One stunning afternoon: Setbacks imperil Biden's reset

WASHINGTON (AP). It was an hour that President Joe Biden would not like to forget.
The Pentagon confirmed that the drone strike in Afghanistan had killed 10 civilians including seven children. It was not terrorists. The panel that advises the Food and Drug Administration decided not to recommend COVID booster shots for Americans older than 16. This quashed any hope of an Obama administration. France also announced that it would recall its ambassador to the U.S. because of the secret nuclear submarine deal Biden made with Australia and the United Kingdom.

These headlines were all too harsh and lasted for an hour.

They arrived as Biden's approval ratings have fallen as the COVID-19 crises has worsened and Americans are blamed for the failed withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The administration had hoped that tougher vaccine guidelines would be issued, as well as a new international alliance against China. It also wanted to make a commitment to what Biden is best at: using his years of experience on Capitol Hill and his knowledge of the legislative process to persuade fellow Democrats to pass two important spending bills that are the heart of his agenda.

These ambitions are more difficult now.

Biden declared defeating the pandemic his central mission, but the U.S. now has more than 145,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 per day, an increase from the low of 8,500 per day just three months ago.

The president is trying to shift blame for the resurgence in cases to the more 70 million Americans who have not received a vaccine and to the GOP lawmakers who oppose his increasing forceful efforts to encourage people to get shots. Although Aides hoped for FDA approval, the advisory panel recommended boosters only for people over 65 and those with underlying conditions or special circumstances.

Recent days have seen Biden aides quietly express relief that the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, which has been a constant feature of the war for nearly two decades, has receded in the news. Friday afternoon, the Pentagon revealed the target of an errant American drone strike. This shattered the feeling.

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Biden was a long-time advocate for leaving Afghanistan. He even admitted that he regretted the suicide bombing that killed 13 American servicemen. Biden is well-known for his certitude and stubbornness. He also rejected suggestions that he should express regret about the withdrawal.

Since then, aid workers have quickly noted that over 120,000 people were evacuated successfully and argued that the quiet U.S. efforts have secured the steady departure from Taliban rule.

The US, UK, and Australia announced the surprise agreement to end the war in Afghanistan. This was part of a broader effort to refocus foreign policies on China.

Beijing was not the only one to balk. Paris also protested, accusing the U.S. demeaning France and ending its submarine deal with Australia.

France then recalls its ambassador following dismay from its officials that Biden was, according to their estimation, as unstable as Donald Trump.

Biden was just trying to pivot to his ambitious domestic agenda when the France strain came.

There are stark ideological differences among Democrats on Capitol Hill over the $3.5 trillion spending bill and the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. All of Congress will have to manage the legislation from the White House while also being pressed with deadlines for the government funding and the debt ceiling.

According to half a dozen White House aides, and outside advisors not authorized to discuss internal discussions, the West Wing is rewriting a legislative strategy that helped secure passage of $1.9 trillion in COVID relief in March. It also pushed through the Senate the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill in August. The infrastructure bill, which contains many of President Obama's priority areas like climate change and child-care, will be passed by the House with the $3.5 trillion spending bill. It would also pass the Senate party-line.

The Senate is tied at 50-50, with the Democrats holding a small margin in the House, so it's difficult to lose votes. It could also prove to be a daunting task for Democratic moderates like Sens. Joe Manchin from West Virginia and Kyrsten Silena of Arizona want a smaller spending bill. Liberals such as Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vermont, have steadfastly stated that it cannot shrink.

The White House has also begun to fill the president's calendar with events to emphasize the necessity of passing the bills. This includes linking visits to natural disasters sites in California and Idaho as well as hurricanes in New York, New Jersey, and funding for climate change.

The White House had originally scheduled Biden to speak from the East Room on Thursday. He focused on tax enforcement in order to get wealthy Americans and big corporations to pay more.

There are many roadblocks. Biden was told by Manchin that he couldn't support $3.5 trillion. White House aides began signaling that they would accept a smaller package even if it raised the ire progressives.

However, Bidens advisors believe that even though there are some problems with the package no Democratic lawmaker would wish to be seen as undermining the core of the agenda for a president of their party.

The White House is reducing the president's travel to support the agenda at Capitol Hill. However, this has raised concerns among Democratic lawmakers about whether Biden was doing enough to sell the legislation directly to their constituents.

The White House noted that Biden's Cabinet was actively traveling to promote the legislation even though the president is not present in Washington.

Two officials confirmed that the scaled-down travel is due to concern from aides over the potential exposure Biden might have suffered when he mixed in groups on a recent long west trip and during his three-stop September 11th commemoration journey. Biden, who is 78, did not take a summer vacation. The Afghanistan crisis thwarted Biden's plans to spend August at his Delaware home.

He was finally granted a weekend off by his Aides, who had arranged for him to spend a long weekend at his home in Rehoboth Beach on the Delaware coast. He arrived at his home Friday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

Ninety minutes later, all hope of a peaceful weekend was gone.