Hi. Welcome to On Politics, your wrap-up of the week in national politics. I’m Lisa Lerer, your host.
For the new president, the first 100 days were needles, checks and normalcy.
During the early months of his nascent administration, President Biden largely pursued his own agenda.
He got a $1.9 trillion stimulus plan passed, supercharged the distribution of vaccines and rolled out policies on infrastructure, child care, education, climate change and other Democratic priorities. The media gleefully reported on the return to norms in Washington. (Weekends! Press briefings! Grammatically correct tweets!) And Mr. Biden was allowed to be, well, boring.
The ability to keep a lower profile was a striking transformation for a politician who once described himself as a “gaffe machine.” In fact, being boring became a kind of Biden superpower, as the new president’s moderate tone and steady style helped deflect criticism of the roughly $6 trillion in new federal spending his administration proposed.
drama-free White House, focused on restoring calm after the chaos of the Trump administration.
Well, some chaos came back this week.
A series of crises has shown how quickly a presidential agenda can be overtaken and why, exactly, the first 100 days are often called the honeymoon period.
Divisive issues are rapidly rising to the front of the national conversation, presenting early tests for the new White House. For some in the administration, they’ve come as an unwelcome distraction that threatens to knock the president off his carefully curated message.
This isn’t a surprising turn: It is the unexpected that often defines a presidency. Bill Clinton entered office with little foreign policy experience but was quickly forced into messy conflicts in Haiti, Somalia and Rwanda. Terrorist attacks transformed George W. Bush’s first term. In his second, a 90 percent approval rating that was built on his leadership after the Sept. 11 attacks was marred by his response to Hurricane Katrina, which became a modern metaphor for a mishandled crisis. Barack Obama took office in the midst of economic crisis and then faced the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. And Donald J. Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic will be a central part of his legacy.
“I always say, you don’t judge presidents by the agenda they set for themselves but by how they respond to the agenda that’s set for them,” said James Zogby, the founder of the Arab American Institute. “The agenda has now been set for President Biden.”
conflict management, rather than conflict resolution.”
While Mr. Biden largely stuck to the decades-old Democratic playbook of expressing solidarity with Israel, some in his party broke ranks to openly criticize his administration for what they viewed as a willingness to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses against Palestinians.
During a news conference on Friday, a day after Israel and Hamas agreed to a cease-fire, Mr. Biden said that Democrats still fully supported Israel, a position that is unlikely to satisfy many in his party’s left flank.
“There is no shift in my commitment to the security of Israel,” he said. “Period. No shift, not at all.”
Past cease-fires between Israel and Hamas have proved fragile, making it unlikely that Mr. Biden can avoid the challenging issue for long.
The Supreme Court thrust another historically divisive issue onto the administration’s agenda this week, when the justices decided to take up a Mississippi abortion ban case that challenges Roe v. Wade. While his administration has rolled back Trump-era policies on reproductive rights, Mr. Biden himself has remained silent on the issue, even as state legislators passed an unprecedented 549 abortion restrictions over the past four months, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.
Abortion rights supporters have begun pushing Mr. Biden to speak out more forcefully, and their calls are likely to escalate as the court’s hearing draws closer.