7am is a daily news podcast brought to you by the publishers of The Saturday Paper and The Monthly.
How to listen? Submit Newsletter signup Submit Website Submit

Listen

7am Podcast

Joe Biden’s honeymoon is over

Bruce Wolpe on what Joe Biden can do to turn things around and what happens if he can’t.

Just one year on from winning the US election, President Joe Biden is in the middle of a political crisis. 

Divisions within his own party have left Biden unable to implement key election promises, and his approval ratings are plummeting. 

And after losing key election races last week, there are now predictions the Democrats could be annihilated at the midterms next year.

Today, former advisor to the Democrats and contributor to The Saturday Paper, Bruce Wolpe on what Joe Biden can do to turn things around and what happens if he can’t. 

 

Guest: Contributor for The Saturday Paper, Bruce Wolpe.

 
Show Transcript

[Theme Music Starts]

 

RUBY: 

From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones. This is 7am.

 

Just one year on from winning the US election, President Joe Biden is in the middle of a political crisis. 

 

Divisions within his own party have left Biden unable to implement key election promises, and his approval ratings are plummeting. 

 

After losing key election races last week, there are now fears the Democrats could be annihilated at the midterms next year.

 

Today - former advisor to the Democrats and contributor to *The Saturday Paper*, Bruce Wolpe, on what Joe Biden can do to turn things around -- and what happens if he can’t. 

 

It’s Monday, November 8. 

 

[Theme Music Ends]

 

RUBY:
Hi, Bruce, it's Ruby. How are you? 

 

BRUCE:
Ruby! How are you?

 

RUBY:
I'm excellent. Thank you so much for coming on the show. 

 

BRUCE:
Me too sorry, I have it. Our paths haven't crossed before. Very glad to encounter you here. 

 

RUBY:
We are very happy to have you. And I was just thinking, it's kind of amazing that it's been a year since Joe Biden came in. It's gone by in a flash. Is that how it feels for you? 

 

BRUCE:
I know, yes, it's quite an anniversary. 

 

RUBY:
Hmm. And so when Joe Biden won the US presidency, I, you know, I remember the campaign. He was promising to be this safe pair of hands. Things would go back to how they used to be. And really, he was kind of just promising that he wouldn't be Trump. A year on from all of that, how is his presidency looking to you? How would you say that he's positioned? 

 

BRUCE:
He's troubled right now.

 

It started really strongly. 

 

Archival tape -- Joe Biden:
“America is rising anew. Choosing hope over fear. Truth over lies and light over darkness. After 100 days of rescue and renewal, America is ready for takeoff in my view.”

 

BRUCE:
There was relief amongst many that Trump was out and Biden looked like a deeply experienced person. 

 

Archival tape -- Joe Biden:
“We're working again, dreaming again, discovering again and leading the world again.”

 

BRUCE:
And he had the right tone to say, I have two things I want to get the COVID pandemic under control and I want to restore the economy you're hurting.

 

Archival tape -- Joe Biden:
“Together we passed the American Rescue Plan, one most consequential rescue packages in American history.”  

 

BRUCE:
And within the first 50 days, he had a massive rescue plan passed and that was that beat the Obama pace coming out of the Great Recession. 

 

Archival tape -- Joe Biden:
“The economy created more than 1,300,000 jobs in 100 days. That will be the fastest pace of economic growth in this country in nearly four decades.” 

 

BRUCE:
And the economy was absolutely picking up jobs up, wages up. 

 

Archival tape -- Joe Biden:
“Senior deaths from covid-19 are down, 80 percent since January. And more than half adults in America have one shot.” 

 

BRUCE:
And it looked like the virus had capped out vaccination rates. We finally got the programme going, people getting vaccinated.

 

Archival tape -- Joe Biden:
“After just 100 days, I can report to the nation, America is on the move again.” 

 

BRUCE:
And by July, things were looking quite good and then Delta hit. 

 

That really hurt. 

 

And then, as the sluggishness of the economy kicked in because of Delta, there were problems. Inflation, high gas prices high. 

 

And then there was a decision on Afghanistan. The exit from Afghanistan was terribly flawed, troubled and caused great shame and death.

 

So people have less confidence in Biden than they did six months ago, and his approval has taken a big hit. 

 

Archival tape -- NBC reporting:
“We have a brand new NBC News poll out this morning. Americans have lost their confidence in President Biden and their optimism for the country.” 

 

BRUCE:
So that's where he is, and that's why I say he's troubled.

 

Archival tape -- News report:
“Compare with other presidents at the end of their first year, Biden just slightly above where Donald Trump was, but well below Presidents Obama and Clinton.” 

 

RUBY:
Right, as someone who watches US politics closely and worked for the Democrats at one point - are you surprised by where Joe Biden and his party find themselves at this point? 

 

BRUCE:
I am. 70 percent of the country believing it's the country is on the wrong track and you're not delivering the goods.

