How Biden will govern
President Joe Biden said it in interviews, on the campaign trail and in debates: He will be president of all the people. This was more than political noblesse oblige or a vote-getting sound bite. It is a political pragmatist’s olive branch to a warlike GOP that he knew would stop at nothing to try to derail his candidacy and then presidency.
Biden well knows the history of the GOP’s nonstop effort to torpedo President Obama’s presidency. Mitch McConnell openly bragged about doing everything humanly possible to make Obama a one-term president and failing that, a failed presidency. He didn’t succeed, but it wasn’t for lack of trying with every Senate rule command and legislative dodge, dither, obstruct and deny technique in his legislative arsenal.
McConnell won’t be as blatant with Biden, partly because he is no longer Senate majority leader, and partly because it’s Biden. Biden starts with some advantages over Obama. Biden wheeled-and-dealed in the Senate for decades and knows its labyrinthine procedures. He has worked with many of the players, including McConnell. He takes over the Oval Office with COVID fears and politics still dominating the thinking and agenda of much of the public and legislators.
A reluctant McConnell eventually signed off on two massive stimulus packages. Biden took the cue from the GOP’s willingness to put money out for COVID relief and quickly announced a near-$2 trillion relief plan. Given the economic crisis in much of the nation, it’s almost certain Biden will get most, if not all, of his spending package through.
McConnell, though, won’t go away. Even as minority leader, he still is the paramount rules master of the Senate. He has one more weapon, the filibuster, which he will not hesitate to brandish or threaten to thwart Biden’s initiatives.
Tests will come soon enough in several policy areas. Comprehensive immigration and criminal justice reform and expanding the Affordable Care Act are Biden priorities, and they have been contentious issues every time they have come up in Congress.
It’s not just McConnell and the GOP that Biden will have to navigate through and around. Progressives will press Biden hard for tough new regulations on Wall Street, banks and corporations. Biden will take cautious steps to enact major financial reforms, knowing that this is a minefield with many legislators.
He’ll also be tugged at by corporate and defense industry lobbyists, the oil and gas industry, government regulators, environmental watchdog groups, conservative family values groups, moderate and conservative GOP legislators and foreign diplomats and leaders. They all have their agendas. All will vie to get White House support for their pet legislation, or to kill or cripple legislation that threatens their interests.
The time-tested rule is that liberal and moderate Democrats move to the center when running for the White House and stay there when they get in. Biden will be no exception.
Biden will head off some roadblocks by doing exactly what Obama was forced to do — use the power of the pen. This means signing off on executive orders ranging far beyond moderate student loan forgiveness and getting the U.S. back into the Paris Climate Accord. He’ll sign on education reforms and enhanced environmental, consumer and civil rights protections. When he does, he’ll be hit with a chorus of howls from McConnell and the GOP that he is a tyrant abusing his power by usurping Congress. These are the same howls repeatedly yelled at Obama.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.