Where is Joe Biden? As the United States teeters on the edge of an economic cliff, the question resonates throughout Washington.
Republicans and Democrats frantically tried Friday to get a deal done before next week’s potential US debt default deadline.
Biden’s agenda this Friday, however, included receiving members of the men’s and women’s college basketball teams that have been crowned champions at the White House, before leaving for the weekend.
Is he really missing in action as the country is gripped by the biggest economic crisis since he took office? Or is he like those silent assassins who cleverly strategize behind the scenes?
In Congress, Democrats, generally loyal to the president, have spent the week complaining to the media that Biden has gone AWOL, and that Republican congressional leader Kevin McCarthy is winning the public relations battle.
“It’s time to take the president off the bench, or to take someone off the bench,” Politico quoted a Democratic representative as saying. “He had never seen anything like this,” added the legislator.
Another Democratic lawmaker, even more outspoken, told CNN: “The White House communication strategy is an atrocity.” “Where is the president? Is he in an undisclosed location?”.
Outdone by McCarthy?
A jet-lagged Biden met McCarthy in the Oval Office on Monday, just after he flew in from Japan, where he was participating in the G7 summit.
Since then he has not been seen, or he is dealing with other things, such as the events this Friday with the basketball players.
On Thursday, at a ceremony to introduce an Air Force general as his nominee for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Biden offered an update on the debt crisis, but his remarks lasted just three minutes.
A debt deal would require significant concessions from Democrats.
The ruling party would agree to Republican demands to limit spending on a variety of programs just to get the debt ceiling removed, something that has been done for decades unconditionally.
In these months, Biden has repeatedly repeated that he would not accept such a transaction.
According to polls, Americans blame the disaster on all sides, ignoring the president’s message that Republicans have held the economy hostage to force politically motivated spending cuts.
McCarthy, meanwhile, seems to be living in his glory days. His regular appearances on television and his press conferences are in stark contrast to the president’s low profile.
Until now McCarthy was seen as having limited influence in his own party, dominated by a hard and unruly right.
“There are many ways to measure the decline of Joe Biden, political and otherwise, but now something unexpected is happening: One of the weakest House Speakers in living memory is leading a high-stakes deal,” the conservative writer observed. Charlie Sykes at The Bulwark.
I know what I do
At 80, with a career spanning four decades in the Senate and eight years as vice president, Biden wants Americans to remember that he knows what he’s doing.
According to his press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, the president is managing a strategy that consists of giving negotiators, members of Congress and White House staff “the space and time” they need.
As for the Republicans’ claim that he has stayed on the sidelines, that’s “a false narrative,” says Hakeem Jeffries, House Minority Leader.
In his two years as president, the Democrat has known how to move like a cat through firewood to obtain some resounding parliamentary victories, although on other occasions he has remained in the background.
The truth is that he still has some margin.
Biden says he does not regret how he has acted. “I did my part,” she told reporters last week. But he pointed out that he too accepts the difficulties of politics.
Even if “on the merits” of the matter he would be “blameless” for an eventual cessation of payments, “the presidents are responsible for everything,” he admitted.