State of the Biden administration shaky as president preps SOTU address to divided Congress
Biden aims to take victory lap Tuesday night despite economic, security, transportation, border woes — and a mushrooming scandal.
The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook
As President Joe Biden prepares to deliver his second State of the Union address Tuesday night, the state of the Biden administration itself is beleaguered — assailed from multiple directions by inflation, economic stagnation, sagging approval ratings, an increasingly confrontational China, a spreading Biden family scandal growing out of suspicious foreign financial ties, mass delays in major transit sectors and an ongoing border crisis.
With real earnings declining amid continuing high — albeit slowing — inflation and two-thirds of Americans in a recent poll saying the economy is on the wrong track, the administration gratefully embraced the latest monthly jobs report as vindication of its economic policies.
While the news of 527,000 jobs added in January exceeded market expectations, some analysts suggest the figure is a lagging indicator that hasn't factored in the impact of mass layoffs that have already been set in motion but not yet implemented and recorded, leading to a deceptively sunny picture of an economy that is, in reality, shadowed by looming storm clouds.
The consensus forecast, according to Dow Jones, had predicted a net gain of roughly 187,000 jobs. Some economists expected the figure to be much higher, however, noting that while numerous large-scale companies announced large layoffs, many of those firms were moving slowly to implement job cuts and the pending reductions may not be reflected within the January numbers.
Goldman Sachs economists had expected jobs to increase by around 300,000, according to CNBC. That forecast attempted to account for delayed job cuts from major companies but still came up short.
Big Tech has particularly large layoffs coming down the pipeline, with Google announcing on Jan. 20 it would cut 12,000 jobs worldwide, roughly 6% of its global workforce. Earlier in the month, the Wall Street Journal reported Amazon was planning to cut another 7,000 jobs on top of the 10,000 it announced in Novemeber, for a total reduction of about 17,000 employees. Major music streaming service Spotify, meanwhile, announced a 6% reduction in its workforce as well.
Economic storm clouds weren't the only atmospheric threat facing Biden this week, as a Chinese spy balloon slowly traversed U.S. skies for up to four days last week before being shot down in the Atlantic off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday. In the course of a long, unmolested transit over U.S. territory, the balloon overflew — and possibly imaged — an area of Montana that houses one of the nation's intercontinental ballistic missile [ICBM] bases.
The administration attempted to deflect criticism for its belated detection of and response to the alleged surveillance balloon by insinuating the Trump administration was aware of similar incursions by China. Trump clapped back Sunday on Truth Social, forcefully denying there were any such breaches on his watch.
"The Chinese would never have floated the Blimp ('Balloon') over the United States if I were President!!!" he wrote. Earlier in the day, Trump called the Biden administration's claims of previous spy balloons "JUST FAKE DISINFORMATION!"
The White House effort at deflection may have backfired in the end, only serving to highlight the Biden team's perceived accommodationist instincts toward an increasingly combative China. "I think China is watching this with glee," said Louisiana Republican Rep. Tim Johnson, a member of the House Armed Services Committee. "I think they've had sport with this. I think they've effectively embarrassed us on the world stage, and this is a dangerous time because they're a very aggressive adversary. But we have others as well, and we cannot project weakness on the world stage. That's our principal concern here is that, what message are we sending to the rest of the of the globe?"
Perceptions of Biden weakness in the test of nerves over the surveillance balloon were shaped, in part, by the piecemeal revelation of classified documents discovered at Biden's Delaware home and former D.C. office at the Penn-Biden Center, a foreign policy think tank sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania.
Reports compiled by the conservative watchdog group National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC) from disclosures to the Department of Education, showed Penn collected more than $67.6 million in donations and contracts from China between 2013 and 2019. The vast majority of that money, $47.7 million, flowed during the three years Biden was employed by the university, the records reflected. Penn paid Biden almost $1 million during the years 2017-2019 for a nebulous role at the university with no regular teaching duties and scarce visibility on campus, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The Chinese money poured in most rapidly in the four months after Biden opened the center in February 2018, a period during which nearly $20 million rolled in, including a $14.5 million anonymous gift on May 28, 2018, according to a complaint the NLPC filed with the Department of Education in May of 2020.
The complaint requested the department investigate all Chinese gifts to Penn and the Penn-Biden Center, saying that the gifts listed as anonymous were, "in clear violation" of the Higher Education Act's requirement that states "all gifts or contracts exceeding $250,000 must disclose the foreign ownership and control of the gift or contract."
