President Joe Biden sees a series of economic, political and personal challenges piling up on the home front as he travels to New York City determined to promote American leadership on the world stage.
The White House is facing a strike by auto workers that Biden himself predicted two weeks ago would not happen. Biden’s Republican critics in the House of Representatives have launched an impeachment investigation. Administration officials see gas prices rising, adopting a wait-and-see approach at the present time. Biden’s son was recently indicted on federal charges. Congress is heading toward a possible government shutdown at the end of the month.
While the president meets with world leaders in New York City, he will send two senior officials — acting Labor Secretary Julie Su and White House senior adviser Gene Sperling — to Detroit “early in the week,” an administration official said, to meet in person with leaders. the world. Leaders of the United Auto Workers and the Big Three automakers – Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis.
So far, Sue and Sperling have reached out to both parties by phone — as has the president, including in the hours before the strike — and officials say White House envoys will be in Detroit in a supportive, not interventionist, role.
“I don’t think the president should step in or come to the negotiating table,” Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “I talk to Gene Sperling several times a day, and I do that all summer long. … I don’t think they have a role at the negotiating table. I think all of us, the policymakers and other stakeholders, need to understand what these issues are, and what we can do to support them.” Those discussions are at the table.
The impasse represents new economic and political tests for the president. Questions remain about the ultimate impact the strike could have on the economy, including its repercussions on suppliers that work with auto companies. Biden is still trying to convince Americans that the economy stands on a solid foundation at a time when recent opinion polls show that the majority of Americans believe that his policies have led to a deterioration in economic conditions.
The president’s “pro-union” reputation also faces its toughest test during his time in office. Even after Biden showed strong support for the striking workers on Friday, the union withheld its endorsement and its combative leader described the White House as “scared.”
“Our endorsements will be taken. We’ve been very clear about that,” UAW President Sean Fine said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “We’re waiting for actions, not words.”
The auto workers’ strike is just one of the new challenges facing Biden as he enters a busy phase of official and political events.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced last week that he would open an impeachment inquiry, a move that did not surprise the president but made him appear “angry,” said one person who spoke to the president. Two days later, as he prepared to deliver a major economic speech, the president was dealt another personal blow when his son Hunter Biden was indicted on federal weapons charges with the possibility of tax levies just around the corner.
Amid fierce personal and political headwinds, Biden is adopting an upside-down strategy, pressing ahead with his plans even as challenges to his reelection effort mount.
On Sunday, he arrived in New York to attend the annual meetings of the United Nations General Assembly, one of the busiest on the presidential calendar. Before his arrival, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to urge the president and world leaders to end fossil fuels ahead of Climate Week in New York City, which will include a UN summit on climate change on Wednesday. The White House said that the president is not scheduled to participate in the summit.
He is scheduled to begin a major push for campaign funds as the fundraising quarter ends. He soon plans to deliver a major speech about the threats to democracy, hoping to set a mark as campaign season begins in earnest.
This does not mean that the setbacks did not affect the president or his family.
The indictment of his son, though expected, reflected the development of a turbulent chapter that the Bidens had previously hoped to close. The negative attention on the Biden family — which also extends to the impeachment inquiry, though Republicans have so far failed to produce any evidence of wrongdoing — has weighed on the president, according to people familiar with the matter.
While Biden remains focused on his domestic and foreign agenda, at moments he has appeared emotionally exhausted in private to some people, who say he remains deeply concerned for his son’s safety. The collapse of Hunter’s plea deal this summer has the president baffled, one of the people familiar with the matter said.
This development came as a profound disappointment because it means that the legal saga will drag on indefinitely. In addition to the gun case, special counsel David Weiss is still considering whether to charge Hunter Biden with tax crimes. Weiss said in a lawsuit last month that “prosecution has now begun” for the tax crimes and that he “may file tax charges,” possibly in California or Washington, D.C.
Meanwhile, growing questions about the wisdom of Biden running for a second term have sparked fierce responses from the president’s team. Biden himself remained silent last week when asked about calls for him to withdraw, hoping instead to move forward with his meeting on finding ways to beat cancer in the Cabinet Room.
The moment reflected Biden’s long-standing playbook on tough days: Stick to the plan and try to eliminate distractions.
This will continue while he is in New York. His schedule includes addressing the association on Tuesday, meeting with nine world leaders, hosting a reception at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and attending four fundraisers, including one on Broadway featuring famous performers.
Biden returns to Washington later in the week for talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is visiting the city in part to convince Republican lawmakers to approve more aid.
“You don’t have to take it from me,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Friday. “You heard directly from the president that he is focused on delivering for the American people.”
At the daily presidential briefing Friday morning, Sullivan said Biden did not appear concerned about his son’s legal issues or Republican threats to impeach him. Instead, Biden has been “connected on the key issues we face and will continue to do so as we head into New York next week.”
“That’s what he focuses on,” he said. “That’s where his mentality is.”
Biden has worked hard to separate his family’s personal struggles from his job as president, and White House aides do not discuss them publicly. Even in private, discussions about the political strategy surrounding Hunter Biden are often off-limits, given how sensitive the matter is for the president.
For some Democrats, that proved frustrating. Many told CNN earlier this month that they were looking for a clearer strategy to address the GOP allegations against the president’s son.
Speaking on Wednesday evening, Biden told Democratic donors in Northern Virginia that he is focused on his work, not on the Republican impeachment investigation.
“So, look, I have a job to do. Everyone is always asking about impeachment. I wake up every day, no joke, and I’m not focused on impeachment. I have a job to do. I have to deal with issues that affect the American people every day.”
All presidents find themselves facing difficult periods. Some are consumed in their attempts to reverse course. Former President Donald Trump himself admitted that his first impeachment “probably” distracted him from early efforts to combat Covid-19.
The Biden White House has sought to compartmentalize its response to the McCarthy impeachment inquiry, isolating him from the ongoing work of the administration. This includes building a team of two dozen attorneys, legislative staff and communications consultants to respond to a potential impeachment while the rest of the staff focuses on normal day-to-day business.
The White House on Monday began a more concerted effort to contrast Biden’s governing efforts with what they see as GOP stunts.
“In the past week, we have witnessed a stark divide in priorities. On the one hand: President Biden, who is focused on delivering for the American people. On the other: extreme Republicans in Congress whose priorities are a reckless partisan laundry list beholden to the far-right ideologues in their caucus. One of the split screens on display this week comes as the president prepares to “demonstrate America’s global leadership on the world stage,” while House Republicans disagree on the path forward on a defense spending bill, the official said.
Biden is no stranger to swinging the political pendulum. After being eliminated as a candidate in early 2020 and reading obituaries about the legislative goals that ultimately passed, the president and his team are feeling more comfortable looking beyond short-term obstacles.
Thus, Biden also used to attack his family. He told donors he estimated the potential toll on his family from running in 2020, but one of his grandchildren convinced him.
“Being the son or daughter or granddaughter of a senator, or a vice president, or a president… everyone thinks it’s a great thing,” he said at a fundraiser in June, about a month before his son’s plea deal collapsed. Taxes and gun charges during a dramatic court hearing, “but you get a lot of downside to that.”