Biden's disciplined agenda rollout tested by the unexpected

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President Joe Biden fist bumps a doctor at the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute at The Ohio State University, Tuesday, March 23, 2021, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration has taken tremendous pride in methodically unveiling its agenda, particularly the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief measure the president hopes to trumpet over the next several weeks. But a growing list of unforeseen challenges is beginning to scramble the White House's plans.

In less than a week, two mass shootings have overshadowed President Joe Biden's “Help is Here” tour at which he planned to herald the ways his administration is helping Americans recovering from the pandemic. The White House has also struggled to respond to the growth in unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S.-Mexico border or blunt a nationwide effort by Republican legislatures to tighten election laws.

Biden's meticulous approach to the presidency is intended to serve as a stark departure from the chaos of his predecessor, Donald Trump. But the rapid developments over the past week are a reminder that even the most disciplined administration can only control so much.

“Every president and their staff make plans but every day the plans get blown up by reality," said Ari Fleischer, who was press secretary to George W. Bush when that administration's priorities were suddenly swamped by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. "Outside events intervene and force you to play defense or improvise or change your plans nearly every day. If you can’t juggle, you don’t belong in the White House.”

The juggle is intensifying at a particularly critical moment for Biden. The most valuable asset of presidents is their time, especially in their opening months in office, when the concerns of future elections are most distant. There were signs on Tuesday that the patience of Biden's diverse coalition may be fraying.

Two Democratic senators, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, condemned the lack of diversity in Biden's Cabinet. Scrutiny of those advising Biden has intensified after last week's shooting in Atlanta, which killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent. The violence came during a wave of attacks against Asian Americans over the past year.

Duckworth said she raised her concerns with the White House on Tuesday and she and Hirono threatened to withhold their votes on nominations until the administration addressed the matter. In a Senate that's evenly divided, such a move could have significant ramifications.

However, the two senators set aside their block on the nominees late Tuesday after securing the Biden administration's assurances more would be done. Press secretary Jen Psaki said the White House will add a senior-level Asian American Pacific Islander liaison "who will ensure the community’s voice is further represented and heard.”