The White House is riding a wave of good news into the weekend after a bruising several months, touting 2021 economic growth, a surprisingly positive jobs report, a reduction in COVID cases and a successful counterterrorism mission taking out the leader of ISIS.
After months of grappling with plummeting approval ratings, a surge in cases of the highly-transmissible omicron variant of COVID-19, the Supreme Court blocking a COVID vaccine mandate, rising inflation, supply chain bottlenecks, unprecedented migration levels at the southern border and President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda stalled in Congress, the first week in February offered some daylight for the Biden administration.
The president on Friday welcomed U.S. job growth soaring past expectations, adding 467,000 new jobs in January.
President Biden reacts after signing an executive order on project labor agreements at the Ironworkers Local 5 in Upper Marlboro, Md., Friday, Feb. 4, 2022. Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, right, applaud. President Biden reacts after signing an executive order on project labor agreements at the Ironworkers Local 5 in Upper Marlboro, Md., Friday, Feb. 4, 2022. Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, right, applaud. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
“America is back to work,” the president said, after the Labor Department said in its monthly payroll report that payrolls in January rose, easily topping the 150,000 jobs gained forecast by Refinitiv economists.
“This morning’s report caps off my first year as president, and over that period, our economy created 6.6 million jobs. Six-point-six million jobs,” he said. “You can’t remember another year when so many people went to work in this country — there’s a reason. It never happened.”
The jobs report came just a week after the gross domestic product (GDP), the broadest measure of goods and services produced across the economy, grew by 6.9% on an annualized basis in the three-month period from October through December, marking the strongest quarterly growth in a year.
The president said he is “proud” of the role his administration has played in the “economic recovery” amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
And after weeks of surging cases of the omicron variant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that cases of COVID-19 have eased, with the seven-day moving average falling to 596,860, down 20% from the prior week.
The administration, during the surge in December and early January, had been hit with a shortage of testing, but the Biden administration late last month began mailing tens of millions of at-home COVID-19 tests to American families, free of charge. Many Americans, though, have yet to receive the tests.
All this, after the president reported Thursday that U.S. military forces “successfully” moved in on the global leader of ISIS, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, also known as Haji Abdullah, who took over as the leader of the Islamic State in 2019 after the U.S. counterterrorism operation that killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The U.S. Special Operations counterterrorism mission in northwest Syria Thursday killed Haji Abdullah in a mission that was “long planned” and on the level and scale of the U.S. operation to take out Usama bin Laden in 2011, senior administration officials told theNYC News.
Officials said al-Qurayshi detonated explosives, which killed himself, his wife and the children in their home. Officials added that they believe he purposedly lived in a building with many families not linked to ISIS.
Biden said Thursday he directed the Department of Defense to take “every precaution possible to minimize civilian casualties,” noting that the special forces raid presented “a much greater risk to our own people” than an airstrike.
The president on Thursday addressed the nation and thanked U.S. forces, who he said “carried out the operation with their signature preparation and precision.”
“This operation is a testament to America’s reach and capability to take out terrorist threats, no matter where they try to hide, anywhere in the world,” Biden said Thursday. “I’m determined to protect the American people from terrorist threats, and I’ll take decisive action to protect this country.”
Meanwhile, the president is also enjoying his first opportunity to appoint a justice to the Supreme Court after Justice Stephen Breyer announced last week his intent to retire at the end of the court’s current term.
The impending vacancy provides Biden an opportunity to fulfill one of his campaign promises of nominating the first Black woman to serve as an associate justice on the Supreme Court.
The president this week said he hopes to work in a bipartisan manner and looks forward to the advice and consent of the Senate on his nomination, which he hopes to announce by the end of the month. He has promised the nominee will be a Black woman.
The president has been hit with criticism from Republicans for his promise, with some arguing it limits the pool of potential qualified nominees.
