- The Washington Times - Friday, November 19, 2021

President Biden rang in his 79th birthday on Saturday and set another milestone as the oldest president in the history of the United States.

Mr. Biden blew out the candles this time amid sinking poll numbers, rising inflation, persistent COVID-19 woes and mounting speculation over whether he will run for a second term.

“I would say right now I do not know whether he runs again or not,” said John Graham, a member of the Democratic National Committee from New Jersey. “No one really knows at this moment.”

Despite Mr. Biden insisting he will run, it still has become a political parlor game: Will he pass the keys to Vice President Kamala Harris or another Democrat?

Ms. Harris got a chance to briefly play the role Friday when Mr. Biden went to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for a “routine” medical exam that included being put under anesthesia for a colonoscopy.

Democratic Party insiders say Mr. Biden’s ultimate decision about 2024 hangs on how well Washington addresses the simmering anxiety over quality of life issues that helped fuel the GOP’s recent victory in Virginia’s gubernatorial race and near gubernatorial upset in New Jersey.

Mr. Biden’s birthday bash played out at a much rosier moment a year ago.

He was riding high in a post-election glow after ousting former President Donald Trump and spent part of his special day in Wilmington mapping out the party’s next moves with congressional leaders.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi celebrated his 79th spin around the globe by gifting him a white orchid.

Ms. Pelosi and Democrats are now playing defense, scrambling to defend their House and Senate majorities in the elections next year. Midterms tend to be tough on the sitting president’s party.

Mr. Biden’s dismal poll numbers are adding to the sense of urgency.

Since he took the oath of office in January his approval rating plummeted from a high of 52% in February to a low of 36% in November, according to the latest Quinnipiac University Poll. It also showed registered voters favored Republicans over Democrats on generic House and Senate ballots by 5% and 4% margins.

Furthermore, more registered voters disapprove than approve of the way Mr. Biden has handled the coronavirus, which used to be his strong suit.

Indeed, his image has yet to recover from the chaotic U.S. pullout from Afghanistan.

Mr. Biden also faces persistent questions about his mental fitness for the job.

Registered voters, by a 50% to 40% margin, disagreed with the statement Mr. Biden “is in good health,” revealed a POLITICO/Morning Consult poll released this week.

The same Morning Consult survey from October 2020 found that by a 47% to 40% margin voters agreed Mr. Biden is in good health.

Ahead of the 2020 presidential election, Mr. Biden released a summary of his medical history, which described him as “healthy” and “vigorous.”

The three-page report found that Mr. Biden was treated for irregular heartbeat, gastroesophageal reflux and allergies.

The GOP’s plans for 2024 are just as cloudy.

Mr. Trump has teased running again and polls show he is an early favorite. Others, though, are eyeing bids, including former New Jersey Gov. Christie Christie, who has argued the party must move past Mr. Trump.

For now, Republicans are relishing the opportunity to remind voters of Mr. Biden’s struggles and missteps.

“They’ve seen a president who walked away from Afghanistan in a horrific way,” Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee, said Thursday at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. “They’ve seen a president who has turned his back on the border.”

“We’ve seen a president who is making light of the real hardship American families are feeling,” she said. “This is of their own making.”

Mr. Biden and Democrats are looking for the recently passed $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill to turn things around. They also think their prospects will get even better if they can finally strike a deal on Mr. Biden’s roughly $1.75 trillion social welfare and climate bill.

He got an early birthday present Friday when House Democrats pulled together to pass their version of the big bill. The legislation will undergo a major rewrite in the Senate and come back to the House, but the incremental progress was a huge achievement for a House Democratic Caucus plagued with infighting.

If enacted, Mr. Biden’s massive bill, which is known as the Build Back Better bill, would be the largest expansion of the social safety net since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society in the 1960s.

“The people in this country who need the government to work are still suffering and the president needs to really focus in on what he ran on, which is bringing relief and changing material conditions,” said Nina Turner, a member of the Democratic National Committee from Ohio and well-known liberal progressive activist.

Ms. Turner said voters were upbeat a year ago and hopeful that the Biden administration could deliver on its promise to pass legislation that lifted up people across the nation.

“People were feeling more optimistic because it was a comparison to Trump and I think they are feeling less so right now, and the pandemic has a lot to do with that,” she said. “I think anybody who took the job behind Trump, coupled with the pandemic will certainly have a heavy burden and a higher mountain to climb.”

“It is not too late to turn the tide, but they don’t have a lot of time,” she said.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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