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Biden struggles with political agenda and COVID-19, new NPR poll shows


Things are not going well for President Biden right now. Let's give a quick recap. Yesterday, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin said he is a no on Biden's signature bill, the wide-ranging Build Back Better proposal. The move, after months of negotiations, appeared to take the White House by surprise. The possible dead end to Biden's climate proposals and plans to expand pre-K, among many other things, comes as COVID cases spike across the country. There could soon be more cases than ever before, all on the watch of a president who vowed to get the virus under control. And here's one more thing - a brand-new NPR poll shows the public support for Biden appears to be waning further. NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro is with us to talk about it. Good morning, Domenico.


DETROW: So I think I know the answer here, but how do you see things going for President Biden right now?

MONTANARO: Well, it really does feel like he's kind of going backwards somewhat. I mean, a main piece of his agenda has now been derailed by Senator Joe Manchin from West Virginia, and we're talking about the coronavirus again as the main issue in the country. Health officials are warning that people traveling for the holidays and how quickly the omicron variant is spreading, that with all that, we're likely to see spikes again in the number of people who get sick. Already we're seeing schools, sports leagues, theaters, all facing cancellations. It's really turned in, Scott, to another COVID winter. It feels like more like the beginning of the year rather than that summer of freedom that the White House had been hoping for. And, you know, look, fixing COVID, as you alluded to, is a main reason for Biden getting elected. But the pandemic, rising inflation, they've been main drivers for why the public is judging the president so poorly. And, you know, this morning, we have this new data from NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist that shows Biden's approval rating is just 41%, the lowest we've recorded since Biden took office. And worse yet for him, he's off track with independents. Just 29% of them approve of the job he's doing.

DETROW: Twenty-nine percent - wow. Biden is expected to talk more about this latest surge, giving a speech tomorrow. What should we expect to hear?

MONTANARO: Well, he is giving this speech on it tomorrow, which just shows you how big of an issue COVID is. Again, you know, people are fatigued with the pandemic in many corners, running out of patience with mandates, despite what health officials say is necessary to curb the virus. Take a listen to how Colorado Governor Jared Polis put it on NBC's "Meet The Press" yesterday. And remember, he's a Democrat.


JARED POLIS: People just don't react well to this ongoing environment of fear for two years. Let's lead with the facts. Look, the science-driven information people need to keep themselves safe with the individual freedom and local control that we deserve. That's where we are at this point.

MONTANARO: You know, Colorado's a state Biden won by double digits, and Democrats know it's getting harder and harder to keep people's guards up about the pandemic. Polis also said Biden needs to talk about inflation and recognize that people's economic fears are front and center.

DETROW: So let's talk about what happened with Manchin. Yesterday, he goes on Fox News and finally says after, you know, months of really kind of hinting this was the case, he just cannot support the Build Back Better plan.


JOE MANCHIN: I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation, I just can't. I've tried everything humanly possible. I can't get there.

BRET BAIER: You're done. This is - this is a no.

MANCHIN: This is a no.

DETROW: Domenico, what happened here?

MONTANARO: Well, all along, it was going to be difficult to get Manchin on board, a senator from West Virginia, and it was unclear what he would agree to. He'd appear to be in favor of some things, then he wouldn't be. The White House was really, you could tell, irritated with this. You know, they said he was being disingenuous. They released a scathing statement over the weekend. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that Manchin had put in writing just last week to the president that he would be in favor of certain things within Build Back Better, put out his own framework to the White House. But his comments on Fox, no less, she said, were a breach of his commitments to the president and to congressional Democrats.

And, look, when Biden's number's going the way he's going, you know, think about how difficult it is then for a senator from a state where former President Trump won by almost 40 points, how difficult it would be for him to get on board, you know. And it's a hard lesson here, I think, that one that President Biden should probably know after many years in Washington, that the power of personality and personal politics not really all it's cracked up to be and never has been. He - Biden puts a lot of stock on it domestically and on foreign policy. But the fact of the matter remains that numbers are what's most important and leverage is as well. And when you don't have either of those two things, it makes it really hard to get someone like Manchin on board.

DETROW: And the Senate, as a lot of progressives just forgot about or didn't want to focus on, is a 50-50 Senate. That is NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, always good to talk to you.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.

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