The vast majority of President Joe Biden’s time at the White House this week has been spent confronting the crisis in Israel, including four phone calls with his Israeli counterpart and well north of a dozen briefings from his national security team.
But, in a sign of the political crosscurrents, Biden has also been keeping most of his regularly scheduled programming, including a Rose Garden speech about “junk fees” and an address to a national group of firefighters.
The balancing act continued Friday in Philadelphia, where Biden visited a port terminal to announce the locations of seven new regional hubs to manufacture hydrogen – an event the White House had been planning well before the horrors of last weekend’s Hamas attack and gave no thought to canceling.
The dueling focuses – foreign and domestic – have at moments felt somewhat jarring. Biden’s outrage and fury at the images emerging from Israel has translated into some of his most forceful public speaking as president, making it somewhat dissonant to hear him deliver more routine speeches about airline fees, firefighter pay and the manufacture of hydrogen.
They also reflect a governing reality for an incumbent president in the middle of a campaign: elections are rarely won on foreign policy, and keeping the world from spiraling into war is only one part of the job.
Appearing overly focused abroad could be politically perilous for Biden, who was already contending with waning public support for the war in Ukraine. He may be a foreign policy president, but Americans still view the economy poorly, and his advisers continue to believe an economic message can break through.
White House officials said they assessed Biden’s schedule following last weekend’s attacks and determined what events to maintain and which to cancel. They did scrap some of their plans and replaced them with remarks focused on Israel.
The vast majority of Biden’s time in the residence and West Wing has been consumed by the foreign crisis. A White House list showed his briefings and phone calls stretching from morning until evening, including pre- and post-phone call meetings with his national security team following his conversations with Netanyahu and other regional leaders.
Despite that focus, he has also made time for his domestic agenda. He met Thursday with a group of American business leaders, including executives at Target and IBM, to discuss “Bidenomics.”
And officials left in place items like the junk fee event, which Biden used to appeal to Americans tired of seeing prices tick up due to hidden costs.
“Folks are tired of being taken advantage of and played for suckers,” Biden said during remarks in the Rose Garden.
One of Biden’s potential – though, according to polls, unlikely – Republicans challengers thought the moment seemed off.
“I don’t know why Joe Biden is doing press conferences in the Rose Garden talking about something other than America’s role as leader of the free world and the fact that there are Americans being held hostage in Gaza,” former Vice President Mike Pence said in an interview on Fox News.
The White House says Biden’s role is multifold and requires his attention across areas foreign and domestic. He’s also due to deliver remarks at a wind power facility in Pueblo, Colorado, on Monday.
“The president is going to make Americans a priority. He has to do multiple things at once. That’s what you’re going to see the president do,” press secretary Karine Jean Pierre said Thursday.
“He’s going to continue to talk about what he’s doing to bring back manufacturing, to create good-paying jobs,” she said. “That’s something that Americans also want to hear from (him).”