As Biden’s poll numbers fall, Republicans set to sharpen attacks ahead of elections

President facing criticism over inflation, son’s business dealings and immigration

Joe Biden leaned into the lectern and, lowering his voice, almost whispered: "Nato has never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever been as strong as it is today. Never."

The US president was coming under pressure at a press conference last Monday over his ad lib comments at the weekend that many saw as backing regime change in Russia – a suggestion from which key western allies were keen to distance themselves.

Biden has won praise from military and foreign policy analysts for bringing together and maintaining a coalition of European and other American allies to impose strong sanctions against Moscow following its invasion of Ukraine and for equipping Ukrainians fighting back against the Russians.

He has been lauded for speedily releasing classified intelligence – telling the world the steps the US believes the Russians are about to take and diminishing the opportunity for the Putin government to utilise disinformation or run what are known as “false flag” operations.

However, domestically this is not translating into any popular wave of support.

Critics maintain that on his trip to Europe last week alone the president made three verbal gaffes which had to be walked back by White House officials: that US troops could go into Ukraine, that the US could reply in kind if Russia used chemical weapons and the controversial remarks that Russian president Vladimir Putin "cannot remain in power".

Biden strongly denied that there were any gaffes and insisted his comments about Putin stemmed from his moral outrage after meeting Ukrainian refugees forced to flee their homes.

However with key elections just months away, his Republican opponents are likely to step up already heated attacks. More accusations are expected that the Biden administration has lost control over migrants crossing the southern border.

And there is almost certainly going to be more intense focus on the controversial business dealings of his son, Hunter Biden, especially as revelations in this area are now no longer confined to right-wing media. Liberal publications such as the New York Times and Washington Post are now giving some credence to the allegations concerning his tax affairs and other matters.

Not only has there been no Ukraine “bounce” for Joe Biden: his poll numbers have fallen.

Approval ratings

A new national NBC News poll this week put Biden's overall job approval rating at 40 per cent, the lowest level of his presidency. It also found that Republicans enjoyed a two-point lead about which party should control Congress.

A separate Harvard CAPS-Harris poll this week found that if the 2024 presidential election was held now, Donald Trump would defeat Biden by 47 per cent to 41 per cent, with 12 per cent undecided.

Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt of Hart Research Associates, who co-conducted the NBC poll, said one conclusion was that there had been no "rally-around-the-flag" response by the American public to the Russian invasion of Ukraine to boost Biden's approval ratings.

“The potential for that to occur could still happen if America becomes more directly involved, but at this stage it is not there,” he said.

For Americans, polls suggest, the number one issue is the cost of living. Inflation last month reached a 40-year high of almost 8 per cent. More than 60 per cent of Americans in the NBC poll said their incomes were falling behind rising prices and nearly 40 per cent directly blamed Biden and his administration.

The Bloomberg news agency this week forecast the average American household would have to pay an extra $433 (€390) per month for the same basket of goods as last year, although this could be cushioned by savings built up during the pandemic.

The president, for his part, has repeatedly pointed to the 6.7 million jobs created over the last year and to the largest one-year reduction in the US deficit in history. However, for many Americans it is the price of fuel in their cars – now averaging about $4.30 per gallon – that is the bellwether indicator of the state of the US economy.

The president's ratings for his handling of the pandemic are up in the recent weeks to more than 50 per cent. Covid case numbers in America are low at present. The wave affecting Ireland has not hit US shores as of yet. However, even here there are potentially big problems on the horizon.

The Biden administration had placed its hopes for a return to relative normality on plentiful supplies of tests, vaccines and new drugs to reduce hospitalisations and deaths.

However, in reality America is running out of money to pay for these initiatives. Without additional funding authorised by Congress, supplies of monoclonal antibodies could be exhausted by late May with no money for booster vaccines in the autumn.

Biden’s falling polling rating comes as the US political system is beginning to gear up for the elections next November.

A Republican-led Congress could lead to a torrid time for the president with his main political initiatives stymied and the possibility even to a move to impeach him – no real reason may be needed, it would just be seen by some on the right as revenge for what Democrats did to Trump.

The president, however, seems certain now to see his supreme court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson approved by the Senate.

The administration has also proposed a near $6 trillion (€5.4 trillion) budget which aims, in part, to deflect areas of criticism from the right. Large sums have been earmarked to develop infrastructure to improve supply and reduce inflation.

And far from de-funding the police, as some progressives urged, billions will go to law enforcement – blunting criticism that Democrats are soft on crime and illegal immigration. However, this draft budget has to be approved by Congress.

Key decision

Republicans are not campaigning on any new political manifesto. Rather their aim is to amplify unhappiness among Americans and to direct the blame towards Biden.

Republicans this week, for example, will highlight what they see as security weaknesses on the southern border.

Biden will face a key decision soon on whether to lift a Covid-19 health order that prevented most migrants from seeking asylum in the US during the pandemic. Liberals and immigration advocates are pressing the administration to shelve the measure. However, Republicans are warning this would lead to a surge in numbers seeking to enter the United States.

The president may also face new pressure with the re-emergence of the controversy over the business dealings of Hunter Biden in Ukraine and China.

Politicians on the right, including Trump, and conservative media have since before the 2020 election been seeking to highlight what initially at least seemed an unlikely story about potentially compromising material being found on a laptop purportedly left by Hunter Biden in a repair shop but never collected.

However, in recent weeks both the New York Times and the Washington Post – neither known to be strong supporters of Trump – have essentially verified some of the details.

Hunter Biden is under investigation by federal authorities in relation to his taxes. The controversial laptop is in the possession of the FBI.

However, Republican politicians say they have copies of the hard drive.

On Tuesday, Florida Republican congressman Matt Gaetz entered contents purportedly from the Hunter Biden laptop into the congressional record.

Essentially, the Republicans are seeking to broaden out any evidence of wrongdoing that may be identified on the part of Hunter Biden into a wider scandal that could entangle the president.

A lengthy Washington Post report on Wednesday described what it said were “the ways in which his family profited from relationships built over Joe Biden’s decades in public service”.

It said “over the course of 14 months, a Chinese energy conglomerate and its executives paid $4.8 million to entities controlled by Hunter Biden and his uncle, according to government records, court documents and newly-disclosed bank statements, as well as emails contained on a copy of a laptop hard drive that purportedly once belonged to Hunter Biden”.

The Washington Post said it did not find evidence that Joe Biden personally benefited from or knew details about the transactions with the company, CEFC, which took place after he had left the vice-presidency and before he announced his intentions to run for the White House in 2020.

“But the new documents – which include a signed copy of a $1 million legal retainer, emails related to the wire transfers, and $3.8 million in consulting fees that are confirmed in new bank records and agreements signed by Hunter Biden.”

The report pointed to a contract, signed on August 2nd, 2017, which stated that Hunter Biden would get a one-time retainer of $500,000 (€451,000) and would then receive a monthly stipend of $100,000 (€90,000), with his uncle James Biden getting $65,000 (€59,000) a month.

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