"The University of Pennsylvania and the Penn Biden Center are particularly vulnerable to China government influences due to the large amounts of China donations and contracts," the NLPC alleged in the complaint.
The drip-drip of revelations in the documents scandal has converged with an investigation into the Biden family's foreign business dealings launched by House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.).
"It's really one investigation," Comer explained last week at the National Press Club. "It's not really two, because the reason that I'm concerned about the Biden documents is because there's some reason that China has donated so much money to the different Biden interests. I don't think they're doing it out of the kindness of their heart."
In an interview with journalist David Brody on "The Water Cooler" program, former President Trump decried what he called the "coverup" that delayed public disclosure of Biden's classified document caches until after the 2022 midterms.
In addition to these major issues imperiling Biden's first-term agenda, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has come under recurring fire for an array of problems, including mass flight cancelations, port delays and supply-chain shortages — a series of failures that culminated recently when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ordered a pause on all domestic air departures following a nationwide technical outage.
Buttigieg's stewardship of the Transportation Department amid the twin 2022 crises of supply chain shortages and airline issues has not only tarnished his political brand, but raised questions about Biden's judgement regarding cabinet picks.
A year ago, TV images were broadcast across the country of backed-up container cargo ships unable to access one of America's prime ports of entry. During the recent holiday season, frustrated passengers were left stranded in airports despite an earlier letter to Buttigieg from three Democratic senators channeling the anger of U.S. travelers and challenging the secretary to up his game.
"Passengers are rightfully displeased with airline performance ... Consumers deserve even stronger protections," Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) wrote Buttigieg on Nov. 23, prodding him to strengthen and expedite new regulations targeting the airlines' performance. You can read that letter here.
Another warning came from a bipartisan group of 38 state attorneys general, who wrote to then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi several months ago, saying Buttigieg's department was turning a blind eye to consumer complaints about airline services.
"Over the past couple of years, our offices have received thousands of complaints from outraged airline passengers about airline customer service — including about systematic failures to provide required credits to those who lost travel opportunities during the pandemic," the attorneys general wrote.
Democrat strategist Nina Turner even suggested last week that Buttigieg was a "prime example of failing up."
Another issue Biden is expected to address in his speech is border security and the unprecedented flood of illegal immigrants and lethal, Chinese-manufactured fentanyl across the southern border into the country.
Comer outlined the dimensions of the crisis Tuesday ahead of Biden's speech in comments at an Oversight Committee hearing titled On The Front Lines of the Border Crisis: A Hearing with Chief Patrol Agents.
"Jeh Johnson, the Secretary of Homeland Security under President Obama, once said that 1,000 apprehensions per day overwhelms the system," Comer's prepared remarks read. "In 2019, he said that 'I cannot begin to imagine what 4,000 a day looks like, so we are truly in a crisis.' Unfortunately, we are witnessing that now. And it is truly a crisis. In Fiscal Year 2022, over 6,000 migrants per day on average were apprehended after illegally crossing the border. That's over 2.2 million apprehensions in just one 12-month period. In just the first three months of Fiscal Year 2023, over 7,000 migrants per day on average were apprehended after illegally crossing the border."
Administration defenders have argued that numbers such as those cited by Comer are bloated or misleading, often double-counting migrants who have made multiple attempts to cross the southern border due, in part, to increased deportations under Title 42, which was initially instituted to help limit the spread of COVID-19.
The Biden administration has been taking bows of late for a recent drop in apprehensions at the border, crediting its newly implemented asylum rules authorizing increased numbers of asylum seekers from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, and Haiti to enter the U.S. through legal points of entry (POE). Former acting Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection Mark Morgan, however, ripped the new rules as a "perverse shell game."
"As the numbers of those illegally entering in between the POEs significantly recede, watch how the numbers at our POEs increase in kind," Morgan told Just The News late last month. "It's an unlawful, perverse shell game, which serves to mask the crisis rather than address it in any meaningful way. They haven't put forth a single policy to deter or disincentivize the flow — nor to insert integrity — back into a broken system through ending of catch and release. They simply transferred their massive release strategy to the POEs."
Just The News reached out to the White House press office for comment on these issues but has not received any response.
You can follow Nick on Twitter @NGivasDC
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