John L. Rosove

Why has Biden’s approval tanked in light of substantial legislative successes?

It seems to me that President Biden has been wildly successful as president in his first 18-months in office despite a 50-50 Senate, a bare Democratic House majority, and an  insurrectionist Trump-Republican Party that shows no allegiance to the US Constitution, the rule of law, or Biden’s legitimacy as the duly-elected president of the United States.

To paraphrase the late 17th century playwright William Congreve: “Hell hath no fury like a president scorned.” Biden gets far too little love as his tanking approval rating suggests. At the time of this writing, he stands at 39.3 percent approval and 55.6 percent disapproval.

I took time this past week to compile – as best I could – a list of Biden’s accomplishments thus far. But first, a disclaimer. I am a Joe Biden fan not only because I respect his long governmental and political experience as a Senator, Vice-President, and foreign policy expert, but because as a religious man he exudes a measure of humility, honors all faith traditions, and respects American democracy enough to not try and legislate his religious views on the country as a whole. He is also what we might call our “Chief Empath and Mensch.”  Though Joe has made his share of mistakes over his long career, for the most part, he has amassed a large treasure-trove of accomplishments especially during his presidency.

Yes, Joe is now getting older; and yes, most of us lose a measure of mental and physical acuity as we age. But it seems to me, according to everything I have seen and read about him, that Joe is still mentally sharp and in command of his policy objectives. He is certainly physically fit, though he appears stiff, likely due to suffering from lower back pain. Relative to most everyone, Biden is politically wise after a lifetime serving the public interest, savvy about how the American political system ought to work, and emotionally and morally guided to do the best he can do as President for the vast majority of Americans.

Biden’s stutter and his way of dealing with that disability are often misinterpreted as signs of confusion and a lack of focus. His advisors and those close to him affirm that he has what it takes to do his job, arguably the most difficult of any in the world.

Many of us seniors, naturally, may be inclined to project our own situation onto Biden, for better and worse. Whatever we conclude about him, however, does not necessarily mean he cannot handle the demands of the presidency. He certainly seems to be doing just fine based on his record to date and the quality of people he has appointed in his administration. Only Joe Biden knows what he can actually handle and what he can’t. If he thinks he can effectively serve as President in a second term, God bless him, and I’ll support him fully.

Here is my list of Biden’s accomplishments in his first 18-months in office:

  • The restoration of dignity to the Oval Office after four punishing years of the most corrupt President and lawless self-serving administration in the history of the country.
  • $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package which drastically increased investment in the national network of bridges, roads, airports, public transport, national broadband internet, waterways, and energy systems.
  • $1.9 trillion COVID relief deal that provided direct payments of up to $1,400 to many struggling U.S. citizens and temporarily extended unemployment support by $300 per week, channeled $20 billion into the COVID vaccination program, provided $25 billion in rental support and a further $350 billion into state, tribal, and local relief efforts, raised the maximum Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program support by 15 percent, invested $120 billion into K-12 schools across the nation, gave 209 million Americans the full dose of the COVID vaccination and 249 million (74 percent of the U.S. population) at least one dose of the vaccine.
  • Federal judge appointments Biden has so far has nominated 130 individuals to federal judgeships of which 76 have been confirmed. 80 percent are women and 53 percent are people of color.
  • Supreme Court Biden nominated the first Black woman ever to serve on the United States Supreme Court when he nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.
  • Federal Executions Biden restored the pre-Trump status-quo and imposed a suspension on federal executions while the Department of Justice assesses the existing procedures and policies.
  • Climate change Biden re-joined the international Paris Climate Accord immediately upon assuming office thereby reversing Trump’s unilateral withdrawal in 2017, and he allowed the United States to continue to work with global players in the worldwide drive to deter the climate’s deterioration. He joined an additional agreement aimed at reversing deforestation as well as presenting a 100-country strong pledge to reduce greenhouse emissions by at least 30 percent by 2030. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will invest billions of dollars to protect Americans from droughts, fires, and floods while moving America closer to our climate goals. (See specifics of the soon-to-be-passed Inflation Reduction Act below).
  • Roe V. Wade Biden has called for a national law codifying Roe V. Wade.
  • Health Care Biden strengthened the Affordable Care Act by expanding eligibility and extending the open enrollment period. Thanks to tax credits in the American Rescue Plan, a record 14.5 million Americans signed up for coverage in 2021 through the ACA, including 5.8 million new customers. At the same time, President Biden’s American Rescue Plan made quality coverage more affordable, with millions of families on ACA plans saving an average of $2,400 yearly on their premiums.
  • Transgender Service Members Within his first week at the White House, Biden issued an executive order overturning the Trump-era ban on openly transgender members of the U.S. military.
  • Unemployment When Biden took office, the unemployment rate stood at 6.3 percent. Upwards of 10,000,000 jobs have been created since January, 2021, including 642,000 American manufacturing jobs. Jobless claims are the lowest since 1969. Unemployment stands today at 3.5 percent.
  • Afghanistan Though it was a chaotic withdrawal and disastrous mistakes were obviously made, Biden ended the American military presence in Afghanistan after 20 years of war and the loss of thousands of American lives and far more injured, as he promised in his campaign.
  • NATO and the Western Alliances – Biden restored NATO after years of undermining by Trump. In the last month, NATO admitted Finland and Sweden thereby expanding its reach.
  • Ukraine – Biden has led the Western alliance and NATO in support of Ukraine against Russian aggression and led the U.S. to be the largest contributor of sophisticated arms and weapons to aid Ukraine in its self-defense.
  • Introduction of the Inflation Reduction Act (pending with a probable vote next week) that will address the globe’s changing climate, give Medicare the power to negotiate lower drug prices, extend health care subsidies under the ACA for three years, and raise money by requiring corporations to pay a minimum tax to lower the federal budget deficit.
  • Gun legislation – Biden signed into law the first major gun safety legislation passed in decades. Though the measure failed to ban military-style weapons, it does include funding for school safety and state crisis intervention programs. It includes granting $750 million to help states implement gun crisis intervention programs which can be used to manage red flag programs as well as for other crisis intervention programs such as mental health, drug and veteran courts. The law includes juvenile records in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System which provides a more comprehensive background check for people between 18 and 21 who want to buy guns. It bars guns from anyone convicted of a domestic violence crime.
  • The United States Chips and Science Act (CHIPS) Invests $280 billion in areas like semiconductor manufacturing and scientific research to bolster competition with China.
  • Comprehensive Toxics Act (PACT) – Improves health care and benefits for veterans exposed to toxic substances (e.g. 9/11 first responders and victims of military burn pits) – passed largely by Democrats and Jon Stuart’s advocacy in shaming Republicans who cynically threatened to vote against the bill to deny Democrats a victory and then, when the public’s criticism was too intense, shifted course and voted for it.
  • Killing al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri – with a huge Biden shout-out to America’s intelligence services that had been undermined by Trump.
  • Gas prices – Hit a 50-day low. Gas prices had peaked above $5 a gallon but have fallen every day for more than six weeks. Today the average national cost is closer to $4 a gallon.

