Earl Ofari Hutchinson
President Joe Biden said it in interview, on the campaign trail, and in debates with Trump. The “it” is that 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 pragmatists olive branch to a warlike GOP that he knew would stop at nothing to try and derail his candidacy and then presidency.
Biden well knows the history of the GOP’s non-stop effort to torpedo former President Obama’s presidency. How could he not know it? Then Senate Minority and later Majority Leader 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, 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. In part because he is no longer Senate Majority Leader, and in part because it’s Biden. Biden starts with a couple of not inconsiderable advantages over the first term President Obama. Biden wheeled and dealed in the Senate for decades and knows all its labyrinthine, arcane rules and procedures. He knows and worked with many of the players, including McConnell. He takes over the reins of the Oval Office with COVID fears and politics still dominating the thinking and agenda of much of the public and legislators.
A reluctant, and grudging McConnell eventually signed off on two massive stimulus packages. In times past, this would have been unthinkable for a conservative, fiscally tight-fisted GOP that loathes anything that smacks of more government giveaway spending and programs. This is the kind of spending and legislative initiative that the GOP for decades has made a point of attack of Democrats as wasteful, tax and spenders. The GOP did exactly that with Obama and hampered some of his spending initiatives.
Biden took the cue from the GOP’s willingness to put money on the table for COVID relief for small businesses, workers, and the poor, and increased aid to the states. He quickly announced that a near two trillion-dollar relief plan for the nation. Given the COVID and economic crisis mode of much of the nation, it’s almost certain that Biden will get most, if not all, of his proposed spending package through.
McConnell, though, won’t go away. Even as senate minority leader he still is the paramount rules master of the Senate. He also has one more weapon: the filibuster, which he will not hesitate to brandish or threaten at strategic times to thwart one or more of Biden’s initiatives.
The tests will come soon enough in several major policy areas. They include comprehensive immigration and criminal justice reform and expanding the Affordable Care Act. These are Biden priorities, and they have been thorny and 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 also press Biden hard to make a frontal attack on wealth and income inequality through tough new regulatory measures on Wall Street, the banks, and corporations. Biden will take cautious, baby steps in trying to enact major financial reforms, knowing that this is still a minefield with many legislators.
He’ll also be pulled and 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 senators and house members, foreign diplomats, and leaders. They all have their priorities and agendas, and 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 run to the left and move to the center when running for the White House and stay there when they get in the White House. Biden will be no exception to that rule.
Biden will skirt and head off some of the legislative roadblocks by doing exactly what Obama was forced to do during much of his tenure. That is use the power of the pen. This means signing off on a rash of executive orders that will range far beyond moderate student loan forgiveness and getting the U.S. back into the Paris Climate Accords. He’ll sign more executive orders on education reforms, enhanced environmental, consumer, and civil rights protections. Predictably, when he does, he’ll be hit with a chorus of howls from McConnell and the GOP that he is a tyrant, dictator, and abusing the power of his office by usurping Congress. These are the same howls that were repeatedly yelled at Obama.
They’ll also be carping from time to time from Trump and some of his extremist base about one or another of Biden’s initiatives. Biden will for the most part ignore them and continue to try and massage McConnell and the handful of GOP senators that he can work with.
It will be a tough task to keep as many within and without Washington happy and on board. But Papa Joe has the times, a crisis, and a hefty enough mandate from voters and Democrats going for him to govern effectively.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His latest book is What’s Right and Wrong with the Electoral College (Middle Passage Press). He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network