But after he reached the lectern, the majority of his remarks were devoted to the issue that helped win him the presidency, the one that has consumed his first six months in office and now threatens to engulf the next: the coronavirus.
His remarks — and, in sum, the entire week — reflect the dual realities Biden is now confronting. While there are some positive signs, there are just as many looming problems. And for a president who describes himself as being on a wartime footing, this week made clear that many battles are left to fight.
The delta variant is spreading rapidly, threatening to consume the Biden administration just a month after he attempted to make a July Fourth declaration of freedom from the virus. The liberal wing of his party — which earlier in the week flexed its political muscle and helped force Biden to take more action on extending an eviction moratorium — has expressed concerns about the compromises made with Republicans on his infrastructure plan.
And the jobs report, while positive, could be a lagging indicator, reflecting last month’s optimism that the country would return to normalcy — not the fresh worry that is now prompting businesses to delay reopening or impose new restrictions.
“My message today is not one of celebration,” Biden said. “It’s one to remind us we got a lot of hard work left to be done, both to beat the delta variant and to continue our advance of economic recovery.”
“What we are doing is working,” he said, adding, “We just have to keep going.”
Nearly seven months after taking office, Biden is well past the early phase of his presidency in which problems were inherited and into one where any downfalls bring about questions of mismanagement.
His presidential campaign was premised on restoring competent, science-based management to the federal government, with Biden himself modeling behavior he wanted all Americans to follow. As president, he has worn a mask when CDC guidelines recommended it and removed it when they didn’t, and he has donned it again over the past week after guidelines changed again.
New polling numbers indicate some of his support is eroding. His approval rating is at 46 percent — with 43 percent disapproving — compared with 49 percent approving and 41 percent disapproving in May, according to a survey this week from Quinnipiac University.
And while he still has a positive grade on his handling of the coronavirus — 53 percent approve of the job he’s doing — the numbers have dropped significantly. In May, he had a net positive rating of 35 percentage points. That dropped to 13 points in the latest survey.
Biden and his advisers largely brush aside much of the criticism. They point to an increase over the past week in vaccinations, with demand increasing in areas that have been hit hard by the delta variant. They insist that the economy is on stronger footing than at earlier points in the pandemic and that they are better prepared.
“We’ve been preparing like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts for this moment and the potential that there would the ups and downs in our recovery, there would be ups and downs as we fight the virus,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday.
“This is not March 2020 or even January 2021,” she added. “We’re not going to lock down our economy or our schools, because our country is in a much stronger place than when we took office.”
Biden’s remarks Friday seemed to indicate the promise and peril in the moment. He alternately boasted about how far the country has come and predicted a hard road ahead.
He rattled off statistics to justify his optimism, but tucked into his speech was the fact that 400 people are still dying from covid-19 every day — and, as it has been throughout his presidency, the precise number of deaths was written on a notecard tucked in his suit jacket.
“Seven months ago today, almost 4,000 people died on that very day from covid-19,” he said: “Four thousand versus 400. That shows how much our vaccination progress has already done to protect us in the worst of the new delta covid-19 wave.”
Biden on Friday also referred to the latest coronavirus strand as a new battle, not a continuation of the one that has been fought for the past year and a half.
“America can beat the delta variant, just as we beat the original covid-19,” he said at one point.
“Because of our success with the vaccination effort, this new delta variant wave of covid-19 will be very different,” he added at another.
He cautioned that “cases are going to go up before they come back down” but attributed the cause to those who refuse to get vaccinated.
“Today about 400 people will die because of the delta variant in this country,” he said. “A tragedy, because virtually all of these deaths were preventable if people had gotten vaccinated.”
White House officials still insist that the spread is primarily limited to areas that are not getting vaccinated. They are considering new policies, including using federal regulatory powers and the threat of withholding federal funds to push private institutions to push more Americans to get vaccinated.
Biden has imposed a vaccine mandate for all federal employees and contractors, and the White House on Sunday will start requiring all who enter the complex to fill out forms indicating their vaccination status.
Biden, who likes to vacation at his home at Rehoboth Beach, Del., also seems to have summer plans in flux. Shortly after his remarks Friday, Biden left for Wilmington, with plans to be in Washington early next week.
Psaki said he wanted to be around since the Senate was in session, still debating an infrastructure plan.
Deputy press secretary Andrew Bates said Friday: “In the past week, over 3 million Americans were vaccinated. Nearly 1 million Americans found work in the last month. And the Senate is on the cusp of passing an historic bipartisan infrastructure package, supported by business and labor, that will help put millions more back to work and fuel growth for the long haul.”
That plan has been scaled back significantly from Biden’s initial ambitions but has earned bipartisan support needed to press forward in the Senate. The $1 trillion plan — roughly half of which is new federal spending, with the rest coming from previously planned investments in roads, highways and bridges — is the result of weeks of tense negotiations.
Some senators had hoped to pass the bill Thursday night, but debate bogged down and the legislation hit a snag over disagreements around a proposal to increase federal regulation of cryptocurrencies.
Passage of the plan — the progress of which Biden will be carefully watching from his home in Wilmington this weekend — would give another boost to Biden.
But the cloud of covid still looms.
“While our economy is far from complete and while we doubtlessly will have ups and downs along the way as we continue to battle the delta surge of covid, what is indisputable now is this,” Biden said in the East Room. “The Biden plan is working, the Biden plan produces results, and the Biden plan is moving the country forward.”