President Joe Biden has entered the midterm election year of 2022 in the worst position of a sitting president in recent history. Heading into the midterm election, Biden is faced with disastrous approval ratings, skyrocketing inflation, a resurgent coronavirus pandemic, and a weakened economy.
Enter Michelle Obama, who has promised to coordinate a coalition of liberal activist organizations to register one million new voters ahead of the 2022 elections.
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The former first lady also called on 30 far-left activist groups to unite and pressure the U.S. Senate to push through sweeping federalized voting laws — something Democrats say is an essential part of Biden’s agenda.
Senate Republicans, who have repeatedly blocked the legislation, excoriate the measures as a “partisan power grab” and warn that any rule changes will haunt Democrats someday under a GOP majority.
“In 2020, millions made their voices heard at the polls,” Michelle Obama wrote on Twitter. “But now, folks who oppose that progress are making it harder to vote. That’s why I’m asking you to join @WhenWeAllVote and 30 other organizations to turn out more voters and urge Congress to pass voting rights legislation.”
In 2020, millions made their voices heard at the polls. But now, folks who oppose that progress are making it harder to vote. That’s why I’m asking you to join @WhenWeAllVote and 30 other organizations to turn out more voters and urge Congress to pass voting rights legislation. pic.twitter.com/hwgyyuTGy9
— Michelle Obama (@MichelleObama) January 9, 2022
But the biggest political problem facing Biden and the narrow Democratic Party majority in the 2022 election is the struggling U.S. economy.
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It has left Biden trying to showcase his limited economic achievements while trying to parry Republican criticism that his policies have fueled inflation.
“This is the kind of recovery I promised and hoped for the American people,” the president said in remarks Friday. “My focus is on keeping this recovery strong and durable, notwithstanding Republican obstructionism. Because, you know, I know that even as jobs and families’ incomes have recovered, families are still feeling the pinch of prices and costs.”
Pessimism has overtaken Americans’ views on the economy, even though the economy is objectively better right before Biden took office — in the height of economic shutdowns over coronavirus pandemic concerns.
The index of consumer sentiment tracked by the University of Michigan is 12.5% lower than a year ago, despite people being vaccinated and 6.4 million jobs added over the past 12 months.
Voters are focused on shortages of cars, bath towels and even breakfast cereal. Employers can’t fill the 10.6 million jobs they’re advertising, as Friday’s employment report showed a mere 199,000 jobs gained in December. Prices for almost everything are rising — with forecasters expecting a 7.1% annual increase to turn up in next Wednesday’s inflation report.
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy blamed the administration for any shortfalls.
“President Biden has been in office for nearly a year, and our economy is still missing millions of pre-pandemic jobs, consumers are facing inflationary pressure not felt in nearly 40 years, and employers continue to struggle with a persistent labor shortage,” the California lawmaker said in a statement.
As a policy and a political challenge, White House officials say they’re figuring out how to increase the supply of workers and goods this year as the pandemic and supply chain issues linger. The administration claims inflation will ease naturally, yet is trying to take active steps to temper the rising prices.
The administration sees the supply factor as the only viable solution, because the alternative would be to cut government spending — something untouchable in the Biden administration.
“We have very strong demand in this economy, and we have constrained supply,” said Jared Bernstein, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. “There’s two ways of going after that imbalance. You can whack the demand side and essentially make people poorer, so that they don’t have the resources to pursue what they want. Or, you can try to expand the supply side — that’s what we’re doing.”
Biden announced a slew of initiatives to unclog supply chains, so that container ships can dock faster and big-rig trucks can get on the road faster with full trailers. The efforts include flooding ports with money from the $1 trillion infrastructure law, as well as executive actions to increase the number of commercial truckers and plans to increase the domestic production of computer chips.
The White House says it’s already fixing the supply chain. It issued a memo reporting an uptick in-store inventories and a 39% decline since November in shipping containers waiting at ports for nine days or more.
At the heart of the worker shortage is also the continued threat of the pandemic, which Biden promised to swiftly defeat during the 2020 presidential election. The initial wave in 2020, followed by the delta and now omicron variants have made it harder for people to return to work or train for new occupations. That’s created a shortage of workers and worsened supply chain challenges and inflation.
“The virus remains the biggest issue in the economy today,” said Aaron Sojourner, an economist at the University of Minnesota. “Millions of employees are missing work every week because they have COVID symptoms or they’re caring for someone with symptoms, and the unvaccinated are 2.4 times more likely to miss work.”
Sojourner estimated that only 39% of working-age Americans are fully vaccinated and received a booster shot. That leaves 36% who need a booster and 25% who were never fully vaccinated.
Friday’s employment report showed just how hard it could be to boost the number of workers seeking jobs, said Tyler Goodspeed, an economics adviser in the Trump administration who is now a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.
The report came out ahead of the likely impact from the omicron variant of the coronavirus, which has led to the closures of schools and some businesses. Yet it still showed that the percentage of people in the labor force has not increased substantially, a sign that the supply of available workers is tight even though the U.S. is still 3.6 million jobs short of pre-pandemic levels. There has also been a shortfall in business investment since the pandemic that makes it more difficult to increase supplies in the economy, Goodspeed said.
“It’s tough for me to see how supply keeps pace with demand in 2022,” he said.
Faced with that harsh economic reality, will Michelle Obama’s million new voters make a difference?
…or even vote Democrat?
The Associated Press contributed to this article