And an ABC News-Ipsos poll this week revealed that 76% of Americans wanted the president to consider all potential nominees to replace Breyer, with just 23% of Americans preferring he limit the list of nominees to Black women.
But the White House has been able to point to former Republican President Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign promise to appoint the first female to the high court, which Reagan ultimately did, tapping Sandra Day O’Connor as the first woman to serve on the bench.
The White House has also been able to cast those Republican criticisms as hypocritical based on recent history, pointing to former President Trump’s promise in September 2020 to fill the vacancy left by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with a woman. Trump later nominated Amy Coney Barrett, who was confirmed.
But the president’s job rating has been underwater since October, with the most recent Fox News poll showing 47% of Americans approve and 52% disapprove of the job he’s doing.
Biden also had what the media called a “week from hell” to kick off 2022.
That week was filled with Biden giving a speech to support Democratic voting rights bills, but comparing opponents to segregationists, news that the Supreme Court blocked his mandate to require large employers to vaccinate or test their workers for COVID-19 and decisions by moderate Democratic senators Joe Manchin and Kirsten Sinema that they would not vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster.
At that time, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll conducted Jan. 7-10, Biden’s approval rating stood at just 33%, and his disapproval at 53%.
Despite the wave of good news, the White House is still grappling with the crisis at the U.S. southern border.
There were 178,840 migrant apprehensions at the border in December, after FY2021 saw approximately 1.7 million encounters overwhelming border authorities after Trump-era policies were rolled back in favor of a growing practice of releasing migrants into the U.S. interior.
The border numbers have led to intense Republican criticism about the purported failure of the Biden administration’s focus on “root causes” of migration in Central America, with lawmakers pointing to the rapid rollback of Trump-era policies combined with a reduced interior enforcement and a push for mass amnesty for illegal immigrants already in the U.S.
And as the crisis moves into its second year, more foreign nationals continue to attempt to take advantage of what is perceived to be a porous situation and higher chances of being allowed into the U.S., with more coming from distant countries.
According to U.S. Border Patrol, agents recently apprehended individuals from Pakistan, Syria, China, Eritrea, Sudan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. And, according to official Customs and Border Protection data, there were thousands more migrants from India and hundreds from Turkey.
This week, the president admitted there was still “a lot to do” to resolve the situation on the border, and he doubled down on the administration’s focus on “root causes” like poverty and corruption in Central America.
Beyond the border, the Biden administration is still grappling with ways to improve supply chain bottlenecks, as ports across the U.S. struggled to keep up with a surge in cargo that packed container yards and forced ships to wait at sea.
Ports have become one of many bottlenecks in global supply chains as ships have been filling up with boxes carrying everything from electronics to frozen chickens. The backlogs have been leading to empty shelves at stores.
As for inflation, wholesale prices rose at the fastest pace on record in December, the latest evidence that inflationary pressures are continuing to plague the U.S. economy.
The Labor Department said last month that its producer price index, which measures inflation at the wholesale level before it reaches consumers, surged 9.7% in December from the year-ago period. It marked the highest figure on record since the government began tracking the data in 2010.
And while millions of workers are seeing the largest pay gains in years, many of those gains have been eroded by the hottest inflation in nearly four decades, which has pushed the price of everyday necessities like gasoline, clothing and food significantly higher.
“I’m a capitalist, but capitalism without competition is not capitalism. It’s exploitation,” the president said during remarks touting the jobs numbers Friday.
“So I’m going to continue everything in my power to work with the Congress to make our capitalist system work better. Provide more competition and lower prices for American consumers.”
The president added that the government needs to “ease the burden on working families by making everyday things more affordable and accessible.”
“Look, average people are getting clobbered by the cost of everything. Gas prices at the pump are up. We’re working to bring them down, but they’re up,” Biden said. “Food prices are up. And we’re going to bring them down as well.”
The president said his administration is going to “work to bring down the prices that are way up” and continue “strengthening the supply chain to bring down the cost of all of these goods.”