Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Cancel Anytime
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Canada’s most-awarded
newsroom for a reason
Stay informed for a
lot less, cancel anytime
“Exemplary reporting on
COVID-19” – Herman L
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

U.S. President Joe Biden walks across the South Lawn upon his return from Camp David, Maryland, to the White House in Washington on March 21, 2021.

OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP/Getty Images

Honeymoon’s over.

Suddenly, U.S. President Joe Biden has a mess of messes on his hands. Troubles with China. A rhetorical battle with Russia. A mass murder in Atlanta. Controversy over the Senate filibuster. Bruised feelings in Canada over unneighbourly stinginess with coronavirus vaccines. Thousands of hopeful immigrants in federal custody at the Mexican border. And a spring-break COVID-19 outbreak looming.

All honeymoons come to an end. This is a phenomenon that surprised Mr. Biden’s predecessor, although it shouldn’t have – after all, he married three times. But coming before the completion of his ninth week in office, Mr. Biden is discovering that the office he sought three times is not going to be an easy mantle despite the experience he brings to the table.

Story continues below advertisement

“Sooner rather than later, reality arrives,” said Roger B. Porter, who teaches a Harvard course on the presidency and is the only American with appointments from the past nine presidents. “Urgent problems are more intractable than anticipated. Relationships prove crucial and success requires flexibility, adaptability as well as a willingness and ability to find common ground. If President Biden is going to establish successful policies that will endure, he must use the skills he honed for decades in the Senate and as vice-president to build bridges.’'

John F. Kennedy’s honeymoon could have ended with the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba but didn’t because he forthrightly admitted that he made an error in ordering the botched operation; the result actually was his highest approval ratings of his presidency. Gerald Ford’s honeymoon ended with his pardon of former president Richard Nixon, and Jimmy Carter’s ended when he opposed 19 water projects favoured by powerful Capitol Hill figures. The modern record for brief honeymoons may be Bill Clinton’s, which lasted less than a week because of a controversy involving the illegal immigrants Zoe Baird, his nominee for attorney general, hired for home employment – a kerfuffle blamed in part on senator Biden, who knew about the situation but did not warn the administration.

The one thing new presidents are warned – and mostly ignore – is that the good feelings don’t last forever.

“In that job, you cannot be driven by short-term events,” said Andrew Card, who was chief of staff for George W. Bush, whose very presidency began in controversy growing out of the overtime election standoff with Al Gore. “There will be times of trouble and times of joy. It’s Ecclesiastes. You have to be nimble and adjust to that. And you can’t be comfortable in moments of celebration, because the ‘incoming’ missiles never stop and the unknown becomes known with great speed.”

Mr. Biden still has a 54-per-cent approval rating, according to the RealClearPolitics survey average, a rate Donald J. Trump did not reach in his entire term. The reason may be largely because, as conservative commentator Jonah Goldberg put it, “af­ter four years of a Don­ald Trump pres­i­dency, a bor­ing old guy in the Oval Of­fice is very re­as­sur­ing to a lot of peo­ple.”

Even so, the challenges he faces in the Oval Office are mounting.

Last week alone, for example, an Alaska meeting of Chinese and U.S. diplomats dissolved into an exchange of denunciations and rancour. Russia spoke of “irreversible deterioration of relations” with the United States and recalled its ambassador to Washington after Mr. Biden agreed with an assessment that Russian President Vladimir Putin was a “killer.” And an outburst of gun violence that killed eight people, six of them Asian women, in Atlanta rekindled a searing debate about America’s racial heritage and outlook.

Story continues below advertisement

At the same time, Mr. Biden waded into a controversy about the filibuster, a Senate provision designed to protect the rights of the minority that has been employed for, among other things, the preservation of racist prerogatives. He also faced questions about his reluctance to share with Canada seven million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines stored in Cincinnati; the administration finally agreed to ship 1.5 million doses across the northern border and 2.5 million to Mexico, where a dire migrant crisis is worsening.

All of this is a new burden on a new President, but his predecessors have faced worse.

The day after his 1861 inauguration, Abraham Lincoln received a dispatch from Major Robert Anderson warning him that provisions were running low in the federal installation at Fort Sumter in South Carolina, which, along with six other states, had seceded from the Union. Less than five weeks later, Lincoln decided to resupply the garrison, a move that sparked the Civil War.

“Biden had a tough transition, but Lincoln didn’t even have one,” said Sarah Purcell, a historian at Iowa’s Grinnell College. “Biden should take heart – and warning.”

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies