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Matthew Continetti / April 2, 2022

Biden Runs Out of Gas

The president has an unerring instinct to make problems worse.

“This is a wartime bridge to increase oil supply into production,” President Biden said during his announcement Thursday that he would release more barrels of oil from the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve than at any point in American history. His decision was also a concession. None of the policies Biden has enacted throughout his short presidency have alleviated the problems they were meant to solve. Quite the opposite: In practically every case, Biden has made things worse.

Energy? Killing the Keystone pipeline was one of the first things Biden did when he took office. In February, Biden delayed approval of new oil and gas leases. He continues to blame the increase in gas prices on Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, even though prices began to rise early in Biden’s term. Biden scapegoats oil companies for sitting on profits, while he could be doing everything in his power to ramp up domestic production of available fuel sources — including nuclear.

The fallout from Putin’s war was bound to make energy scarce and thus more valuable. Biden could have lessened the pain on the American consumer by pursuing an all-of-the-above energy dominance policy from the start, and by reducing the size of the American Rescue Plan so that it didn’t contribute to inflation. He chose to ignore the warnings of economists such as former Treasury secretary Lawrence Summers and followed his advisers who incorrectly predicted that inflation would be temporary. By turning to the Strategic Reserve, Biden is promoting a temporary fix while the long-term solutions are plain to see. He’s relied on similar gimmicks before. They haven’t worked.

Consider Biden’s immigration policy. He spent his early days as president tearing up President Trump’s agreements with Mexico and several Central American countries that forced asylum-seekers to stay in third-party nations while U.S. judges decided on their claims. The rush for the border was swift and ongoing. This week, Biden is expected to reverse a rule Trump enforced during the coronavirus pandemic that allowed border agents to repatriate illegal immigrants swiftly because of the public health emergency. Homeland Security officials tell the New York Times that because of Biden’s decision they are planning on unauthorized crossings to double from an already high level. Republicans must be giddy with anticipation at the coming headlines.

Immigration and the border were the first places where you saw erosion in Biden’s job approval numbers last spring. Now he’s about to do something that will undermine border security and his political standing, and for no discernible reason. The pandemic is not over. Border crossings aren’t falling. We know that Biden’s decision will attract additional illegal immigrants. Nothing about this policy makes sense.

Biden doesn’t make sense. His Europe trip was a substantive success but a stylistic failure. The Western alliance is holding. But the president gaffed his way across Eastern Europe — saying the West would respond “in kind” to a Russian chemical attack, denying the deterrent value of sanctions when his subordinates have said precisely the opposite, telling U.S. troops that they would see the horrors of war in Ukraine firsthand, then raising the possibility that America’s strategic goal is regime change in Russia. Then, when Fox’s Peter Doocy soberly asked him about these inadvisable statements, Biden denied that he had said anything problematic.

I happen to believe that the world would be a safer place if Vladimir Putin were out of power — that indeed one possible consequence of a Russian defeat in Ukraine is Putin’s demise. I also believe that presidents shouldn’t sound like me. They need to watch their public statements because, as we were reminded throughout the Trump administration, words matter. Biden’s sentiment in Warsaw was correct. His sense of timing was wrong. After all, you never get in trouble for what you don’t say. Biden’s problem is that he rarely lets his actions speak louder than his words. And the words are garbled.

People notice. They don’t like what they hear, they can’t stand what they see. The public verdict on Biden is grim. He has not benefited from a rally-around-the-flag effect. His approval rating continues to fall. He’s at 41 percent approval in the FiveThirtyEight average of polls. He fell under 40 percent approval in this week’s Marist poll. Republicans continue to lead the congressional generic ballot. Democrats recognize that the electoral battlefield has widened. Biden is running out of time to improve his standing. And he hasn’t demonstrated an ability to bounce back as president.

Biden entered office at a time of national emergency. He benefited from the public’s desire to see Donald Trump off the airwaves for the first time in years. He oversaw the successful implementation of the vaccination program Trump had started. The resilience of the American economy helped him too.

Then the situation went sideways. Biden’s problems started on the southern border, ramped up with the Delta variant of coronavirus, accelerated with inflation, spread with the debacle in Afghanistan, and haven’t abated since. His rallying of the West in support of Ukraine is laudable, but he still hasn’t done enough to help the Ukrainians and he keeps stumbling on his own message. His commitments to the left wing of his party keep him from embracing the center. And damaging leaks about the federal investigation into his son’s finances only will mount if Republicans take Congress in November.

Biden’s reliance on the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is telling. This is a presidency that is running out of gas.

Matthew Continetti is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the founding editor of The Washington Free Beacon. For more from the Free Beacon, sign up free of charge for the Morning Beacon email.

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