 

He was able to get the vaccination programme going, but has been too slow and people feel uneasy about that and they want that to move faster. 

 

But that's the limit of what he's done. So all the other stuff we're talking about, what can he do for seniors and for kids in education and climate? 

 

That is what's pending in Congress right now. Unless Congress passes it, he's not going to get it. We will not see change in America on those issues. 

 

RUBY:
Ok - and that brings us to Biden’s big challenge, which is getting his agenda passed through Congress. Can you tell me about that challenge, about the legislation that he is trying to pass and why it’s so important to his Presidency? 

 

BRUCE:
For Biden to get his legislation through Congress, well he has to do two things. He has to propose it and Congress has to pass it. 

 

Archival tape -- Joe Biden:
“That's why I proposed the investments Congress is now considering. In two critical pieces of legislation.”  

 

BRUCE:
So Biden has again these two major bills, one is infrastructure. physical infrastructure, plus digital broadband rebuilding that throughout the country. 

 

Archival tape -- Joe Biden:
“The bipartisan infrastructure bill is also the most significant investment since we built the interstate highway system and won the space race decades ago.” 

 

BRUCE:
The infrastructure bill is about a trillion dollars.

 

Archival tape -- Joe Biden:
“We're going to put hard working Americans on the job to bring our infrastructure up to speed.”

 

BRUCE:
The second is a whole bunch of social programmes, and that package is going to be around two trillion dollars. 

 

So it's about universal schooling for children. It's about housing for seniors. Better housing, better care. It's about increasing the minimum wage. It's about longer job security its about paid parental leave. It's about lowering the cost of prescription drugs for out of your health insurance, it's about expanding Obamacare. So a whole bunch of health, education and climate programmes. He's proposing the largest climate programme in American history, over half a trillion dollars. 

 

Archival tape -- Joe Biden:
“This framework also makes the most significant investment to deal with the climate crisis ever ever happen beyond any other advanced nation in the world.”

 

BRUCE:
And this is why it is a left of centre progressive agenda. But when people are asked about when there's polling on the elements of this programme, people say, Yeah, this is what's  on my mind, this what's concerning my family, my life. 

 

Archival tape -- Joe Biden:
“That's why I wrote these bills in the first place and took them to the people. I campaigned on them. And the American people spoke. This agenda. The agenda thats in these bills is what 81 million Americans voted for.”

 

BRUCE:
So you have these two packages that are fundamental to the operation of American society. And they're not getting done. 

 

And that's what's hurting Joe Biden at this time. 

 

RUBY:
Right OK - and so these two bills, would you say that is the biggest challenge that Biden is facing right now?

 

BRUCE:
This is his whole domestic agenda right here. This is it. 

 

Archival tape -- Joe Biden:
“So let’s get this done. God bless you all and troops. See you in Italy and Scotland.” 

 

Archival tape -- Reporters:
“Mr President, are you relying on… do you have firm commitment from Machen and Sinema…”

 

RUBY:
We’ll be back after this.

 

[Advertisement]

 

RUBY:
Bruce, we’re talking about how President Joe Biden is facing a real political crisis, just 12 months after winning the election. That crisis is largely the result of his failure to implement his agenda. So how did he get to this point, and what can he do to resolve it?

 

Archival tape -- Don Lemon (CNN):
“The president who ran on bipartisanship - his ability to get both sides to the table - now faces what you call open warfare between members of his own party. And it threatens to derail his agenda.” 

 

BRUCE:
His margin in the House today, Biden three votes in the Senate, there's no margin, so there's no room in which you can say to members, I don't need your vote on this. 

 

He needs every vote on this. It requires hard and fast unanimity amongst all the Democrats. 

 

Archival tape -- Don Lemon (CNN):
“So called moderates and progressives battling over his signature infrastructure bill.” 

 

BRUCE:
And it's not a Westminster system. It's not where the Liberal Party and Labor Party says, this is our position. You're going to vote this way and they vote that way. This is through. Everyone is a free agent up there. You have to win their confidence in their support. It's a much harder task and that's what he's wrestling with right now.   

 

And so we're going to see in the next few days whether this message is absorbed and whether they understand and whether they produce the goods, in other words. Yeah. All the Democrats agree. This is our package. OK. I didn't get everything or I'm upset about this piece of it.

 

Archival tape -- Joe Manchin:
“Simply put I will not support a bill this consequential without thoroughly understanding the impact it’ll have on our national debt, our economy and American people.” 

 

BRUCE:
But this is our package now that we voted or we don't. So it is really a moment of truth for Biden. 

 

If he was, Gough Whitlam may say this is my crash through or crash moment. And that's what he's facing. 

 

RUBY:
Ok so it’s Democrats on Biden’s own side who are making life hard for him, by refusing to pass his agenda. Is that starting to have a real political impact for the Democrats?

