There have been some signs in recent weeks that an injection of new White House urgency has improved the organization of the anti-Covid-19 effort and coordination with state governors who cried out for months for help. Biden has used executive orders to step up efforts to fight the pandemic, for instance enforcing mask mandates for interstate travel. On Tuesday, the administration extended foreclosure and mortgage payment forbearance until the end of June for borrowers caught in the economic crash.
The country wants to know whether a swift fall in new infections after a holiday surge is the start of the end of the nightmare. Can the White House speed up its promise for sufficient vaccine doses for everyone by the end of summer? Or should we brace for yet another wave of sickness and death because of proliferating variants may challenge the effectiveness of the program?
And how do states balance political and economic pressure to lift restrictions on businesses such as restaurants as cases ease, knowing that letting up could give a mutating pathogen a new opening? Trump’s irresponsible pressure for a swift reopening last year for his own political reasons helped cause a horrible summer surge across the Sun Belt. Yet with many governors from both parties desperate to restore freedoms, an attempt by Biden to counsel patience could cause further political discord.
Steeling national resolve
Biden also faces a more fundamental task that falls to presidents in times of crisis. He must craft a national narrative about the current scale of the challenge and chart a path to the light in a way that might restore morale amid the darkest winter of modern times.
With nearly half a millions citizens dead, he leads a country emotionally and mentally beaten down by nearly a year of isolation and separation. The psychological pressure is exacerbated by the fear of contracting Covid-19 experienced by anyone on an errand as simple as going to the supermarket.
It’s much worse for essential and manual workers who lack the luxury of working from home.
Biden is well suited to the pastoral aspects of the presidency, after enduring a life of tragedy. But the test he faces in summoning national resolve and is more daunting than for any new president since Franklin Roosevelt.
Four weeks ago, in his inaugural address, Biden sought to steel Americans for the fight ahead, to instill hope that it would be inevitably won and to call for unity, without which he argued a rebound was impossible.
A White House official told CNN Tuesday that the President would pitch his pandemic relief plan at the town hall but, after being largely confined to Washington, he was also looking forward to a two-way conversation and to “listen and hear the challenges” Americans are going through.
The event will also give the President a first chance to publicly address the aftermath of the impeachment trial.
After keeping his distance from the drama in the Senate, Biden bought himself the room to perform a healing role in its wake. In a written statement on Saturday, he pleaded with Americans to “end this uncivil war and health the very soul of our nation.”
Hope or a false dawn?
Read More: Joe Biden confronts a leadership moment