Hollow the Leader: Biden's Empty Year Takes Its Toll

January 14, 2022

If you thought your week was bad, Joe Biden's was worse. The president, who is bleeding support with every empty produce aisle, has had his share of awful days. Still, his PR team probably wouldn't have chosen to spend his one-year anniversary in office next Thursday spinning a trifecta of defeats. In a matter of hours, Biden witnessed the end of the private employer vaccine mandate at the Supreme Court -- followed, that same afternoon, by a death blow to two of the Left's signature priorities: the crusade to end the Senate filibuster and his raging attempt to takeover U.S. elections.

After 12 months of self-inflicted wounds, it was the embarrassing cap to an already dismal first year. With his agenda in tatters and public confidence at new lows, the path forward is anything but clear. "He's just not up to the job of being president," Jim Geraghty argues. Others, like David Brooks, say it's time to sideline the extremist voices and find some middle ground. "Today is the day for Biden to begin revamping his presidency in a more centrist direction. There's no path forward for a leftist agenda."

And yet, even the president himself seems in denial on that fact, telling reporters when the election bill went down in flames that "As long as I'm in the White House, as long as I'm engaged at all, I'm going to be fighting... Like every other major civil rights bill that came along, if we miss the first time, we can come back and try it a second time."

But for Democrats, there may not be a second time. In poll after poll, Biden's party is staring down numbers that would take a Lazarus-like miracle to bounce back from. Only four percent of Americans -- four -- think the economy has recovered under Biden. Seventy percent believe his policies are making the situation worse, and 66 percent said they doubted whether the president was even "a leader you could trust" -- including more than a third of his own party!

Two Democrats, Senators Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) probably identify with that concern more than anyone after watching the president turn his back on everything he stood for in their chamber. This was a man, in 2005, who fought to the death to protect the legislative filibuster. "Republicans may own the field right now," the younger Biden warned, "but you won't own it forever. And I pray God when the Democrats take back control, we don't make the kind of naked power grab you are doing."

"We have termed this the filibuster flip-flop in the United States Senate," Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) chuckled when she saw the clip. "We've seen this with President Joe Biden. We've seen this with the Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, where just a handful of years ago, he was saying that elimination of the filibuster would spell doomsday for democracy. And obviously, their tune has changed, and we've called them to the carpet on this." But at the end of the day, she shook her head, "it's all about self-preservation for them." It's all about a flailing party guaranteeing permanent, total control.

Fortunately, two Democratic senators had the foresight to see the devastation that a filibuster-free Senate would have on the rest of America. In a powerful speech on the floor, Sinema cut through her party's melodramatic talking points and got to the heart of the matter: Lowering the 60-vote threshold is the lazy way out of legislating for either party. This whole conversation, she chided, "is a poor substitute for what I believe could have been and should have been a thoughtful public debate at any time over the past year." Killing a rule that forces senators to compromise and work together doesn't solve "the disease of division," she argued. "Today marks the longest time in history that the Senate has been equally divided. The House of Representatives is nearly equally divided as well... Our mandate, it seems evident to me, [is to] work together and get stuff done for America."

It was the final nail in the coffin to the Democrats' election takeover hopes. With the filibuster in place and the narrowest possible majority, there's no way for Biden's party to ram through their unpopular legislation -- for now. "I do believe we're in a safe situation," Ernst agreed, "but that could change. For now the filibuster is safe."

That's a relief to experts like J. Christian Adams, who saw the founders' dream on the verge of complete extinction. "The Senate was designed to slow down legislation..." he explained on "Washington Watch." "Otherwise, Washington would be even more out of control than it is." It's a check and balance that requires consensus and equilibrium. And we tinker with it at great risk. Even the American people seem to have come around to that fact, rallying around the filibuster with an even bigger majority since June.

For Joe Biden, the task of stopping his spiraling presidency just became a whole lot harder. Staring down crises he can't solve, voters he can't convince, and a party he can't satiate, the next three years must seem like a long and exhausting prospect. With few other prospects, maybe the president could return to the one thing voters asked of him. Americans "didn't give President Biden a mandate for much," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) pointed out, but they did give him a job he's thus far ignored: uniting a hurt and divided country. Maybe now is the time to take that call seriously.