The War in Ukraine Is Upending Biden’s Agenda at Home

WASHINGTON — The Russian invasion of Ukraine has altered the landscape of global foreign policy. But it has also disrupted President Biden’s domestic agenda at home, diverting attention away from the White House and contributing to the price hikes that have become a top concern for Americans just months before the congressional election.

Three months after Biden promised in a lengthy two-hour news conference that he would continue to fight for college tuition, child care, early education, prescription drugs and the environment, the president’s domestic agenda has narrowed. drastically.

The fighting in Ukraine has disrupted global oil markets, sending gasoline prices and inflation skyrocketing in the United States and, for the time being, sidelining the longer-term problems that Biden had long hoped would emerge. become the centerpiece of his legacy.

Biden, who spent months negotiating in Congress last year, is now spending more time responding to the global crisis caused by Russia. Last month, he flew to Europe for four days of emergency meetings with allies. The president is expected to attend two more European summits in May and June.

Asked about the administration’s legislative goals in an interview this week, Ron Klain, the White House chief of staff, said goals for the coming months included a bill to support American innovation and the technology industry. semiconductors, and requests for financing to combat the coronavirus and continue sending weapons to Ukraine.

“We have a lot of agenda items like that,” Klain said on a podcast hosted by NBC News’ Chuck Todd, admitting, “The calendar has only a few months left of this year.”

Klain and others in the West Wing insist the president has not given up on bigger ambitions. White House officials continue to speak quietly with lawmakers about parts of what they used to call the president’s “Build Back Better” social policy agenda, which they still hope to pass with a razor-thin majority in the Senate through a legislative maneuver called reconciliation. .

“The President also continues to work with a wide range of lawmakers,” White House spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement, “on a reconciliation plan that would lower prescription drug, energy and health care costs. children while reducing the deficit. further and fight long-term inflation, as well as a historic bill to strengthen our competitiveness with China.”

But Mr. Biden, who no longer uses the phrase “Build Back Better” because members of his own party distanced themselves from it when the legislation became mired in dispute, has done little in recent weeks to revive parts of the bill. $2.2 billion he fought for last year.

On Thursday, during a visit to a historically black college in North Carolina, Biden ended a speech with a hopeful riff in which he said America’s politicians had come together in unison to invest in middle-class families, colleges and schools. clean. technologies

“Let’s keep building a better America because that’s who we are,” Biden said, almost pleadingly. “And we can do this.”

But polls suggest the sentiment is at odds with the reality of the country Biden rules and the Washington establishment he presides over, where politics has become more divisive, the country is less unified about the right direction and the world is distracted by Russia. brutal attempt to take over a neighbor.

A Georgetown University Institute of Politics and Public Service survey of civics in the United States released in February found the country is deeply divided, with most people worried about rising costs of goods. In a Monmouth University poll last month, voters used the words “divided,” “disorder” and “chaos” to describe the American political system.

Biden aides often rely on the cliché that they can “walk and chew gum at the same time” to suggest that the president and his team can pursue their internal agenda as they navigate the crisis in Ukraine.

They point in particular to Mr. Biden’s $5.8 trillion budget, which he released in late March. But while he proposed an increase in domestic spending of close to 7 percent, the president’s plan places much less emphasis on the kind of big, ambitious social programs that have stalled amid opposition from moderate Democrats and nearly all Republicans.

The annual budget was, in some ways, the clearest indication of how far the president has regressed amid the Russian invasion, rising inflation and political gridlock in Washington.

It included a nod to Sen. Joe Manchin III, a Democrat from West Virginia, whose opposition to the social policy plan helped narrow his chances late last year. The budget called for reducing the nation’s budget deficit by $1 trillion over the next decade, something Mr. Manchin has repeatedly said is necessary for the country’s economic health.

In this week’s interview, Mr. Klain hinted that the administration was still trying to persuade Mr. Manchin to sign some version of some pieces of the broader legislation. The Democratic caucus has 50 evenly divided Senate seats and can pass legislation on the unified Republican opposition only on Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote, meaning if it fails to convince even one Democratic lawmaker like Manchin prevents approval.

“We have to go back and figure out what formula works with all 50 to get it through the Senate,” Klain said. “And you know, we’re not there, that’s for sure.”

But even if the president moves forward on that legislation, it’s not the only part of his domestic agenda that remains incomplete. As a candidate, Mr. Biden promised to find a new bipartisan readiness in Congress to address long-standing challenges, such as overhauls to the nation’s immigration system, policing and sentencing, and a new sense of fairness in the way the government spend the money.

The immigration bill he sent to Congress on his first day in office is going nowhere, blocked by opposition from Republicans and bickering among his allies. Efforts to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would have made it easier to prosecute police officers, failed in Congress last year. And efforts to comply with sweeping climate change legislation have failed.

The courts have blocked the president in some initiatives. Early last year, Mr. Biden signed an economic stimulus bill that included $4 billion for Black farmers and other “socially disadvantaged” farmers who were discriminated against for years by banks and the federal government. But the money is still frozen due to lawsuits.

In the face of those failures, Biden has said he will increase the use of executive actions that do not require congressional approval. Officials say the president is close to signing an executive order on policing changes that was delayed by a spike in violent crime across the country. Mr. Biden also highlighted steps he has taken to address inflation, including launches of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and efforts to foster competition in industries such as meatpacking.

In his remarks Thursday in North Carolina, Biden called on Congress to act quickly on semiconductor legislation, a sprawling bipartisan effort that would spend billions of dollars aimed at helping the United States compete against China and other countries. . The House and Senate have passed conflicting versions of the bill and must reconcile the changes before sending it to Biden’s desk.

Mr. Biden said the legislation would reduce the cost of goods, telling the audience that it would provide $90 billion for research and development, manufacturing, and science, technology, engineering, and math education.

“All of those elements of the supply chain,” he said, “we need to produce final products right here in the United States.”

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