Sebastian Smith, Agence France-Presse
Whether Joe Biden will seek a second term is the biggest secret in Washington. Only the man himself increasingly doesn’t seem to be hiding the answer. A long distance day trip Tuesday to Arizona is only the latest indication that at 80, Biden is seriously laying the ground to stay in power for another term — until he’s 86. He’s never visited the desert state as president and while the White House says he’s there to promote a major new semiconductor plant in Phoenix, there’s no ignoring that deeply divided Arizona will be one of the key links in any successful campaign.
The November midterm elections, in which Republicans failed to score their expected big win in the House while actually losing in the Senate, is being interpreted by Biden as a full-blown validation. And right as his foe Donald Trump gets his own 2024 election campaign off to a typically scandal-burdened start, Biden is enjoying the best period of his entire first term.
The economy is, for now, proving wrong predictions of painful recession. Gigantic spending packages passed by Congress during Biden’s first two years in office are starting to come on tap, pouring money into high-tech manufacturing, like semiconductors, green energy, and also old-fashioned infrastructure like roads and bridges.
Abroad, the US-led coalition against Russia in Ukraine continues to hold after nearly 10 months, helping to overcome the bitter taste of failure in Afghanistan. At the White House, Biden just hosted a successful — and lavish — state visit for French President Emmanuel Macron.
When Biden boasts that “things are moving, they’re moving in the right direction” — as he did last week after good employment figures came out — he doesn’t resemble someone about to bow off the stage. So while Biden has said his decision won’t come until “early next year,” many of those around him think they already know.
“The president will make that decision, I expect, shortly after the holidays, but I expect the decision will be to do it,” his chief of staff, Ron Klain, told The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit on Monday. “I certainly expect him to run,” Hakeem Jeffries, the Democratic leader in the new House of Representatives next year when Republicans assume their narrow majority, told Fox News on Sunday.
“It’s clear,” said James Roosevelt Jr., another senior Democrat, speaking to The New York Times last week after Biden urged a shakeup of the Democratic candidate nominating process — a plan being interpreted as favorable to Biden. “He intends to run again,” longtime Biden friend, Senator Chris Coons, told AFP.
Even Newt Gingrich, a pillar of the Republican right wing establishment, can’t hide grudging admiration. “Quit underestimating President Biden,” he wrote on Axios, warning Republicans that they were blind to “just how effective Biden has been on his terms.” But doctors and family, not political commentators, will decide whether Biden runs. Some of those family “discussions” that Biden has flagged already took place in the Atlantic resort island of Nantucket, where he gathered with close relatives for Thanksgiving. More are expected at Christmas, with highly influential First Lady Jill Biden believed to be in the driving seat. Then there’s the annual medical report, also expected to land soon.
At 80, Biden shows some typical signs of old age — the shuffling walk, the sometimes distracted facial expressions, and occasionally embarrassing or at least awkward verbal hiccups.
Yet his governing record and decision making in one of the world’s hardest jobs paint a different picture. “Watch me,” as Biden likes to say, when asked about his fitness. Americans will get a more scientific overview at the release of his official annual physical.
A year ago, the White House physician declared Biden “fit to successfully execute the duties of the presidency.”
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