 

BRUCE:
I think the election on last Tuesday in Virginia and New Jersey scared the hell out of the Democratic Party. 

 

Archival tape -- Youngkin:
“Alrighty Virginia!! We won this thing!!”

 

Archival tape -- NBC:
“President Biden responding to that urgent wake up call for Democrats. Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin stunning win in the Virginia governor's” 

 

BRUCE:
So Virginia loss to the Republicans. 

 

Archival tape -- NBC:
“Tonight, the blame game amongst Democrats, beginning some pointing to the failure to pass President Biden's multi trillion dollar spending plans” 

 

BRUCE:
A very close call for the governor of New Jersey. He will be returned, but his margin was completely wiped out.  

 

RUBY:
Right - so the loss in Virginia is a real wake up call for the Democrats. And there’s another test coming up for them - the midterms are on the horizon -- and that will be an even bigger issue for Biden, because that will actually affect his ability to legislate? 

 

BRUCE:
What it means for the midterms is first, Biden has to get his approval up. But just going into it, Democrats control the house by three seats so right as we are talking today I don't see how the Democrats can keep the house of representatives. 

 

If you cannot govern, you cannot get elected. So the message to the Democrats is what they're absorbed the Democrats. You damn fools. If you cannot govern, you cannot win the election. How many times do you have to learn this lesson? You didn't pass Obamacare early and lost the House in 2010. So pass these bills. 

 

RUBY:
So it seems like - at this point - the midterms are unlikely to go his way - and will only make things more difficult for Biden, right? 

 

BRUCE:
Let's just think about it for a moment. Let's say he gets it, gets his done infrastructure. In particular, ground is broken across the country on new airports, new railroads, new new roads, new shipping, you know, the whole deal, new subways and and people see that that's coming. And the social package is passed and you have more child support coming to you every month to help you take care of your kids and your and your and your parents have greater access to care and your health insurance under Obamacare. 

 

So if that is all in place and delivering the goods, and if the pandemic settles down because vaccination rates are in fact up.

 

So if all that gets better next year looks more favourable and you have a growing economy, more employment, higher wages, a healthier country and people feel good again. And if people feel good, then Biden's approval rating should go up and you tend to support the president in the White House. 

 

That's that's an alternative road that could be travelled if things fall into into place. 

 

But you can't win something with nothing. And what we have today, we don't have anything. 

 

And so that means that Biden would be stuck paralysed. 

 

Yes, still president, but he wouldn't be able to get anything through Congress. 

 

RUBY:
Well, Bruce, thank you so much for talking to me about all of this. 

 

BRUCE
Thank you, Ruby, and hope we talk again

 

[Advertisement]

 

RUBY:
Also in the news today…

 

Joe Biden’s $1.6 trillion infrastructure bill has passed Congress after a number of Republicans threw their support behind it.

 

The result is a significant political victory for Biden, though the future of his other landmark piece of legislation - the social spending focused Build Back Better Act remains unclear.

 

And  Victorian Liberal MP Tim Smith  has announced he will be quitting politics ahead of the next state election.

 

Smith resigned as the state’s shadow attorney general after being caught drink driving.

 

I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am, see ya tomorrow.

From the front page

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison during a visit to Penshurst Girls School in Sydney today. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

Quiet please

The PM would like both Christensen and the media to zip it

Image of sculpture by Jane Bamford

The artist making sculpture for penguins

How creating sculpture for animals is transforming wildlife conservation and the art world

Image of Abdul Karim Hekmat. Photograph © Sam Biddle

Australia needs to hear asylum seekers’ stories, in our own words

Our presence has preoccupied the nation, but our stories have been excluded from the national narrative

Image of Australian Bicentenary protest, Sydney, NSW, 1988

The stunted country

There can be no republic without constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians

Online exclusives

Image of Abdul Karim Hekmat. Photograph © Sam Biddle

Australia needs to hear asylum seekers’ stories, in our own words

Our presence has preoccupied the nation, but our stories have been excluded from the national narrative

Image of Oscar Isaac as William Tell in The Card Counter. Photograph © Focus Features

Debt burden: Paul Schrader’s ‘The Card Counter’

The acclaimed writer-director indulges his experimental streak in a thriller that inverts the popular conception of the gambling man

Image of The Beatles and Yoko Ono during the ‘Let It Be’ sessions. Image © Apple Records / Disney+

‘Get Back’ is ‘slow TV’ for Beatles nuts

Despite plenty of magical moments, Peter Jackson’s eight-hour epic is the work of a fanatic, and will likely only be watched in full by other fanatics

Image of John Wilson in How To with John Wilson. Image courtesy of HBO / Binge

Candid camera: ‘How To with John Wilson’

Both delightfully droll and genuinely moving, John Wilson’s idiosyncratic documentary series is this month’s streaming standout