Facing rising prices and deep voter dissatisfaction, the White House this week is launching a month-long effort to signal heavy focus on the economy as inflation worries become the top concern for the White House before this fall’s midterm elections.
It’s not the first time President Joe Biden and his aides have sought to renew attention on the economy. But there remains little Biden can do on his own to bring down prices in the immediate term.
Yet facing near-record low approval ratings five months before the critical congressional contests, the President has determined another concentrated focus on Americans’ bottom line is necessary to demonstrate his attention on the issue.
The push began on Monday with an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal and continues Tuesday with an Oval Office sit-down between Biden, Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. At the end of the week, Biden plans a speech on the new jobs report Friday.
“I’m meeting with the chairman today and Secretary Yellen to discuss my top priority, that is addressing inflation in order to transition from historic recovery to a steady growth that works for American families,” Biden said in the Oval Office. “And my plan is to address inflation, starts with a simple proposition: respect the Fed, respect the Fed’s independence, which I have done and will continue to do.”
The administration is also blanketing airwaves with Biden’s top economic officials in a concerted push to use those aides more as spokespeople to push the President’s message on the economy. The White House said top administration economic officials had been booked for 20 television appearances Tuesday.
“It’s ambitious. It reflects the fact the President has made fighting inflation his top economic priority,” National Economic Council director Brian Deese said in an appearance on CNN. “We can do that from a position of economic strength because of the historic recovery that we have seen, strongest job market rebound in modern history, most small businesses created ever during a recovery and household balance sheets have improved.”
“Now,” Deese said, “the question is how do we make progress?”
The new push is another attempt by the White House to show voters Biden is working to address higher prices. He delivered a speech earlier this month where he went on the defensive over rising gas and food costs and criticized Republicans at length.
Recently, in between meetings with world leaders during his first trip to Asia since taking office, Biden also spent a considerable amount of time focused on the economy back at home, visiting a semiconductor facility to underscore the importance of repairing the supply chain and touting a massive new electric vehicle plant to be built by Hyundai near Savannah, Georgia.
Yet Biden’s efforts over the past year to highlight an improving economy have not persuaded voters that his plans are working. A majority of voters say the government isn’t doing enough to fight inflation, and a Gallup poll released Tuesday showed 14% of US adults rate economic conditions as “excellent” or “good,” with 46% calling them “poor” and another 39% rating them as “only fair.” That’s worse than a month ago, when 20% of Americans rated conditions as good or better and 42% said they were poor.
Early administration descriptions of inflation as “transitory” have not borne out, and opened Biden to criticism that the price spike caught his team by surprise.
The President, meanwhile, has sought to balance taking credit for strong job growth and improving economic indicators with acknowledging the pain many families are feeling from higher prices of gas, groceries, housing and more.
Recently, he has also sought to pin blame for higher prices on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, labeling the sticker shock “Putin’s price hike.” And he has accused Republicans of resisting his efforts to bring costs down in favor of pursing an “ultra-MAGA” agenda.
An official told CNN to expect to see this effort to focus on the economy to continue for the rest of the month as officials want to convey to voters that Biden is paying attention to their concerns, while also preparing them to see fewer job-creation numbers as the economy stabilizes.
“For month of June, we are just really communicating how in touch we are with what Americans are dealing with and how it’s our number one economic priority,” one official told CNN.
The effort comes as the White House is facing more questions about whether the economy is going into a recession.
Biden himself said recently he did not believe a recession to be a foregone conclusion. But he conceded the economy was in a precarious state.
“What I’ve been able to do to keep it from getting even worse – and it’s bad,” he said during a news conference in Japan. “This is going to be a haul. This is going to take some time.”
Biden is sitting down with Powell on Tuesday in what will be their first meeting since he renominated him to lead the central bank. The President will speak briefly at the beginning of the meeting as he has made clear he’s relying on Powell to tame inflation.
In the Wall Street Journal op-ed, Biden wrote that the “Federal Reserve has a primary responsibility to control inflation.” But Biden also added, “My predecessor demeaned the Fed, and past presidents have sought to influence its decisions inappropriately during periods of elevated inflation. I won’t do this.”
Biden will also discuss the “state of the American and global economy and discuss the President’s top economic priority: addressing inflation to transition from an historic economic recovery to stable, steady growth that works for working families,” a White House official told CNN.
The Powell-led Fed has been criticized for being slow to address high inflation by ending emergency support for the economy and beginning interest rate hikes. However, the Fed has vowed to swiftly raise interest rates and earlier this month hiked rates by half a percentage point for the first time since 2000. The US central bank has signaled further aggressive rate hikes in the months to come.
Still, administration officials declined Tuesday to forecast when inflation might begin to ease.
“I’m not going to make predictions,” said Wally Adeyemo, the deputy Treasury secretary, on CNN. “But what I am going to say is exactly what the President said. He understands that high prices are a challenge for people. High gas prices make it harder to pay for things because he’s felt it as someone who was growing up in a household where they dealt with high food costs and gas costs. And what the President is saying is he’s going to do everything he can to make sure we bring down the cost of goods working with the Fed.”
This story has been updated with additional reporting.
CNN’s Jeremy Diamond contributed to this report.