The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Biden outfoxes the GOP in first 60 days

President Biden at Thursday's news conference at the White House. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)

Republicans’ united opposition to every initiative President Biden has put forth appears to have been a historic blunder. According to a new ABC News/Ipsos poll, “Overall, around three in four Americans approve of how Biden is handling the distribution of coronavirus vaccines (75%) and the response to the virus itself (72%). Sixty percent approve of how Biden is handling the country’s economic recovery.” On the vaccine rollout, even 53 percent of Republicans approve of his performance.

On the economy, 60 percent of Americans approve of Biden’s performance, including 63 percent of independents. And on guns, Biden and the Democrats have a distinct advantage. “By a two-to-one margin, more Americans say enacting new laws to try to reduce gun violence is the higher priority at the moment,” the poll says. “There is widespread agreement on this issue, with Americans of all ages, education levels, racial or ethnic backgrounds, and from all regions in agreement.” Republicans are outside that consensus, although even among them, more than a third favor enacting new laws.

Whether on the vaccine, the coronavirus relief package or guns, Biden enjoys a supermajority of public support, one that is not reflected in Congress, where every single Republican opposed the American Rescue Plan. One would think reporters would be pressing GOP congressional leaders on why they are thwarting policies that many of their own voters support. Republicans’ public grousing about the size of the economic package has evidently fallen on deaf ears.

Biden has weaker support on guns, reflecting lower support among Democrats (62 percent approve/37 percent disapprove) who would like stronger action. With Democrats seeking to make a run at universal background checks (an issue that draws 80 percent or more approval), he may be able to boost his numbers on this as well.

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It is hardly surprising that after the nonstop hysteria from Republicans, Biden does much worse on immigration (41 percent approve/57 percent disapprove) than on the economy and the pandemic. So far, though, most Americans do not put immigration anywhere near the top of their priorities. Moreover, by placing so much emphasis on this issue, Republicans might be lowering expectations for the president and setting themselves up for the inevitable cyclical downturn in migration.

Appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” White House communications director Kate Bedingfield explained that Biden is “using every possible avenue to ensure that we’re getting these kids out of Border Patrol custody and into [Health and Human Services] facilities as quickly as possible” — including opening up the Army’s Fort Bliss and Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

Given that the “surges are cyclical,” Bedingfield said, “we saw spikes in 2014. We saw them in 2019 when the Trump administration had perhaps the cruelest imaginable policies in place, family separation to try to deter people from coming, and they still came.” (This is consistent with the view of many academics and immigration experts that the uptick began months ago and that higher numbers now reflect that cyclical pattern, plus the effects of two hurricanes last November and pent-up demand during the pandemic.)

If that is correct — that the numbers will trend down in a few months and Biden will have built out the bed capacity — Republicans will be hard-pressed to deny him credit. Moreover, having raised the issue, they will be challenged to approve funding to aid countries in the Northern Triangle of Central America — El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

On the issues most on voters’ minds and which Biden prioritized for his first 100 days, he is doing extraordinarily well in the polls. In turning to another area that has strong public support — infrastructure improvement — he may be able once more to paint obstructionist Republicans as out of touch, even with their own base.

Republicans, as they did in the lead-up to their disastrous 2018 midterms (the “caravans”!), will beat the drum on immigration, but ultimately Democrats likely will be judged on whether they can crush the covid-19 pandemic and restore the economy. Once more, Republicans anxious to whip up their base into a fury run the risk of isolating themselves from the concerns and political sentiments of a large majority of Americans.

Read more:

E.J. Dionne Jr.: Joe Biden is a paradigm shifter

Jennifer Rubin: Biden excels at his first news conference. The media embarrass themselves.

James Hohmann: Biden’s news conference shows why he needs Trump

E.J. Dionne Jr.: Treating fellow citizens as landfill

Erik Wemple: President Biden’s lame answer on media border access

The Post’s View: At his first news conference, Biden showed his passion for democracy — starting at home