High inflation? Few polls? The White House blames the pandemic

WASHINGTON (AP) – Inflation is skyrocketing, businesses are struggling to hire, and President Joe Biden’s poll numbers are plummeting. The White House sees a common culprit for all of this: COVID-19.

Biden’s team sees the pandemic as the root cause of the nation’s malaise and its own political woes. Finally, controlling COVID-19, according to the White House, is the keystone in rejuvenating the country and rekindling Biden’s own reputation.

But the coronavirus challenge has proven to be vexing for the White House, with the premature victory claims of last summer overwhelmed by the more transmissible delta variant, millions of unvaccinated Americans, and the lingering economic effects of the busiest days. gloomy pandemic.

All this while another variant of the virus, the omicron, has emerged abroad. It worries public health officials, leading to new travel bans and panicked markets as scientists rush to understand just how dangerous it can be.

While the economy has indeed returned, there are several signs that COVID-19 will leave its scars even if the pandemic subsides.

For now, in the administration’s view, an uncompromising minority who resist vaccination is spoiling the recovery for the rest of the country – forcing those vaccinated to wear masks and contributing to lingering anxiety everywhere you look.

When asked why Americans are not getting the message that the economy is improving, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said last week, “We are still fighting pandemic and people are fed up. So are we. “

The situation, she said, affects everything from how people feel to sending their children out the door for the price of a gallon of gasoline.

The administration views vaccination mandates as essential, not only to prevent preventable disease and death, but also to safeguard economic recovery – and save Biden’s political position.

“We have the tools to accelerate the exit from this pandemic widely available,” White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said during a coronavirus briefing. While he ruled out large-scale lockdowns like the United States experienced in 2020 and like those emerging again across Europe, Zients renewed the administration’s calls for more Americans to come forward. vaccinate.

But the discovery of the new variant in southern Africa on Friday prompted much of the world to halt travel from the region and contain a threat that the World Health Organization says could be worse than waves. devastating delta.

Inside the White House and among the president’s allies, there has been frustration for weeks over the government’s slowness in approving booster shots for all adults. The regulatory process, they fear, has contributed to misinformation and confusion around boosters and means the nation is not being optimally protected for the holiday season.

Biden on Friday called on unvaccinated Americans to be “responsible” and get vaccinated and on those entitled to a booster to do so as well. “This is the minimum that everyone should do. … We always talk about whether it’s about freedom, but I think it’s a patriotic responsibility to do it.

Yet despite all the concerns over Biden’s weakening position with Americans, Democrats say a turnaround could be within reach.

“From Trump to Biden, people have gone from feeling like it’s mourning again in America to feeling like dawn in America again,” Party strategist Jesse Ferguson said.

“Overcoming the pandemic opens the door to the economy, to our way of life and to people who feel less divided,” he added.

For Biden’s critics, however, it is too much to blame all of the nation’s problems on COVID-19 or to think that containing the virus will solve them.

In fact, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky blames the high prices of Biden’s grand pandemic relief program, saying recently, “There’s no question what keeps American workers from sleeping at night. Inflation. The uncontrollable prices and unpredictability that Democrats’ policies have fueled.

The lingering effects of the virus negatively impacted the president’s approval ratings, even though his handling of the virus was seen as a relative strength.

In an October AP-NORC poll, 54% of Americans said they approved of Biden’s work on the pandemic. That was a little higher than his overall approval rating and much higher than the approval on his handling of the economy, at 48% and 41%, respectively.

As of July, 66% approved of Biden on COVID-19 and 59% approved of his job performance overall.

In last month’s poll, only about a third of Americans said the country was heading in the right direction, up from about half at the end of February.

Opinions on the economy have also darkened, with only about a third saying conditions are good, down from almost half in September.

To the White House, blaming the pandemic seems like a modern take on the old “It’s the economy, stupid” mantra of the Bill Clinton years.

When Psaki was pressed as to what the administration was doing to contain the higher prices, she replied, “We know what the root causes are, don’t we? Global supply chain issues. “

“The best thing we can do as a government is to bring the pandemic under control. This is the president’s number one goal.

The same message echoes throughout the administration.

“As long as the pandemic continues, there will be shortages caused by the pandemic, which is why the best way to address it is to end the pandemic,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said recently, stressing the need for vaccination.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, speaking about the administration’s response to soaring gasoline prices, said getting people vaccinated was “the ultimate answer”.

Economists broadly agree with the sentiment, but warn that the solution is not easy.

“The root of economic problems is the virus,” Harvard economist James Stock said, “and the best way to minimize the spread of the virus is to increase vaccinations. It’s the number one economic policy on my mind .

But with experts predicting COVID-19 is becoming rampant, Stock said, “you have to be realistic this is not going to go away.”

Even if the virus wears off, economists warn, there will be lingering adverse effects.

Goldman Sachs noted in a recent analysis that about half of the 5 million people who have left the workforce since the pandemic have retired, making it harder for companies to find lost jobs. The work of Stanford University economist Nicholas Bloom and others indicates that companies expect more people to continue working from home and shopping online, a problem for businesses. local retailers who depend on office workers to buy lunch and people to return to stores.

Only 5% of Americans’ total workdays were at home before the pandemic, a figure that is now 25%, according to Bloom. More than three-quarters of workers polled by him and his colleagues would prefer to work from home at least one day a week and almost a third would prefer to work from home during the five days. This could make it more difficult for employers to assess their workers and make efficient use of office space.

The administration is also grappling with a global economy, so solving pandemic issues at home has its limits.

Coronavirus outbreaks in Asia have shut down computer chip factories, exacerbating the semiconductor shortage, a sign that vaccination around the world could be as critical as the administration’s national efforts. One of the justifications for Biden’s infrastructure spending to strengthen the supply chain is to minimize the damage caused by these shutdowns.

“If a factory in Malaysia shuts down due to a COVID outbreak – which they have – it causes a ripple effect that can slow auto manufacturing in Detroit,” Biden said in a recent speech. “Why? They can’t get the computer chips they need.


Associated Press editors Josh Boak and Hannah Fingerhut contributed to this report.

Comments are closed.