Biden’s Approval Rating – It seems incredibly odd that Biden’s approval numbers remains so low given the above list of accomplishments. Perhaps, these legislative wins will result in a ratings bump. A New York Times/Siena College poll conducted in early July found that 64 percent of Democrats wanted someone other than Biden to be the party’s nominee in 2024. A CNN poll later in the month put that figure at 75 percent among Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters. Those numbers, however, can change. Remember that Biden had a 55% approval rating during his first six months in office.

Why are Biden’s approval numbers so low? Here are a few possible answers:

  • Baked-in attitudes among Republican election deniers and the lingering suspicion among too many Americans that, despite all facts to the contrary, Biden’s 2020 election victory was illegitimate.
  • Biased news coverage among cable commentators, right-wing and local media, and among some in the mainstream media that never seem to miss an opportunity to cast Biden’s successes in a negative light.
  • Biden’s advancing age.
  • High expectations that Biden raised in his campaign to pass legislation assuring more affordable child care, help for the elderly and those who care for them, less expensive preschool, efforts to confront the cost of housing, student debt relief, tuition-free community college, money to cover health care for the poor in states that have refused to expand Medicaid.

The late New York Governor Mario Cuomo once said that “politicians campaign in poetry, but they govern in prose. Biden certainly is not the most eloquent of presidents, but his record thus far suggests that his prose is strong. In the end, that is what is important.

What might be the future of the Biden Presidency? It is hard to tell, but if past is prologue it could be very good indeed.

About the Author
John L. Rosove is Senior Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Israel of Hollywood in Los Angeles. He is a national co-Chair of the Rabbinic and Cantorial Cabinet of J Street and immediate past National Chairman of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA). He serves as a member of the newly created Union for Reform Judaism's Israel and Reform Zionism Committee (IRZC). John was the 2002 Recipient of the World Union for Progressive Judaism International Humanitarian Award and has received special commendation from the State of Israel Bonds. In 2013 he was honored by J Street at its Fifth Anniversary Celebration in Los Angeles. John is the author of two books - “Why Judaism Matters – Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to his Children and the Millennial Generation with an Afterword by Daniel and David Rosove” (Nashville: Jewish Lights Publishing, a division of Turner Publishing Company, 2017) and "Why Israel [and its Future] Matters - Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to his Children and the Millennial Generation with an Afterword by Daniel and David Rosove" (New Jersey: Ben Yehuda Press, 2019). Both are available at John translated and edited the Hebrew biography of his Great Granduncle – "Avraham Shapira – Veteran of the Haganah and Hebrew Guard" by Getzel Kressel (publ. by the Municipality of Petach Tikvah, 1955). The translation was privately published (2021). John is married to Barbara. They are the parents of two sons - Daniel (married to Marina) and David. He has two grandchildren.
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