing the pandemic. Today, according to the latest poll in The Economist, barely 46% are of that opinion. And public confidence in Fauci, who was widely admired in the first months of the pandemic, is now barely at 40%. At the time of the last presidential debate, in October 2020, Biden declared that he was going to “shut down the virus.” If, after eight months in office, things continue on this path, it may be the president who is more likely to get shut down.