Informed in one of the mountainside lodges by senior advisers and National Security Council aides, Biden quickly realized that the incident – and the subsequent shutdown of the company’s fuel pipeline to the east coast – could easily turn into a major problem.
The wake-up call for the still recovering economy began ringing new inflation figures midweek, creating new political hurdles as Biden entered a critical phase of negotiations with Republicans over his $ 4 trillion. dollars in new spending. Ahead of the pipeline shutdown, advisers said the president planned to spend the weekend getting updates from labor market advisers – including on why the previous Friday’s jobs report had turned out so disappointing.
Until now, Biden had mostly been spared the types of rapidly spiraling foreign crises or surprise domestic emergencies that make up any presidency. Rather, his plate has been filled with longer-term issues – like recovering from the pandemic – or nagging issues, like a wave of migrants on the southwest border.
But the past week has been a reality check for a president who has invested almost all of his political capital to end the pandemic and adopt a boldly progressive agenda, after spending months focusing on gunshots and checks stimulus on US bank accounts.
The simultaneous foreign and domestic crises would challenge even the most seasoned president, let alone the one tasked with pulling the country out of its worst health crisis in a century. They recall that any form of crisis can intervene to derail the trajectory.
‘You must be prepared’
Publicly, the White House has adopted a calm demeanor towards the developments, even as concerns about potential political fallout have pervaded. Aides said Biden was no stranger to surprises, having witnessed and responded to them for eight years as vice president.
“This is what we are made here for,” press secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday.
“We certainly know that – and the president knew this from having served as vice president for eight years – when you come in and are the leader of the free world and oversee a country that still works its own way. through a pandemic and an economic recovery, which you have to be prepared to juggle with several challenges, several crises at the same time, ”she said.
An energy crisis is at the top of this list. As well as watching Carter struggle to contain a nationwide gas shortage in 1979, Biden saw firsthand how President Barack Obama struggled to deal with the political fallout from the BP oil spill early in his presidency. .
After his first hacking briefing last Saturday at Camp David, Biden requested daily updates from members of his staff. The White House’s concern over the matter was evident as Cabinet Secretaries came to cameras each afternoon with further steps they were taking to alleviate shortages.
Republicans took the opportunity to compare Biden to Carter, even though the pipeline shutdown was brought on by Russia-based ransomware hackers who penetrated a weak private sector network.
Biden himself chose to provide an update on Thursday once the pipeline returns online.
“This is a whole-of-government response to get more fuel faster where it’s needed and to limit the pain experienced by American customers,” he said from the Roosevelt Room, welcoming the “measures” extraordinary ”which would supply enough gas to fill the tanks of 5 million vehicles.
Still, the country’s cybersecurity issue remained, and Biden suggested Thursday that he was not ruling out a counterattack on the criminal union responsible for the colonial pipeline hack, saying, “We will also pursue a measure to disrupt their ability to function. “
On Friday, the ransomware extortion website used by the group responsible for the cyberattack was offline, according to cybersecurity experts.
The president said he would raise the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin at their next summit, scheduled for next month when Biden visits Europe on his first trip abroad.
Attention turns to the Middle East
The episode seemed to confirm Biden’s belief that areas such as cybersecurity, Russia, and China present the most serious foreign threats today. Yet an urgent foreign crisis in the Middle East occupied much of the national security attention in the White House this week. While some of the worst violence in years has erupted between Israelis and Palestinians, the region’s longstanding battles are bringing Biden back.
A U.S. official told CNN that the president spoke with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday – the first conversation between the two leaders since Biden took over the presidency. Biden also spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday, the official said. These conversations are part of the heightened concern over civilian casualties in Gaza.
A White House official told CNN earlier today that internal meetings will be held on Saturday on the escalation of violence, as well as the push to the administration’s infrastructure.
The president also spoke with Netanyahu on Wednesday. At the State Department, the Pentagon and the National Security Council office, a wave of phone calls had been made to Israeli and Palestinian leaders, as well as Egyptian and Qatari officials whom the United States hopes will be able to help negotiate a ceasefire.
This isn’t necessarily the foreign policy issue Biden wanted to tackle in the early months of his presidency. Amid the chaos, he only spoke publicly about the violence when questioned by reporters. Officials said they believed the president could play a more productive role in private discussions, including with Netanyahu, than in proactive public statements.
Officials are also aware of the delicate – and somewhat new – political pressures Biden faces on this matter. Although he was versed on this issue for decades as a lawmaker heading the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and later as vice president, growing pressure from Democratic politics has been severely critical of the actions of Israel.
Even his standard statement that Israel has the right to self-defense drew a rebuke from Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortex of New York, who said that “general statements” like Biden’s “dehumanize Palestinians and imply that states -United will look away from human rights violations. . “
Biden and the White House have shown little willingness to bow to this pressure. Speaking at the White House the next day, the president said he had not detected a disproportionate response to Hamas rocket attacks from Israel, which launched airstrikes in Gaza.
And during the week, he focused much more public attention on domestic issues, including the still fragile economy. After last week’s very disappointing jobs report and midweek figures showing rising inflation, Biden and colleagues attempted to explain that the economy was still in the unpredictable early stages of recovery. .
“We are seriously restarting this economy and we are making good progress in this direction. However, we have to keep in mind that an economy will not heal instantly, ”said Cecilia Rouse, President of the Council of Economic Advisers. , Friday.
The White House played down inflation concerns by saying the new data reflects pent-up consumer demand that some vendors cannot immediately meet. But even leading Democratic economist Larry Summers used the troubling numbers to urge the White House to stop handing out Covid relief funds, which he blames for rising spending and inflation.
“Fed and (White House) policymakers need to recognize that the risk of an inflation scenario in Vietnam is now greater than the deflation risks they originally focused on,” he said. Summers told CNN’s John Harwood.
The mask’s advice surprises the White House
Given the wave of unwanted developments that had spread in the days leading up to it, the CDC’s announcement on Thursday made a welcome development – although it was not yet planned. Key Biden associates were told at 9 p.m. ET on Wednesday that the directions were changing and the message did not spread widely in the West Wing until later the next day.
Biden himself was sitting in his office with a group of Republicans when the rules officially changed. When assistants told the group that the rules had changed, he wasted no time in removing his mask.
“We heard about it,” said West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore, subsequently, charged with negotiating a bipartisan infrastructure package with Biden. “The president took his away. “
In front of the windows, assistants rushed to prepare the rose garden for a declaration. A few hundred kilometers away, his wife saw the news on board his plane. “We feel naked! She exclaimed at a school in West Virginia, where she appeared for one of the first times without having her face covered.
Some White House officials have said they did not foresee how ambitious the guidance would be, given the CDC’s cautious track record. And some state officials said they didn’t agree with that.
“I’m concerned about going back on some of the recommendations at this time,” said Dr. Benjamin Chan, New Hampshire State Epidemiologist. “To be honest, I’m a little unhappy with the way CDC has deployed its advice. “
Biden, meanwhile, used his hastily arranged Rose Garden remarks to reflect on the wider trajectory of the pandemic: its sentences, its policies and ultimately its conclusion.
“Better days are ahead,” he said. ” I promise you. “
This story has been updated with additional reports.
CNN’s Arlette Saenz, Jasmine Wright and Donald Judd contributed to this report.