USA TODAY International Edition

Our View: Biden knows what you want. But can he deliver?

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When President Joe Biden tried to express the national angst over the millions of Americans who have said no to the COVID- 19 vaccines, he got pretty darn close.

“We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin,” Biden said in unveiling federal mandates to force 100 million Americans to get a vaccinatio­n. “Your refusal has cost all of us.”

His words resonated for the majority of vaccinated Americans weary of a pandemic that should have ended already. The latest crush of infections – fueled almost entirely by unvaccinat­ed Americans falling ill – has disrupted the return to work, shut down a thousand schools in 35 states and filled to capacity intensive care units, particular­ly in the South. The flood of patients is so severe that an Alabama man died this month of a heart attack after being turned away from 43 hospitals because they were packed with COVID- 19 cases.

Anti- vaxxing televangel­ists are dying of the pandemic, and stories about the sick regretting their obstinacy to shots are legion. Meanwhile, pediatric cases are soaring – in California, an unvaccinat­ed teacher showing symptoms read to her elementary class and 12 students tested positive.

No wonder people are spitting mad. It comes as little surprise that when Biden gave voice to this growing bitterness by issuing mandates for federal workers and companies with more than 100 employees, 60% of the country said: Go for it. His actions might have come sooner. ( We urged similar restrictio­ns in July.) But he caught a wave of sentiment when it was cresting. And therein lies Biden's sixth sense.

Questions about competency still loom large – witness his disastrous Afghanista­n withdrawal, or mixed messaging on COVID- 19 masking. That might go a long way in explaining a recent slump in Biden's approval rating.

Nonetheles­s, where the president seems gifted is in echoing what Americans want when they want it.

His $ 1.9 trillion COVID- 19 relief bill passed in March only with Democratic

From mandates for federal workers and companies with more than 100 employees, to help for working parents, president has a sixth sense.

votes and was a deficit spending gamble. Republican politician­s attacked it, but the legislatio­n’s direct payments, jobless benefits and funding for reopening schools carried overwhelmi­ng appeal.

The same has been true with proposals for expanded support for child care after the pandemic highlighte­d how working parents, particular­ly women, struggle to find safe and affordable care for their children.

And as fires raged across a droughtstr­icken West and a series of hurricanes lashed the East, Biden gave voice to the 1 in 3 Americans who live in a county hit by a weather disaster in the past three months.

“Folks, the evidence is clear,” the president said while touring damage from the remnants of Hurricane Ida in New York and New Jersey. “Climate change poses an existentia­l threat to our lives, to our economy. And the threat is here; it’s not going to get any better. The question: Can it get worse? We can stop it from getting worse.”

Whether it’s his vaunted empathy, a clever stable of advisers, nimble internal polling or a combinatio­n of all three, Biden seems to embody a virtue author Harper Lee described in “To Kill a Mockingbir­d,” the idea that “you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Knowing what ails a divided American public is without question a good thing. Knowing how to fix it?

That’s the next test for the 46th president.

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