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President BidenJoe Biden Roberts calls for judicial independence in year-end reportBiden to speak to Ukraine’s presidentDocuments show Chinese government collects droves of data from Western social media: reportMORE is staring down a number of minefields when he returns to Washington in the new year.  

Biden will have to tackle major issues including getting the coronavirus under control after a severe spike from the omicron variant during the holiday season. He will have to ensure that the deadly virus doesnt overwhelm the nations health systems and the financial markets. 

Biden will also have to try and revive talks about his signature climate and social policy legislation to see if parts of it can be salvaged and passed through Congress. And hell do it in a midterm election year where Democrats fear they could lose the House. 

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It’s a daunting series of challenges as Biden gets set for his second year in office.

To face this many genuine political fires, from a pandemic raging again to major legislation that might be finished, is the worst way to start a new year, said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. Just to add to the challenge, the midterm season will get fully underway and it will be harder to persuade any politician to do something that poses electoral risk. 

Every strategist and political observer agrees that Bidens handling of COVID will be his toughest and most important battle in the coming year.

At the end of the day, his fortunes are intertwined with COVID, said Democratic strategist Joel Payne. Joe Biden is President because of COVID but Dems are struggling right now because of COVID. And until they can find someone to figure this out, people are going to be mad about COVID. 

Celinda Lake, a pollster who worked on Bidens 2020 presidential campaign, said COVID-19 is one of the reasons why Bidens poll numbers are deflated. A NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll released just before the holidays showed Bidens approval rating at 41 percent, the lowest standing in his year-long presidency. One of the biggest reasons is because of the raging pandemic, strategists say.

People are just really discouraged by it, Lake said. 

People do not blame Biden for COVID, she said. Still, Lake added, The uncertainty of it all is impacting people and demoralizing people. 

Bill Galston, a senior fellow of governance studies at Brookings Institution who also served as a White House policy adviser to Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonFive takeaways from the Ghislaine Maxwell verdictBiden, lawmakers mourn Harry ReidDemocrats’ problem isn’t messaging; it’s attitudeMORE, said it is important for Biden to strike a balanced tone and avoid overpromising given the unpredictability of the virus. 

Theyre in possession of all the facts and the most experienced scientists and public policy experts in the business and I think that theyre going to do everything that can be done. I see the decline in the presidents ratings on COVID since mid summer in part as a consequence of what I regard as unwise overpromising that occurred at the beginning of July, Galston said. He came perilously close to hanging out a mission accomplished banner at the door of the White House.

Omicron has not yet shown signs of dampening the trajectory of the economic recovery, but it could worsen supply chain disruptions that have persisted during the pandemic. The new variant could also cause worried Americans to shy from visiting restaurants and businesses.

The White House is keen to show that it is on top of supply chain issues and inflation going into the new year, after officials were slow to combat Republican criticism of rising prices. 

In addition to COVID, this is where Biden and his team fumbled the ball, said one Democratic strategist. They denied there was a problem and then they looked silly when they had to back pedal. They cant do that kind of thing again. It looks bad. 

Officials, including Biden, have recently credited his decision to release millions of barrels from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve with helping lower gasoline prices, which are expected to continue to decline.. 

But inflation is still expected to persist into the new year and the White House, which often answers inflation criticism by pointing to the need to pass Bidens Build Back Better package, may need to adjust its messaging given the bills dim fate.

The pandemic and its related economic shocks are not Bidens only challenges either.

The president and Democratic leaders still need to find a way forward on legislative priorities like Bidens climate and social spending package and voting rights. 

Biden has said he still believes that passing his social spending proposal is possible, despite Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinThe 10 biggest news stories of the yearThe 9 politicians who had the most impact in 2021Energy & Environment The biggest climate news of 2021MOREs (D-W.Va.) opposition.

But Democrats, who had hoped to spend 2022 selling the legislation after it passed, are keenly aware of the ticking clock and the looming midterm elections. 

Jim Manley, a former aide to ex-Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidReid memorial set for Jan. 8 in Las VegasNevada casinos report record ninth-straight month of B in-house winningsBiden orders flags at half-staff for Harry ReidMORE (D-Nev.), said that Democrats need to get something done by February if theyre able to pass anything, citing the increasing difficulty of legislating in an election year. 

Time is not the friend here, Manley said. The last thing that we as Democrats can afford is to go through a prolonged period of negotiating as we head towards the midterms.

Biden also will be contending with an exodus from the Democratic caucus in the House. Earlier this month, Democrats were stunned when Rep. Stephanie MurphyStephanie MurphyDemocrats confront rising retirements as difficult year endsBiden setbacks rattle Democrats facing tough electionsThe Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by National Industries for the Blind – US reeling from omicron; Manchin-Biden aftershocksMORE a moderate who helped flip a GOP seat in 2016 announced that she would not seek reelection. Murphy is the 22nd House Democratic incumbent who decided not to run again as a Republican takeover of the House seems all but certain. 

Like Obama, Biden entered with a lot of wind at his back but thats changed, Payne said.

In a White House briefing earlier this month, press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiBiden warns Putin of ‘severe sanctions’ if Russia invades Ukraine Biden says Chile ‘powerful example’ for world in first call with president-electBiden tells Putin US will respond ‘decisively’ if Russia invades UkraineMORE said Biden would be out on the campaign trail for Democrats, looking to prevent a trouncing by Republicans. 

Still, Psaki added, Wed rather be us than them and have an agenda to talk about. 

Democrats say Biden not only has to help lead his party through the midterm cycle. He also needs to keep an eye on his former opponent Donald Trump, who is likely to run for reelection in 2024.  

Days before Christmas, Trump announced that he would hold a news conference on January 6, the one-year anniversary of the riot at the U.S. Capitol that the former president is accused of inciting. Democrats expect that Trump will continue to be a thorn in Bidens side, particularly as he gets closer to a potential announcement. 

He remains the 800 pound gorilla in the room, and I think President Biden in 2020 ran offering himself as the alternative to the status quo, and President TrumpDonald Trump Roberts calls for judicial independence in year-end reportThe year in weird: 9 bizarre political stories that rocked 2021Michigan shifts, will follow CDC isolation guidanceMORE may have the opportunity to flip that script on him, said GOP strategist Colin Reed, who noted that the 2024 is likely to include other strong Republican contenders other than Trump. 

Theres just a lot of holes to poke in the Biden record and a Republican candidate, be it Donald Trump or anyone else, is going to have a lot of material to work with, Reed said.