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President Biden took several major losses in just the first two weeks of the new year, including on his major initiatives on vaccine mandates and election laws, as the administration limps into a midterm election year struggling to unite its party and accomplish its goals.
Two of the biggest blows to the White House this year came on Thursday – one at the hands of two Democratic senators and another from the Supreme Court.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., went to the Senate floor Thursday afternoon to detail her opposition to partisan changes to the Senate filibuster, essentially killing Democrats’ plan to pass two major elections bills.
“Today marks the longest time in history that the Senate has been equally divided,” Sinema said Thursday. “The House of Representatives is nearly equally divided as well. Our mandate, it seems evident to me, [is] work together and get stuff done for America.”
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., released a statement saying essentially the same thing later Thursday.
That story could have dominated the news cycle for several days. It only lasted a couple of hours before the next batch of bad news for the Biden administration: The Supreme Court blocked the president’s vaccine mandate for large private employers.
The court ruled that Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) likely lacked the authority to impose such a mandate because the law that created OSHA “empowers the Secretary to set workplace safety standards, not broad public health measures.”
The Supreme Court did allow the administration’s vaccine mandate for health care workers to go forward. But the OSHA mandate on large businesses reached many more Americans. The ruling means the administration won’t be able to enforce that mandate while legal challenges continue, perhaps for months, in lower courts.
The twin losses on two major issues within a few hours came as the White House was already reeling to start the new year.
Massive inflation numbers announced Wednesday made it even more unlikely that Democrats would be able to salvage their massive reconciliation spending bill, which Manchin announced last month he opposes on “Fox News Sunday.” That was the president’s biggest domestic legislative priority, and now it is dead.
Meanwhile, the White House is still struggling to make rapid COVID-19 tests available via mail to all Americans – an idea White House press secretary Jen Psaki initially mocked before the holidays – after a shortage of tests over the holidays. Vice President Kamala Harris struggled to explain with specifics in an interview Tuesday with NBC News.
NBC’s Craig Melvin asked Harris when the White House’s 500 million tests would be available for Americans. Harris responded that they are “going to go out shortly.” Melvin followed up asking if the White House should have ordered the tests sooner.
“We are doing it,” Harris said.
“But should we have done it sooner?” Melvin asked again.
“We are doing it,” Harris replied.
Pushed further on whether it’s time for the White House to change its COVID-19 strategy, as a handful of former administration health officials said in a letter last week, Harris doubled down on how the White House is handling the pandemic.
“It is time for us to do what we are doing, and that time is every day. Every day it is time for us to agree that there are things and tools that are available to us to slow this thing down,” she said.
It is time for us to do what we are doing and that time is every day. Every day it is time for us to agree that there are things and tools that are available to us to slow this thing down
And polls show Biden is deep underwater on his approval ratings as Democrats are at risk of losing their tenuous grip on the House and the Senate. That would effectively stall any agenda Biden might hope to implement for the rest of his first term.
Democratic candidates may already be trying to put some space between themselves and the president. Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams did not appear with Biden when he went to Georgia to stump for elections bills this week – even though that is her signature issue.
The White House appears to know things aren’t going well. Following Sinema’s remarks Thursday, Biden himself expressed serious doubt that Democrats will be able to pass their elections bills.
“I hope we can get this done. The honest-to-God answer is I don’t know. … I hope we can get this done, but I’m not sure. One thing for certain, like every other major civil rights bill that came along. We miss the first time, we can come back and try a second time,” he said.
Even the White House’s official readout of the Manchin-Sinema meeting Thursday night did not allude to any progress.
“The President hosted Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema at the White House tonight for a candid and respectful exchange of views about voting rights,” a White House official said.
A reporter asked Psaki Thursday about the White House’s cascading losses so far this year, saying things “seem like they are going pretty poorly” and that the president is “stymied on an incredible number of fronts.”
Psaki responded by highlighting job increases as the U.S. recovers from its 2020 pandemic doldrums and the fact most Americans are now vaccinated. And she said the White House does not regret taking on the tasks it has, even if many of them are not going well.
“Our effort is to do hard things, try hard things, and keep at it,” she said. “I think that having worked in a White House before, you do hard things in White Houses. You have every challenge at your feet — laid at your feet, whether it’s global or domestically. And we could certainly propose legislation to see if people support bunny rabbits and ice cream, but that wouldn’t be very rewarding to the American people.”
Fox News’ Sarah Tobianski, Brandon Gillespie, Ronn Blitzer, Caroline McKee and Bill Mears contributed to this report.