Biden has three-and-a-half years remaining in his term, but his senior advisers speak frequently about the sense of urgency facing his presidency, with the next year almost certain to be dominated by midterm elections that could take away the Democratic majorities in Congress he needs to pass his agenda.
In West Wing meetings lately, White House chief of staff Ron Klain has impressed upon aides the critical importance of the next few weeks.
If Biden ever had a honeymoon period — after inheriting a raging global pandemic, there is a good argument he did not — it is clear at the six-month point of his presidency that it is over.
At the White House and on the road, the President has begun adopting a more aggressive stance against Republicans and other critics, including on voting rights and the Afghanistan withdrawal.
The administration recently launched an offensive against vaccine disinformation it believes is helping to drive Covid cases among the unvaccinated, inadvertently sparking a tiff with Facebook.
And Biden himself plans to tighten his focus in coming weeks on popular elements of a sweeping legislative agenda that hangs in the balance, according to officials, hoping to sway Americans in red-leaning areas.
Still, internal divides persist among officials in some fraught areas, like immigration and Covid reopening plans, with heightened debate over how single decisions could resonate politically. And Biden’s penchant for going off-script has thrown his team into cleanup mode at multiple points so far.
For all of his focus on returning a semblance of normalcy to the presidency, Biden has now entered the familiar territory of his predecessors: a period of uncertainty and events transpiring far outside of best-laid plans. How he and his team manage those events will have repercussions beyond a single piece of legislation or foreign policy decision.
Instead, they could determine his ability to navigate a sweeping legislative agenda, tenuous House and Senate majorities and, to a degree, his entire first term.
The coming weeks will play a considerable role in defining the success of the Biden presidency, particularly whether the White House is able to keep a bipartisan coalition together on the first piece of his infrastructure plan and keep Democrats united on a broader package that would dramatically remake the nation’s social safety network by touching all facets of American life.
But other forces are also gathering that Biden’s aides are eyeing closely, wary of their potential to distract from or consume his agenda.
Chief among them is the issue of rising Covid cases, driven by the highly contagious Delta variant, which has been tearing through communities where vaccination rates remain low. The average of new daily cases this week is up 66% from last week and 145% from two weeks ago, as cases surge in 44 states, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. In addition, hospitalizations are up 26% from last week.
Officials are also watching with concern as border crossings tick back up, mindful of Biden’s relatively low approval ratings on immigration and the struggle the administration faced earlier this year when waves of…