Faced with the provocations of North Korea and Russia, the skid of inflation and the parliamentary wreckage of a major electoral reform, Joe Biden held Friday to praise one of the rare successes so far of his presidency, namely a major infrastructure plan.
“There’s a lot of talk about being disappointed with the things we didn’t get done, and I would add that we’re going to get a lot done. But that we did,” Joe Biden told the White House, while behind him scrolled images of more or less decrepit bridges.
What the Democrat did was to vote in the fall for 1.2 trillion dollars in investments in roads, bridges, the Internet, a historic amount which even benefited from the support of some Republican parliamentarians.
But the reminder of this undeniable success has something almost cruel about it.
During the ratification with great fanfare of the text on November 15, Joe Biden invited a senator from Arizona, Kyrsten Sinema, to speak to praise the text.
On Thursday, the same Kyrsten Sinema buried in a few words, in the Senate gallery, a major electoral law with which Joe Biden promised to protect access to the polls for African-Americans against restrictions imposed by certain conservative states in the South.
This text is emblematic of a turn that Joe Biden seeks to take: in two recent speeches, the president issued warnings of unprecedented gravity on American democracy. And launched attacks of unprecedented virulence against his predecessor Donald Trump, and against the opposition in general.
There is therefore no hope, for this electoral reform project, of rallying Republican parliamentarians to reach the “supermajority” of 60 votes required in the Senate.
The Democratic staff has therefore devised a procedure to force a simple majority – with the 51 votes they control against 50 for the opposition. But Kyrsten Sinema refused this maneuver, like another moderate Democratic senator, condemning the reform itself.
Also on Thursday, the Supreme Court struck down a vaccine requirement the president wanted to impose on big business. And the White House has recognized that after an intense diplomatic ballet with Russia, the threat of a new conflict in Ukraine was in no way lifted.
A black day in a calamitous week which starkly reminded us that Joe Biden, invested a little less than a year ago, made big promises with little room for maneuver.
His control of Congress hangs by a thread, and he has to deal with a Supreme Court that Donald Trump has made very conservative.
On the economic front, inflation has reached its highest level since 1982.
And the United States has broken the record for the number of people hospitalized with Covid-19, a new wave which is emptying supermarket shelves, faced with recurring shortage problems since the start of the pandemic.
On Friday, North Korea carried out its third missile test of the year, one more provocation as the United States has just imposed new financial sanctions.
And what about the polls which, one after another, confirm the strong unpopularity of the president? Most opinion polls give a confidence rating of around 42%.
“A program does not close in a year. We will continue to fight for each component,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki promised on Friday, listing both the economy, the fight against the pandemic and climate change, and the fight for civil rights.
But if Joe Biden has few weapons to fight, he also has less and less time. In the fall, he will face mid-term legislative elections that are historically difficult for the power in place, and could lose control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives.