President Joe Biden got here to workplace hoping to take his place within the pantheon of Democratic presidents revered by his occasion’s base: Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, and Harry Truman, whose signature phrase concerning the presidency was, “The buck stops right here.”
Whether or not that final slogan is a guideline for Biden is considered by many as a matter of circumstances. He took credit score for the progress when discussing the significance of vaccinations, together with his newer efforts to make use of the federal authorities to nudge folks to get the shot.
“It’s been a month since I laid out a six-part plan to speed up the trail out of this pandemic: One, vaccinate the unvaccinated. Two, proceed to maintain the vaccinated protected. Hold kids secure and faculties open, which the gov is doing,” Biden mentioned in a speech earlier this month. “Enhance testing and masking. Shield the financial restoration. And enhance the care of the folks with COVID-19.”
On the entire above, Biden gave himself excessive marks. “We’ve made actual progress throughout the board. Greater than 185 million People at the moment are absolutely vaccinated. Greater than 75% of eligible People have gotten no less than one shot,” he continued. “We’ve made nice progress on fairness as nicely, and shutting the gaps in race, in addition to ethnic vaccination charges. Current information reveals that Latino People, black People, Native People, and Asian People have now gotten vaccinated concerning the comparable charge as white People.”
In that case, it’s cheap to ask, why does the pandemic stay such a major drawback? On that, he isn’t fairly so keen to take all of the credit score. “The actual fact is, this has been a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Biden mentioned. By which he means a pandemic of the crimson states: “Look, I do know that vaccination necessities are a tricky medication — unpopular with some, politics for others — however they’re lifesaving.”
Typically, Biden has been keen to be extra specific on this entrance. “And to make issues worse, there are elected officers actively working to undermine the struggle towards COVID-19,” Biden mentioned final month. “As an alternative of encouraging folks to get vaccinated and masks up, they’re ordering cellular morgues for the unvaccinated dying from COVID of their communities.”
The targets of those jibes have been Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Each are Republicans. DeSantis, particularly, is talked about as a GOP presidential candidate in 2024. And each are working at cross-purposes with the Biden administration on COVID-19 mitigation measures.
The place Biden has supported renewed masks mandates, DeSantis and Abbott have made it harder even for native authorities and personal companies to require protecting face coverings. Biden is making an attempt to mandate the vaccine the place he can, comparable to amongst federal employees and contractors, and the place he might relying on future court docket rulings, mainly amongst massive non-public employers. Abbott and DeSantis have taken the other strategy.
For Biden, this has left the realm of a mere coverage dispute. “Proper now, native college officers try to maintain kids secure in a pandemic whereas their governor picks a struggle with them and even threatens their salaries or their jobs. Discuss bullying in faculties,” he mentioned, including, “In the event that they’ll not assist, if these governors received’t assist us beat the pandemic, I’ll use my energy as president to get them out of the way in which.”
This isn’t the primary problem on which Biden has taken this strategy. Essentially the most noteworthy was the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the delta variant surge coinciding with the president’s precipitous polling drop. On the favored resolution to finish the 20-year-old struggle, Biden was Trumanesque.
“I’m president of the US, and the buck stops with me,” he mentioned on the White Home. “I’m deeply saddened by the info we now face, however I don’t remorse my resolution to finish America’s war-fighting in Afghanistan and preserve a laser concentrate on our counterterrorism mission there and in different components of the world.”
When it got here to the chaos that unfolded, nonetheless, the buck’s vacation spot was extra ambiguous. “Once I got here into workplace, I inherited a deal that President Trump negotiated with the Taliban,” Biden mentioned in the identical remarks. He famous that troops had already been considerably drawn down. “The selection I needed to make, as your president, was both to comply with via on that settlement or be ready to return to preventing the Taliban in the course of the spring preventing season.”
“I take accountability for the choice,” Biden mentioned on Aug. 31, his chosen withdrawal date. However he additionally mentioned every little thing had modified in Afghanistan earlier than he grew to become president. “My predecessor had made a take care of the Taliban,” he mentioned.
Biden’s habits on this space stem from 36 years within the Senate, the place lawmakers collaborate behind closed doorways to realize legislative victories however shortly run to the cameras to say credit score in entrance of their constituents. His 2020 major rivals have been typically irritated by his tendency to say he wrote practically every little thing he boasted about in debates.
However Biden at the moment finds himself with robust political incentives to take credit score for any positives that circulation from financial reopening whereas blaming congressional inaction and Republican obstruction for remaining issues — when White Home chief of workers Ron Klain isn’t retweeting folks describing them as “high-class issues.”
As Biden’s job approval rankings stagnate, nonetheless, the voters might not assume he’s one other Truman. However they do, over a yr out from the midterm elections, assume the buck stops with him.
W. James Antle III is the Washington Examiner‘s politics editor.