President Joe Biden is putting his foot on the gas pedal and moving ahead with his plans to sell an expansive infrastructure proposal this week as he faces mounting pressure to act on other legislative priorities that have become increasingly difficult to ignore.
The president, who will outline the contours of his multitrillion dollar economic plan at an event in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, has signaled a continued laser focus on defeating the coronavirus pandemic and boosting economic growth while also confronting intractable problems like gun control and immigration following two mass shootings that unfolded within days of each other, and an increase of migrants at the southern border.
Though juggling multiple priorities is part of the job, Biden has refused to let outside challenges usurp his scripted plans for the second phase of his “Build Back Better” agenda, a political balancing act that frustrates some supporters but could have consequential implications on the success of his presidency.
“There are so many crises, so consistently. It never stops,” said Paulette Aniskoff, former deputy assistant to President Barack Obama and director of the Office of Public Engagement. “One of the big lessons from Obama was that the things he got done that were big and meaningful and had hugely high approval ratings been the things he really stuck to and focused on.”
As the head of public engagement, Aniskoff served as the White House gatekeeper for advocacy organizations, businesses and outside groups looking to get the president’s attention. Much like Biden’s steadfast commitment to the successful passage of his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package earlier this month, Obama was fixated on the 2009 Recovery Act in his first 100 days, she recalled.
“I think not getting sidetracked is how you get the big stuff done,” Aniskoff said. “While you are of course juggling and looking at executive actions … there’s just only so much you can do with executive actions. They’re not going to be permanent.”
“It’s a matter of timing,” Biden told reporters when asked about gun control. “As you’ve all observed, the successful presidents better than me have been successful in large part because they know how to time what they’re doing. Order it, decide and prioritize what needs to be done.”
The comments were a marked departure from the urgent language he used days earlier in calling on Congress to enact gun safety measures following a deadly shooting in Boulder, Colorado, the second in less than a week. Biden said then that he didn’t “need to wait another minute” to address gun violence.
“Action on gun violence is not a matter of calendaring for the most beneficial time, it’s not a matter of timing. It’s a matter of life and death,” she said.
The message to advocacy groups looking for executive action was clear: It would have to wait. Instead, Biden has turned his attention to his next major initiative: his plan to rebuild bridges and technology, as well as domestic investment in clean energy, access to health care, a boost for caregivers, and overhauling the tax code. The White House has not released a dollar figure for the legislative package, but the combined cost comes with a reported price tag of up to $3 trillion.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Sunday confirmed the administration would split the package into two legislative proposals as Biden looks to shore up Republican support for his next legislative push, something he was unable to accomplish for his COVID-19 relief bill.
The White House will unveil a second proposal later in April that “will address a lot of issues that American people are struggling with – child care, the cost of health care,” she added.
Democratic strategist Josh Schwerin said Biden’s infrastructure plan doesn’t preclude him from tackling other campaign promises.
“From a messaging perspective, it makes sense to have a big public economic goal like infrastructure that you are pushing toward. That doesn’t mean there can’t be work done behind the scenes to lay the groundwork on other legislative priorities,” he said.
While there are always complaints about in what order a president pursues his agenda, Biden is aware he will be evaluated on whether he can point to a set of legislative accomplishments that had a meaningful impact on the lives of Americans, particularly at the 2022 midterm elections, according to William Howell, a political scientist and professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy.