After failing to hit his target goal of 70 percent of adults with at least one shot of COVID-19 vaccine, President Joe Biden finds himself in unfamiliar territory: on the defensive about the pandemic.
In remarks at the White House on Tuesday, Biden found different numbers to tout in arguing for the success of his administration's vaccination effort: nearly 90 percent of senior citizens, some 70 percent of those over the age of 27. "By the end of this week, we'll have reached the mark of more than 160 million fully vaccinated Americans," he said.
Managing the pandemic has been an area where Biden has enjoyed some of his highest approval ratings. A recent Fox News poll found that 64 percent approved of how he has handled the virus, including four in ten Republicans. A Morning Consult poll found that 52 percent believed Biden was doing an "excellent" or "good" job on COVID-19.
The pandemic and its economic toll played a huge role in putting Biden in the White House in the first place. He won voters whose top issue was the coronavirus by 66 points, according to exit polls, and those who said it was more important to contain the virus than reopen the economy by 60.
So far, Biden has been reaping the benefits of the vaccine and economic reopening. People are headed back to work. Death and hospitalization rates have been tumbling. The most recent jobs report was favorable. It has all helped keep Biden's overall approval rating above 50 percent, a mark his predecessor consistently failed to hit.
But a stubborn slice of the population has yet to receive the vaccine despite the government's best efforts. A new, highly contagious variant is menacing the country. Unlike Donald Trump, Biden can tap into a considerable reservoir of goodwill when it comes to his management of the outbreak. But is that goodwill limitless?
Any serious uptick in the numbers or retrenchment on economic reopening will seriously test Biden on his number one issue. The White House knows that getting shots into arms, workers back into jobs and their children back to school is the Democrats' best line of defense in what will figure to be a tough midterm election next year. They desperately need Biden to maintain his positive pandemic image.