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Biden’s flurry of activity looks like a campaign in full swing

By midweek, the president was whizzing around the country — five fundraisers in two time zones — thanking well-off donors for their past support and warning of the battles ahead.

And by week’s end, Biden was highlighting a newly prominent foil, the U.S. Supreme Court, saying it had issued devastating decisions on affirmative action, LGBTQ+ rights and student debt relief in the space of two days and was increasingly out of step with the American mainstream.

He accused his political opponents of pushing the court in that direction. “For Republicans in Congress, this is not about reducing the deficit, it’s not about fairness and forgiving loans, it’s only about forgiving loans they have to pay,” Biden said Friday. “Today, the Supreme Court sided with them. I believe the court’s decision to strike down my student debt relief program was a mistake, was wrong.”

Two months after Biden announced that he was seeking a second term, this past week has showcased the early arguments, controversies and even the antagonists he hopes will help shape the narrative of his campaign over the next 16 months to keep the White House. While Biden’s aides say he is focused on governing and letting his would-be Republican challengers rip into each other, the president’s recent flurry suggests his reelection campaign is very much underway.

The White House has touted Biden’s presidency as the most successful in U.S. history, yet recent polls have suggested that he is as unpopular as his twice-impeached predecessor, Donald Trump. And many of Biden’s advisers worry that Americans often do not associate any economic gains in their country or communities with Biden, even where there is clear progress.

Potential voters also have concerns about Biden’s age — at 80, he is the oldest president in the country’s history, and would be 86 at the end of a second term. In an illustration of how unexpected events can pop up during a campaign, the White House this week confirmed that Biden, like millions of Americans, uses a CPAP machine to help with sleep apnea, a disorder marked by interrupted breathing during sleep.

Taking the initiative in recent days, the White House seized on “Bidenomics,” a term that conservatives have deployed against the president, to frame their argument that Biden’s economic policies have been a boon to the middle class. The president pitched Bidenomics as a counter to the GOP’s embrace of “Reaganomics,” which he called a false promise that enriching the well-off will “trickle down” and benefit everyone else.

“We created 13.4 million new jobs — more jobs in two years than any president has ever made in four — in two,” Biden told the crowd at an event in Chicago. “And folks, it’s no accident. That’s Bidenomics in action. Bidenomics is about building an economy from the middle out and the bottom up, not the top down.”

President Biden’s Investing in America agenda is contributing to the record levels of job growth we’ve seen across this country.

— The White House (@WhiteHouse) June 22, 2023

Republicans, for their part, already are campaigning against Biden, although they have not yet selected a presidential nominee, their front-runner Trump is under federal indictment and major GOP contenders are attacking each other. Republican House members are ramping up their investigation into allegations that Biden’s family members have enriched themselves by trading on the president’s name, saying that is the real “Bidenomics.”

They also argue that the president’s economic policies have damaged the middle class rather than helping it. “Bidenomics is about blind faith in government spending and regulations,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) tweeted this week. “It’s an economic disaster where government causes decades-high inflation, high gas prices, lower paychecks, and crippling uncertainty that leaves Americans worse off.”

Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel echoed that message. “Joe Biden is completely out-of-touch and Americans are suffering under his failed agenda,” she tweeted. “Because of ‘Bidenomics,’ savings are down, wages are down, and inflation is sky-high, yet Biden is jetting off to rub elbows with the rich and well-connected.”

If the campaign is shaping up as a contest between Biden’s argument that Republicans are extremists and a GOP argument that Biden is ruining the country, the president’s efforts this week were an attempt to blunt the Republican message while reemphasizing his own.

Biden quietly announced his candidacy for reelection with a video on April 25, but his campaign has not yet scaled up to a traditional operation — and seems in no hurry to do so. There is no campaign headquarters, and Biden’s operation has been slow to hire staffers, instead choosing to rely on the infrastructure of the Democratic National Committee. That is a stark contrast to the Republican side of the equation, which features Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis pinballing across the country to gain leverage in the GOP primary.

But even if Biden’s campaign apparatus is just a scaffold at this point, he is increasingly highlighting a theme that helped get him elected, namely that his agenda bolsters the middle class. On Monday, he introduced a plan to use infrastructure dollars to provide rural communities with access to the internet, a plan that the White House depicted as echoing Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System.

Biden heralded the bipartisan support his bills have attracted, while ridiculing Republican critics, including Sen. Tommy Tuberville (Ala.), for taking credit for the benefits flowing to their communities after opposing the legislation that made those benefits possible.

“The former football coach from Alabama, who was a better coach than he’s a senator, in my view — announced — he said, “Isn’t it wonderful … a billion, $400 million or $2 billion coming to — coming into Alabama, and we’re going to have the best internet system in the world.’ Going on and on,” Biden said. “He voted against it! So I’m going to be down there for the groundbreaking.”

A Tuberville spokesperson said the senator opposed the legislation but wants Alabamians to get their fair share now that the bill has become the law.

See you at the groundbreaking.

— President Biden (@POTUS) June 28, 2023

What felt in some ways like Biden’s first full week of campaigning — even if many of his appearances were official presidential events — contained its share of contradictions. While Biden spent his days talking about plans to give the poor and isolated access to the internet, he spent his evenings giving the rich and connected access to the president.

Biden’s week featured five high-dollar fundraisers in well-to-do communities — two in Chevy Chase, Md.; two in New York; and one in Chicago. Friday was the deadline of the second fundraising quarter of 2023, and Biden’s aides have been eager to boost his fundraising numbers before they have to report their haul on July 15.

Tickets to the Chicago fundraiser required a $3,300 donation, to be split between the president’s reelection campaign and the Democratic Party. A picture with the president required a donation of at least $25,000, slightly above the federal government’s poverty line for a family of three.

“Here’s the bottom line — it’s very simple: We need you,” Biden told fundraiser attendees in Chicago. “That’s not hyperbole. We need you. Our democracy needs you, because this is about our freedoms.”

In New York, three days later, he stressed that many in the room had backed him in his 2020 campaign’s lowest moments.

“We had hit the bottom. Things didn’t look very well … just before [the] South Carolina [primary]. And everything was looking bleak,” Biden said at the Pool restaurant in New York. “And without even asking, you guys stepped up and you saved me. You really did. I would not be standing here if you guys didn’t volunteer. Without my even asking, you stepped up. So thank you, thank you, thank you.”

At that event and others, Biden found himself vowing to fight a stream of recent Supreme Court decisions with which he disagreed. On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled against using race-based affirmative action in college admissions. A day later, the court blocked Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan, with the majority saying he had overstepped his authority in his efforts to absolve individual borrowers of up to $20,000 of debt. Instead, monthly payments for borrowers will resume in October.

In his remarks after that decision, Biden blasted what he called an increasingly partisan court. He directed the Department of Education to explore alternative ways to provide debt relief, a more elaborate process that could take months to produce a result. The White House also announced stopgap measures to ease the burden on borrowers.

But Biden also sought to rally disappointed borrowers — and Democrats of all stripes — for the battles to come, as the failed effort at student debt relief could become a resonant issue in the 2024 race. The question for Biden may be whether his potential supporters find the recent disappointments a reason to fight harder or a cause to stay home.

“Hope [was] on the horizon, thanks to the relief that I planned last year. Today’s court decision snatched it away from them. I get it. I get it. I hear this. It’s — it’s — and — and I’m concerned about it,” Biden said. “But today’s decision has closed one path. Now we’re going to pursue another. I’m never going to stop fighting for you.”

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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