President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenWoman accused of trying to sell Pelosi laptop to Russians arrested Trump gets lowest job approval rating in final days as president Trump moves to lift coronavirus travel restrictions on Europe, Brazil MORE is about to take the reins of power amid huge challenges — and he will likely need some degree of cooperation from Republicans in order to address them.
The coronavirus pandemic is raging as badly as ever. The economy is beleaguered. And the nation itself is fractious and divided, as the Jan. 6 insurrectionary violence at the Capitol showed.
“There is no time to wait. We have to act and act now,” Biden said on Thursday, revealing his proposed $1.9 trillion plan for coronavirus relief.
The Biden plan includes additional payments of up to $1,400 to many Americans as well as a total of $400 million aimed squarely at improving the vaccination process.
But those plans are being made at a time when up to 20,000 members of the National Guard are on their way to Washington to safeguard Biden’s inauguration, new COVID-19 cases are surging and new unemployment claims have risen about 25 percent within the past week alone.
Many in Biden’s party share his sense of urgency. Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) said that the new president should be open to GOP cooperation — but should not hang around if it is not forthcoming.
“When push comes to shove, I think there will be several Republicans who will work with us in good faith,” Boyle said. “But the real lesson of President Obama’s first two years is: absolutely do not count on that or wait on it. If within a short period of time they are not interested, press ahead. Time is of the essence.”
Some Democrats are darkly wondering whether Biden faces an even more challenging landscape than Obama did when he took office in 2009.
At the start of Obama’s first term, the economy was imploding and the United States was enmeshed in two major wars.
“Obviously, any incoming president faces challenges,” said Ohio-based Democratic strategist Jerry Austin. “But President Biden will be facing challenges nobody has ever faced before, whether it is the pandemic or succeeding Donald Trump or what happened” at the Capitol.
Yet even though the problems appeared monumental, Austin said one factor in their potential resolution lies in the relationship between two people: Biden and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWhat would MLK say about Trump and the Republican Party? Biden’s minimum wage push faces uphill battle with GOP GOP senators wrestle with purging Trump from party MORE (R-Ky.).
McConnell will lose his majority once the two new Democratic senators from Georgia are inaugurated. That will split the upper chamber 50-50. In the event of a tie, Vice President-elect Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisSenate majority offers Biden new avenues on Trump environmental rollbacks Empire State Building lights on eve of Biden inauguration to honor COVID-19 victims READ: Harris letter resigning from Senate ahead of inauguration MORE will be able to cast the deciding vote once she is inaugurated along with Biden on Wednesday.
The ability of Biden to address the nation’s problems will depend “maybe most of all on how he and Mitch McConnell either get along or don’t get along,” Austin said. “They know each other, they are not strangers, they have served together for a number of years.”
McConnell, a wily strategist, has not tipped his hand as to whether he hopes to work with Biden or provide staunch opposition to him. But his capacity to entirely thwart Biden, even if he wanted to do so, is limited.
There are at least a few GOP senators who are expected to show some openness to bipartisan action: Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsBiden’s minimum wage push faces uphill battle with GOP GOP senators wrestle with purging Trump from party Impeachment trial tests Trump’s grip on Senate GOP MORE (Maine), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiBiden’s minimum wage push faces uphill battle with GOP GOP senators wrestle with purging Trump from party Democratic lawmaker says ‘assassination party’ hunted for Pelosi during riot MORE (Alaska) and Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyBiden’s minimum wage push faces uphill battle with GOP GOP senators wrestle with purging Trump from party Impeachment trial tests Trump’s grip on Senate GOP MORE (Utah). In addition, McConnell’s loss of an outright majority undercuts his ability to use procedural measures to stall Biden’s legislative agenda.
“McConnell no longer has the sole ability to stop things from coming to the floor,” said Democratic strategist Joe Trippi. “That alone is a big difference.”
Trippi also offered an optimistic take on Biden’s chances of breaking the Washington logjam.
The strategist asserted that “we haven’t had functional government for, like, 10 years,” citing McConnell’s oppositional approach to Obama after Republicans won the Senate majority in 2010 and then the tumult of President TrumpDonald TrumpGiuliani used provisional ballot to vote in 2020 election, same method he disparaged in fighting to overturn results Trump gets lowest job approval rating in final days as president Fox News’ DC managing editor Bill Sammon to retire MORE’s tenure.
Trippi predicted it was likely that Biden’s COVID-19 package would pass because moderate Republicans would want to get on board. He also forecast that the left of the Democratic Party was unlikely to hold Biden’s feet to the fire in the early days of his first term, given the stakes involved — and the relief across the party about Trump’s ouster.
“The two issues that matter most are the health crisis and the economic crisis,” Trippi said. “You are going to see a very unified Democratic Party and real consequences for Republicans who are just saying no.”
Some Republicans express guarded optimism too. They see Biden as someone with whom they can do business — and as far more amenable to compromise than the left-wing rivals he defeated for his party’s presidential nomination, Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden pushing to cancel Keystone XL pipeline as soon as he takes office: reports Biden tax-hike proposals face bumpy road ahead Senate Democrats leery of nixing filibuster MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenBiden’s minimum wage push faces uphill battle with GOP What to watch for in Biden Defense pick’s confirmation hearing Biden selects Gensler for SEC chair, Rohit Chopra to lead CFPB MORE (D-Mass.).
“Clearly he is the best person the Democrats could have nominated and got elected, when it comes to working in a bipartisan way,” said Doug Heye, a former communications director for the Republican National Committee. “That is woven into his DNA.”
Still, Biden has one more complication to consider: his predecessor.
The timing of Trump’s Senate trial remains unclear after his second impeachment by the House last week. Biden has suggested the Senate may be able to “bifurcate” its business, so that it could spend half its working day on Trump’s trial and half on Biden’s nominees for office as well as other parts of his legislative agenda.
Even in that scenario, however, Trump will be able to seize at least some of the spotlight that a new president might otherwise expect to command.
Biden has chosen to largely avoid getting into high-profile tangles with Trump in recent weeks. Democrats know Trump is unlikely to fade off into the sunset — but they greet that prospect with a shrug of the shoulders.
“Trump will never make a voluntary exit. He will work like hell to stay out there and in the public eye in the most dramatic way he can,” said veteran Democratic ad-maker Bill Carrick. Senate trial or not, Carrick said, “I don’t think he was going to go away anyway.”
Biden, who campaigned on the promise to restore “the soul of America,” is keeping up his hopeful demeanor.
“Out of all the peril of this moment, I want you to know I see all the promise as well,” he said as he introduced his COVID-19 plan last week. “I remain as optimistic about America as I have ever been.”
He will soon find out if his optimism is justified.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.