President Biden to have full plate
We’re about eight weeks away from the inauguration of the new president of the United States.
Unless Donald Trump and his team bring forth evidence of many, many thousands of hitherto unrevealed fraudulent and illegal votes, that president will be former Vice President Joe Biden of Delaware.
What challenges will confront him from the outset?
Lots of them. And the outgoing president is doing his best to make them difficult for Biden. And thereby for the nation and its people.
One big challenge won’t be settled until Jan. 5. That’s the date of the two runoff elections in Georgia to determine which party will control the U.S. Senate.
Right now, the composition of the incoming 2021 Senate is 50 Republicans and 48 Democrats. If the Democratic candidates were to win both seats in the runoff, the Senate would be tied 50-50, and Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris, who will preside over the Senate, would cast the deciding vote in case of ties.
But Biden and Harris won’t be inaugurated until Jan. 20, two weeks after the Georgia runoff. For those two weeks, current Vice President Mike Pence will preside over the Senate. So Republicans would continue in charge there for two weeks even if Democrats win the Georgia Senate seats.
And even if they do, the Senate still operates with the filibuster rule.
If a senator objects to a certain bill and files a filibuster notice, it then takes 60 votes to break the filibuster (by invoking cloture). Whether the Senate ends up 52-48, 51-49, or 50-50, it’s not likely that a majority of 60 can be cobbled together easily on any important bill.
Any piece of legislation requires approval in both the Senate and the House, as well as the signature of the president. Even after Biden and Harris are sworn in on Jan. 20, it will take deft maneuvering by Congress and the White House to achieve any major legislative action.
Over the past several decades, presidents have increasingly utilized executive orders to get things done as an alternative to working with a divided Congress. Biden can be expected to continue that methodology.
But a Supreme Court with a conservative 6-3 majority may keep him on a short lease.
The Constitution is pretty silent on just how far the president can go with executive orders; the courts may determine the reach of Biden’s independence from congressional powers.
Biden can immediately make some changes from the direction of Trump’s administration.
It’s likely that under the new president, the United States will rejoin the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement from which Trump withdrew. Biden may also try to resurrect America’s participation in the Iran Nuclear Deal that President Obama negotiated in 2015.
Trump imposed tariffs on imports from China and other nations during his four-year term. Biden may want to roll back some or all of them to reduce prices paid by American consumers and to increase exports by American producers. Some members of Congress last year made noise about increasing congressional control over tariff policy; it will indicate how willing Congress is to work with Biden if they resurrect those discussions.
The legality of Obama’s Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was recently argued before the Supreme Court. The court is expected to decide that question some time after the first of the year. If it is declared unconstitutional, Congress and the Biden administration will undertake a heavy lift to replace it with a compromise that can win approval. The health care of millions of Americans will be at stake.
But even if the court finds Obamacare to be legal, both Republicans and Democrats want to tweak it. The outcome of the Georgia runoffs may be crucial in determining how those tweaks develop.
Biden has already announced he wants to restore at least part of the taxes on incomes over $400,000 a year that Trump and a Republican Congress have cut. Tax policy in general will likely be a major item on Biden’s agenda, and therefore for Congress as well.
If Congress and Trump are unable to agree on a stimulus package to help struggling Americans before Biden takes office, there will be tremendous pressure after the inauguration to get that done. Another eight weeks from now till Jan. 20 will turn desperate for millions, especially because some unemployment and rental assistance benefits will expire by the end of this year.
To the consternation of high-ranking military leaders, Trump is reducing American troop strength in Afghanistan, Syria, Ethiopia and elsewhere. Biden will face decisions on appropriate American military power around the world when he takes office.
Other areas of concern — immigration and infrastructure, to name a couple — will also come front and center for the new administration. Taken together, the stuff heaped on Biden’s plate will overflow like the Thanksgiving dinner table used to.
Unlike other presidential transitions, this one’s not getting much cooperation from the outgoing administration. That makes it all the harder for the Biden team.
The American people will bear the brunt of Trump’s petulance.