- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
President Joe Biden came to office hoping to take his place in the pantheon of Democratic presidents revered by his party’s base: Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, and Harry Truman, whose signature phrase about the presidency was, “The buck stops here.”
Whether that last slogan is a guiding principle for Biden is viewed by many as a matter of circumstances. He took credit for the progress when discussing the importance of vaccinations, including his more recent efforts to use the federal government to nudge people to get the shot.
“It’s been a month since I laid out a six-part plan to accelerate the path out of this pandemic: One, vaccinate the unvaccinated. Two, continue to keep the vaccinated protected. Keep children safe and schools open, which the gov is doing,” Biden said in a speech earlier this month. “Increase testing and masking. Protect the economic recovery. And improve the care of the people with COVID-19.”
On all of the above, Biden gave himself high marks. “We’ve made real progress across the board. More than 185 million Americans are now fully vaccinated. More than 75% of eligible Americans have gotten at least one shot,” he continued. "We’ve made great progress on equity as well, and closing the gaps in race, as well as ethnic vaccination rates. Recent data shows that Latino Americans, black Americans, Native Americans, and Asian Americans have now gotten vaccinated about the comparable rate as white Americans.”
If so, it is reasonable to ask, why does the pandemic remain such a significant problem? On that, he is not quite so willing to take all the credit. “The fact is, this has been a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Biden said. By which he means a pandemic of the red states: “Look, I know that vaccination requirements are a tough medicine — unpopular with some, politics for others — but they’re lifesaving.”
Sometimes, Biden has been willing to be more explicit on this front. "And to make matters worse, there are elected officials actively working to undermine the fight against COVID-19," Biden said last month. "Instead of encouraging people to get vaccinated and mask up, they’re ordering mobile morgues for the unvaccinated dying from COVID in their communities.”
The targets of these jibes were Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Both are Republicans. DeSantis, in particular, is talked about as a GOP presidential candidate in 2024. And both are working at cross-purposes with the Biden administration on COVID-19 mitigation measures.
Where Biden has supported renewed mask mandates, DeSantis and Abbott have made it more difficult even for local government and private businesses to require protective face coverings. Biden is trying to mandate the vaccine where he can, such as among federal workers and contractors, and where he may depending on future court rulings, chiefly among large private employers. Abbott and DeSantis have taken the opposite approach.
For Biden, this has left the realm of a mere policy dispute. "Right now, local school officials are trying to keep children safe in a pandemic while their governor picks a fight with them and even threatens their salaries or their jobs. Talk about bullying in schools," he said, adding, “If they’ll not help, if these governors won’t help us beat the pandemic, I’ll use my power as president to get them out of the way.”
This isn’t the first issue on which Biden has taken this approach. The most noteworthy was the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the delta variant surge coinciding with the president’s precipitous polling drop. On the popular decision to end the 20-year-old war, Biden was Trumanesque.
"I am president of the United States, and the buck stops with me," he said at the White House. "I am deeply saddened by the facts we now face, but I do not regret my decision to end America's war-fighting in Afghanistan and maintain a laser focus on our counterterrorism mission there and in other parts of the world."
When it came to the chaos that unfolded, however, the buck’s destination was more ambiguous. “When I came into office, I inherited a deal that President Trump negotiated with the Taliban,” Biden said in the same remarks. He noted that troops had already been substantially drawn down. “The choice I had to make, as your president, was either to follow through on that agreement or be prepared to go back to fighting the Taliban in the middle of the spring fighting season.”
“I take responsibility for the decision,” Biden said on Aug. 31, his chosen withdrawal date. But he also said everything had changed in Afghanistan before he became president. "My predecessor had made a deal with the Taliban,” he said.
Biden’s habits in this area stem from 36 years in the Senate, where lawmakers collaborate behind closed doors to achieve legislative victories but quickly run to the cameras to claim credit in front of their constituents. His 2020 primary rivals were often irritated by his tendency to say he wrote nearly everything he boasted about in debates.
But Biden currently finds himself with strong political incentives to take credit for any positives that flow from economic reopening while blaming congressional inaction and Republican obstruction for remaining problems — when White House chief of staff Ron Klain isn’t retweeting people describing them as “high-class problems.”
As Biden’s job approval ratings stagnate, however, the voters may not think he is another Truman. But they do, over a year out from the midterm elections, think the buck stops with him.
W. James Antle III is the Washington Examiner's politics editor.
Washington Examiner Videos
Original Author: W. James Antle III
Original Location: The two sides of Biden: Blame-shifter and credit-taker