Biden: Crisis of credibility

Comments on Ukraine, the economy stir concern

President Joe Biden arrives to the U.S. Capitol Rotunda before paying respects to the late Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, whose remains were lying in state in Statuary Hall on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
President Joe Biden arrives to the U.S. Capitol Rotunda before paying respects to the late Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, whose remains were lying in state in Statuary Hall on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted March 30, 2022 at 6:00am

It’s been another bad week for the president, as White House staffers, and Biden himself on Monday, tried to clean up a string of troubling gaffes made during his crucial trip to meet with NATO leaders as the Ukraine war continued to rage.

With Russian President Vladimir Putin hinting that a nuclear response was possible if NATO directly intervenes in Ukraine or threatens Russia itself, Biden’s misstatements couldn’t have come at a worse moment. Yet, when asked about his ad-lib remarks to American servicemen in Poland, his response to the possible use of chemical weapons by Russia, and now, famously, his barely nuanced call for the ousting of Putin, incredulously, Biden told reporters, “None of the three occurred.”

It was a mind-boggling moment.

Even the president’s supporters in the media are having trouble excusing Biden’s latest attempt to explain away his gaffes, which sent shock waves across international diplomatic and security circles. The world is wondering who is in charge. It has come to that.

After months of verbal stumbles, what is most worrisome is that we don’t know whether Biden actually believes what he’s saying when he makes a gaffe, which in and of itself is problematic. Or whether it’s a cynical tactic to move on from what has been one major misstatement after another by this president, the gravest of these this past week.

Since Biden’s return from Europe, there has been a lot of hand-wringing over his leadership and his ability to govern, with many pundits suggesting that the problem is the president’s tendency to drift from the script. If only Biden would stick to the prepared text and teleprompter, they argue, his problems go away.

But even a brief analysis of his prepared budget remarks, delivered just ahead of taking questions from reporters, is a better explanation of why Biden has taken such a hit in the polls personally and on almost every major issue likely to drive the outcome of the November elections.  

Simply put, this president hasn’t been straight with the American people, and it has cost him his credibility. A quick fact check of a few of Biden’s assertions on the economy Monday is a perfect example. 

Claim on deficit reduction:“This year we’re on track to cut the deficit by more than 1 trillion, 300 billion dollars. One trillion three hundred billion dollars. That would be the largest one-year reduction in the deficit in U.S. history.”  

Fact: What Biden didn’t say is that much of this “spending reduction” actually reflects the scheduled sunset of the one-time emergency pandemic expenditures, not a determined effort by his administration to cut spending. Quite the contrary.

Claim on fiscal mess:“Compared to 2020, we’re reducing the size of the deficit relative to our economy by almost two-thirds, reducing inflationary pressures and making real headway cleaning up the fiscal mess I inherited.”  

Fact: Fiscal mess? Biden can’t have this argument both ways. On the one hand, in his prepared remarks Monday, the president admitted that “early in the pandemic, it was right to give people help to make ends meet and to keep their ... this economy going.”  

He was referring to the Trump administration’s series of COVID-19 stimulus bills designed to blunt the economic impact of the virus. In that, he was right. But in the same speech, he also says,“The previous administration, as you all know, ran up record budget deficits.” Never mind that much of those deficits were driven by help Biden had just said was needed to “keep the economy going.” So, which is it? It makes one wonder who vets his speeches.

As to his claim that his administration is reducing inflation, has he forgotten that last month inflation reached the highest levels in 40 years, at 7.9 percent, or that he “inherited” a 1.4 percent inflation rate from his predecessor? Does he realize that rising food and energy costs are destroying family budgets and businesses? 

There’s living in a bubble, and then there’s living in an alternate universe.

Claim on 2017 tax cuts:“The Trump tax cuts added $2 trillion in deficit spending and largely helped the rich and the largest corporations.”   

Contrary to Biden’s claim that only the rich and corporations benefited from the 2017 tax cuts, almost every taxpayer in America got a tax cut — a reduction in taxes that continues today. In terms of all the taxes paid, for example, people making more than $2 million a year in 2019 were still paying the same percentage of all federal income taxes (20.8 percent) they paid before the tax cuts were enacted.

Biden’s statement that the tax cuts cost the Treasury $2 trillion doesn’t hold water either. In 2017, the federal government took in $3.32 trillion in revenues. Last year, in 2021, federal revenues increased to $4.05 trillion.

People also haven’t forgotten Biden’s claim that his multitrillion-dollar "Build Back Better" plan “cost zero dollars.” Did he really believe his own words? Maybe, maybe not, but the American people aren’t buying it any more than they think raising taxes on the rich won’t impact them whether they make less than $400,000 a year or not.

It seems for Biden, tax policy is just politics. In a February memo to Democrats, Biden’s campaign pollster John Anzalone wrote, “It’s time for Democrats to stop thinking of raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations as just a way to pay for things and instead use it as the winning issue that it is ....”

The fact is that taxing the rich won’t come close to paying for the budget he proposed publicly Monday or the Build Back Better plans Biden and congressional Democrats are still pushing privately.

Claim on job creation:“But because of the progress we’ve made dealing with these emergencies, the labor market is strong, and unemployment — unemployment claims are at historic lows.”

Fact: Yes, a lot of jobs have been created, which is what one would expect after the country’s huge job losses during the height of the pandemic. But Biden is still 2.1 million jobs short of reaching the number of workers employed before the pandemic, a point ignored by both Biden and the media. 

Scripted or unscripted, Joe Biden has shredded his own credibility at a time when America and the world need steady leadership they can trust.

David Winston is the president of The Winston Group and a longtime adviser to congressional Republicans. He previously served as the director of planning for Speaker Newt Gingrich. He advises Fortune 100 companies, foundations, and nonprofit organizations on strategic planning and public policy issues, as well as serving as an election analyst for CBS News.