WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s promise to unite the country and advance a bold agenda for the 21st century faces a fateful season this fall, as the window to advance his plans narrows amid crises.
September especially will be a pivotal moment as the administration’s attention is divided among multiple emergencies just as Congress tackles Biden’s legislative priorities.
The coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage the country.
Communities from New Orleans to New York have only begun to recover from the damages of Hurricane Ida.
A dozen new wildfires erupted in California over Labor Day weekend as crews start to get control of the Caldor fire near Lake Tahoe.
Back in Washington, Biden’s legislative vision for shoring up the nation’s physical and social infrastructure faces a make-or-break moment in which the president is one of the few leaders who can persuade all quarters of his party to come together to fulfill his grand ambitions.
The emergencies come as the administration manages the diplomatic and logistical challenges that arose after the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban.
Taken together, the events paint an urgent moment that will likely significantly shape this president’s legacy. Here’s what we know:
‘Time is running out’:President Joe Biden wants to go big like FDR, but window may close
Congress faces a packed September
This month, two bills that embody much of Biden’s philosophy face their moments of truth in Congress.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has set a Sept. 27 deadline to vote on the bipartisan infrastructure deal brokered in the Senate. That cutoff comes only days before Sept. 30, the deadline to raise the national debt limit and avoid a government shutdown.
In August, Senate Democrats advanced a resolution on a $3.5 trillion reconciliation deal, a sweeping proposal that includes a number of the party’s longstanding priorities like housing affordability, universal pre-K, an expanded child tax credit, Social Security and climate readiness policies.
A range of congressional committees are deliberating over what the package’s final form will look like, with some policies, especially relating to taxes and funding, still dividing Democrats.
The White House has mostly let congressional leadership navigate the negotiations, which have no room for error in a closely divided Congress. Biden, who views both bills as central to his political worldview, has been in frequent conversation with members across the ideological spectrum to reconcile differences.
Central to that role is satisfying the concerns of both progressives and moderates.
Progressives like Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., chair the powerful Senate Budget and Finance committees, respectively, and are in frequent communication with the White House over their priorities in both bills.
On Thursday, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a pivotal moderate vote, said he would not support spending another $3.5 trillion in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, citing fears about inflation and debt.
The White House did not appear fazed by Manchin’s comments.
“It’s not abnormal for this to happen in the legislative process,” said Cedric Richmond, a senior adviser to Biden, during an interview on ABC News’ “This Week” on Sunday.
Richmond said the administration is “still full steam ahead on trying to get our legislation passed” and that Manchin remains a “valued partner” but that “we’re going to continue to push our agenda.”
“We’re all, from senior levels of the White House, in close touch with a range of members, including Sen. Manchin and his team,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday. “There are going to be a range of negotiations and ups and downs, and it’s going to be called dead several more times over the next couple of weeks. We fully expect that.”
Psaki noted Tuesday that Biden “agrees that these plans need to be paid for” and that “we should take inflation seriously.”
Natural disasters ravage country
On Tuesday, Biden travels to the New York and New Jersey areas to survey the damages of Hurricane Ida. On Friday, he and first lady Jill Biden made a similar trip to New Orleans, where he met with city and local leaders.
Biden is expected to make tie his domestic agenda to the administration’s disaster response efforts in a speech during his Northeast trip, saying that worsening storms and other natural disasters show the need for investment in climate resilience and green infrastructure.
The pitch comes as the Federal Emergency Management Agency grapples with Ida’s death toll in the New York metropolitan area and ongoing power outages in New Orleans.
Afghanistan’s fall poses a new challenge
Only days before the 20th anniversary of the Sep. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the administration is attempting to resettle thousands of Afghans and still evacuate others from the country.
After the government collapsed in mid-August, the administration carried out an evacuation of 124,000 people, which officials call the largest airlift in U.S. history.
The White House has come under pressure from lawmakers in both parties over the administration’s handling of the withdrawal while both foreign allies and adversaries speculated about whether the chaotic scenes out of Kabul were a sign of diminishing American power.
Biden has stood by his decision to withdraw, vowing that he would be the last president to oversee the conflict. He further claimed that the end to the conflict was part of a broader shift in U.S. foreign policy.
“This decision about Afghanistan is not just about Afghanistan, it’s about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries,” Biden said.
Images and reports of the Taliban reinstituting fundamentalist policies amid sparse protests have left many in the U.S. and allied countries stunned about their role in the outcome and relationship to the new hardline government.
While Americans support Biden’s decision withdraw by large margins, many are critical of the manner of withdrawal, according to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll.
The administration’s attention is also being drawn back to the pandemic, with case numbers and deaths rising across the country as reopenings this summer met with the reality of the virus’ more contagious Delta variant.
After a July 4 pronouncement that the country was able to declare “independence” from the virus, many hospitals are at or near capacity in their intensive care units, while case numbers continue to rise, especially among the unvaccinated.
States and cities have begun to reimpose mask mandates and vaccine verification systems in efforts to curtail the spread of the virus.
On Thursday, Biden will outline a “six-pronged strategy” that will work “across the public and private sectors” to combat the virus. The administration had already announced that booster shots would be available for people on Sept. 20, a move still pending final outside review from the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Follow Matthew Brown online @mrbrownsir.