Too many reporters, despite Biden’s success in delivering hundreds of millions of vaccines to Americans and passing a $2 trillion rescue plan, have maintained a default setting in their reporting in which Biden struggles to make good on his plans or underestimates his abilities to enact them. The administration, in this telling, is forever in some sort of “crisis,” and negotiations are always on the verge of failure. Whether this “Perils of Pauline” narrative is a deliberate effort to build drama into news or whether journalists fail to comprehend the complexity and dynamics of legislative negotiations, the result is coverage that leaves readers and viewers nearly certain Biden will fail.
The path to Senate passage of the jobs and hard infrastructure bill and consideration of the reconciliation bill underscored the gap between Biden in reality and the media’s coverage of him:
- Biden truly believes in bipartisanship. But many in the media think he cannot possibly believe bipartisanship can work.
- Biden refuses to take the bait on MAGA cultural memes or to get sidetracked by pseudo-crises. The media, however, is forever distracted by transitory stories, regularly losing the thread on the administration’s most significant initiatives.
- Biden does not overreact to every hiccup in negotiations. But the media give undue weight to Republicans’ naysaying, progressives’ hand-wringing over Biden wasting time with GOP negotiations and the vicissitudes of dealmaking.
- Biden thinks he can achieve bipartisan deals and rely solely on Democrats’ votes for items Republicans emphatically oppose. The media cannot conceive how Biden can do both.
- Biden thinks in terms of weeks or months for major legislative efforts. Reporters often expect “success” in mere days.
- Biden is immersed in the details of his legislative agenda. The media is often indifferent to details and therefore underestimates the popularity of his agenda (which in turn influences Congress).
Despite the media hectoring, Biden netted a huge win. The Post reports, “The package, nearly half of which constitutes new spending, would mark the most significant investment in the country’s inner workings since Congress marshaled a massive yet smaller rescue bill in the shadow of the Great Recession. It would combine lawmakers’ desire for immediate, urgently needed fixes to the country’s crumbling infrastructure with longer-term goals to combat challenges including climate change.”
And within seconds of the bill’s passage in the Senate, Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) turned to a “vote-a-rama” on amendments to the reconciliation package that no Senate Republican appeared willing to support.
Biden can already take credit for substantial job growth, in vivid contrast with his predecessor, and an expansion of the federal government not seen since the Great Society. He’s not only begun to invest seriously in green energy but has also enlisted nearly half of Republican senators to support items such as electric cars and charging stations. And it appears he has been able to forge some consensus on the American Families Plan that will satisfy a Senate caucus that runs from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.). He’s also remaking the federal judiciary at a rapid clip, despite false claims from pundits that the prior administration had altered it permanently (as if judges do not turn over due to retirement, moving to senior status or death).
None of this is to say Biden is going to succeed on every front. He may not succeed in passing meaningful reforms on voting, gun safety or immigration. The White House’s success rate so far, however, suggests the mainstream media have not grasped the dynamics within the Democratic Party, seen through Republican talking points or appreciated the degree to which Biden can have his cake and eat it too (infrastructure plus reconciliation). Unless they align their expectations and coverage with reality, each new Biden accomplishment will come as a surprise.