The White House had a good week. They fear the sequel


WASHINGTON — It all started with a negative test. And hours after President Biden’s triumphant Rose Garden return from Covid isolation, it saw the passage of a long-sought bill to boost America’s advanced manufacturing sector and the relaunch of a version reduced from its Build Back Better plan.

It appeared the White House had had its best week in months. But hopes of capitalizing on what advisers see as a potential change in momentum, quickly dashed by the president’s rebound case, still have to contend with a familiar presidential foe: August.

The last month of summer has long been hard on the occupant of the Oval Office. And while Democrats may have, to borrow a phrase from White House economist Jared Bernstein, pulled a “legislative rabbit out of a hat” with Biden’s climate and economic agenda, the White House knows to first and foremost he must complete the deal before any real comeback narrative can take hold.

The anniversary of the Afghan government’s collapse last summer, punctuated by the deaths of 13 US service members who had to return to Kabul to facilitate a chaotic evacuation, is just one potential flashpoint ahead. The White House was still finalizing plans for how it would mark the anniversary, a senior official told NBC News on Saturday.

And people close to Biden are also following reports that the Justice Department’s investigation of the president’s son, Hunter, for unpaid taxes could be a major distraction at a key time.

Biden’s initial rapid recovery from Covid has put him in a position to return to what was supposed to be an offensive road show for the administration, as the midterm elections are now 100 days away. But just hours after the White House announced Biden would travel to Michigan on Tuesday — also the day of the state’s primary election — to tout the new CHIPS bill, it revealed the positive rebound. Biden will now self-isolate again for most of next week.

The White House says it will hold virtual events until it can resume its travel schedule. Cabinet members were already scheduled to travel across the country this month for events with members of Congress. And the White House is coordinating closely with congressional Democrats on “days of action” scheduled for August.

Of course, Biden is also expected to hang out during the typical August presidential vacation. But the White House is looking for ways for Biden to continue to engage on key agenda items, even if he also gets some R-and-R.

Discover the notebooks of our White House correspondents. This week:

  • A debate on the definition of a recession.
  • Kate Bedingfield isn’t going anywhere.
  • Where does a 2024 candidate start?

What is a recession?

Last week’s flurry of good news came at a time when the White House was bracing for bad news, particularly on the key issue of the economy over the medium term. The aides spent all week, in fact, arguing that new GDP data showing a second straight quarter of contraction did not, in and of itself, represent a “recession.”

As officials have been repeating all week, the final arbiter of a recession is in the hands of an otherwise obscure organization known as the National Bureau of Economic Research. Biden himself pointed to a strong labor market on Thursday, among other factors, saying, “It doesn’t look like a recession to me.”

Just two years ago, however, Biden and his surrogates were aggressively campaigning on how to reverse what they repeatedly called a “Trump recession” — or, as Biden often put it, “this fucking recession”. But the NBER didn’t officially make a decision on a 2020 recession until July 2021 – more than a year after it passed.

Asked why the White House is now insisting that reporters follow the NBER’s lead on terminology when Biden and his team have not, White House spokesman Jesse Lee said. told NBC: “The unemployment rate in 2020 peaked at 14.7%, and the job market was even stagnant. when President Biden took office. There is no comparison with a period of 3.6% unemployment and two quarters with an average of 400,000 jobs per month.

Don’t call it a comeback.

Kate Bedingfield really intended to leave the White House, and Anita Dunn really wanted to replace her. But Biden was not ready from the start to welcome the departure of a high messenger in his orbit for seven years. Bedingfield told NBC News that her decision to stay on as White House communications director was really a last-minute move.

With an initial departure date of July 21, she had absorbed all of her “lasts”. One last flight on Air Force One, back from Saudi Arabia (she even spent some time in the cockpit). A visit with her two young children to see Marine One take off from the South Lawn of the White House last week. She even had her office partially filled last Friday before emailing staff that afternoon to say she would be staying put. Staff are moving forward to fill other vacancies in press and communications.

The first state?

As we reported this week, when JB Pritzker was planning to visit New Hampshire recently, he warned the White House and assured them that 2024 considerations were not involved. Of course, Democrats are eyeing a major reshuffling of the 2024 nominating schedule that could see Granite State, as well as Iowa, lose their first primary and caucuses, respectively. And quietly, Biden’s home state of Delaware was among 16 states, plus Puerto Rico, that still requested to be in the first group of states.

As those states made their case to the DNC’s Rules and Regulations Committee earlier this year, Delaware Gov. John Carney made a not-so-subtle power play, telling committee members he came straight from the Oval Office. and a meeting with Biden. The White House insists it is maintaining a hands-off stance in the party debate, which Alex Seitz-Wald says will not be resolved after the midterms.

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Raymond I. Langston