President-elect Joe Biden won’t break new ground early in his term, but the 46th president could in the dawn of his presidency as he repairs the rocky road that President Trump left behind and create a path to bigger and better things in the second half of his four-year term.
Biden will fight for the political center after Trump played to his conservative base. His attempts to win the middle won’t satisfy Republicans or please progressives but he can still get things done. If he’s successful in his first two years and is popular enough to create comfortable Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress after the midterm elections, he could and should move to more ambitious goals.
But the prospects for a positive working relationship between the president-elect and congressional Republicans are bleak.
A big block of Republicans don’t accept the legitimacy of his presidency. Several GOP senators and more than one 100 House Republicans have announced their opposition to certifying Biden’s victory in the Electoral College. The widespread opposition of GOP senators to the certification of Biden’s Electoral College majority on Wednesday is a clear sign of the resistance that the 46th president will face.
Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) want to undermine Biden’s victory and court Trump’s support among GOP primary voters.
Congressional Republicans ignored concerns about the massive increase in the federal budget deficit throughout most of Trump’s tenure. But during the debate over the pandemic stimulus payment, the GOP based its opposition to the $2,000 payment on their newfound interest in reining in the deficit. This bodes poorly for any attempt by the new president to increase federal spending to counter the ravages of the pandemic and the economic downturn.
Biden won’t have a comfortable working majority in either house of Congress.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was re-elected as the speaker of the House of Representatives on Sunday by only seven votes.
If Democrats win both races in Georgia today, then Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) will become majority leader and organize the Senate. But Biden will need to retain every single Democratic vote to pass any legislation. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.), who is the most conservative Democrat in the caucus, could undermine any attempt to pass progressive legislation in the upper chamber of Congress.
Video: 11 GOP senators expected to challenge Joe Bidenâ€™s win (NBC News)
If Democrats lose one or both Georgia races, Biden will need to court moderately conservative Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) or Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to move forward.
Despite the obstacles, there is a path to success for him. But it will require patience that is in short supply in the political arena.
Biden believes fighting COVID-19 is his priority, and his success in battling the pandemic is a necessary condition for making progress on everything else. His executive authority as president will give him the leeway to fight the pandemic more aggressively and distribute the vaccine more speedily than the Trump administration did. If Biden can end the pandemic, he might accumulate enough political capital and power in Congress to move mountains after the midterm elections in 2022.
With his power to issue executive orders, Biden should act quickly to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement and reverse the Trump orders that limited the power of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to fight climate change. The new president should also act to increase the eligibility of working families for help under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and to reduce the student loan debts that burden the economy.
Biden can also use his bully pulpit as president after four years of Trump tweets.
If he plays his cards right early, he will have enough momentum to be more aggressive in the second half of his term.
If Biden is successful in his fight against the pandemic and that leads to an improvement in the economy and big Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, the major challenge in the second half of his term will be the health care crisis.
The pandemic has exposed the crushing reality of the health care in this country and that will force Biden to face the problem. A big Democratic win in the midterm elections will put a lot of pressure from progressives on the president to fight for Medicare for All, which he opposed during his campaign for president.
But even if Biden opts to simply supersize Obamacare, he could pave the way Medicare for All in the future by bringing a larger proportion of Americans under the federal government’s health care umbrella. He could do this by making more Americans eligible for Medicaid and by making Americans eligible for Medicare at the age of 55 instead of waiting for their 65th birthday.
Biden must be successful in his first two years to create a path for a big and bold push during the second half of his term. To do this, he must not only fight the Trump Republicans, but he will need to reverse political history.
Typically, presidents accomplish more early rather than late in their terms, and usually chief executives lose power in Congress instead of gaining seats for their party in the midterm elections. The success of his presidency rests on the premise that he can reverse the trend. Nothing will come easily for the 46th president.
Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. He is the host of the podcast Deadline D.C. with @BradBannon and the Progressive Voices network.