No drama Biden quietly triumphs in first weeks as US president

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Mr Joe Biden has not done a press conference, maintains a vanilla Twitter presence and, as detractors love to repeat, is the oldest man to become US president. Yet in under 50 days, the quiet veteran is racking up formidable victories.

This Wednesday (March 10), the House of Representatives is expected to pass the American Rescue Plan, an economic stimulus package which, at US$1.9 trillion (S$2.6 trillion), is the biggest in history by far, and aims to catapult the country out of its year-long Covid-19 slump.

Along with that massive cash injection is a coronavirus vaccine roll-out that, to the surprise of many, is turning the United States into something of a success story, boasting a vaccination rate easily exceeding that of Canada and the European Union.

And despite overwhelming hostility to the White House from Republicans in Congress, Mr Biden’s pledge to reunite a country left dazed by the Donald Trump era is also showing the first green shoots.

The fact is, a politician who ran a muted presidential campaign and continues to maintain a low profile is now pretty popular.

Mr Biden’s average Gallup approval rating since taking office is a steady 57 per cent.

That might not sound dramatic but it’s a world away from the 34 per cent scored by Mr Trump in his final days, and miles ahead of most other current politicians.

The stimulus Bill is even more popular, consistently getting support from about three quarters of the country.

The latest Pew poll found 70 per cent overall approval, with 94 per cent among Democrats and 41 percent among Republicans. A Morning Consult/Politico poll put Republican support at 60 per cent.

“We’ve never had anything this urgent and this ambitious that was so widely embraced,” Mr Biden said this month. “The show of unity we’re seeing is unprecedented.”

Right-wing outlets like Fox News continue to push Mr Trump’s election campaign smear that Mr Biden, 78, is somehow out of energy or worse. But in the real world, the silver-haired former vice-president, senator and twice failed presidential candidate is tearing it up.

“Go big,” Mr Biden likes to say about the stimulus plan.

He could, against the expectations of many, be talking about his entire presidential project.

‘Victory lap’

All this has been done in a style unrecognisable from the Trump White House.

Mr Biden now holds the record for the length of time a president in recent history has not held a formal press conference. He has also not set a date for a first address to a joint session of Congress.

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Unlike Mr Trump and his non-stop rallies, Mr Biden has also barely travelled the country.

And his social media output is restricted to a stream of gentle encouragement and polite pleas for unity. No insults, no tirades, not even nerve-jangling use of block capitals and multiple explanation marks – but not much news either.

If detractors paint Mr Biden as hiding, supporters see the school swot who skips parties to stay in the library, working harder than everyone and getting better results.

Certainly Mr Biden came into office knowing that he’d rise and fall on ending the coronavirus nightmare and putting the economy back on its feet. And he appears to have stuck to his plan.

“That’s where his time, energy, his focus has been,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. “I think the American people would certainly understand.”

With the passage of the Covid-19 relief Bill this week, the stealthy President will start appearing rather more on the public’s radar.

Thursday will feature his first primetime television address, marking the anniversary of the start to the Covid-19 crisis in the US, where more than half a million people have died – a world record.

The press conference will take place by the end of the month, Ms Psaki says, noting that he has taken questions from journalists in dozens of smaller, more hurried settings.

The address to Congress and trips out of Washington are also being discussed, she says.

Why come out from under cover?

In revealing comments, Mr Biden recently recalled his work with Mr Barack Obama crafting a rescue package to counter the Great Recession of 2008.

They had “literally saved America from a depression”, he said, but squandered the political momentum, then took a pounding in the 2010 mid-term congressional elections.

“We didn’t adequately explain what we had done. Barack was so modest, he didn’t want to take, as he said, a ‘victory lap’,” Mr Biden said.

“I kept saying, ‘Tell people what we did.'” With an experienced eye on his Democrats keeping their slim congressional majority in the 2022 mid-terms, Mr Biden doesn’t want to make that same mistake twice.

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