Joe Biden reached the presidency in a relatively good position: his party has the control of both houses of Congress, he had just defeated an incumbent president, and his rival party was in the midst of an incredibly divisive discussion about the proper role that its former leader should play in the future.
Although there were some significant challenges that the president would face, mainly the fact that his party’s control over Congress was tenuous at best, there were some political openings that Biden could exploit for his benefits. If Biden played his first cards right, he could possibly open a wedge within the Republican Party.
However, his first month in office have achieved quite the opposite: uniting the GOP in opposition to the policies of his administration. During his first 30 days in office, the Biden White House has already bungled one cabinet confirmation and has burned all bridges on the possibility of a bipartisan COVID bill being the first policy win of his administration.
Biden still has many months in office to try to persuade Congress to follow his lead and show some policy wins to the public before the midterms, but if the administration decides to continue the approach they have pursued this last year the prospects for this happening are slim to none.
Talking like a moderate, governing like a radical
During his campaign, Biden said repeatedly that he intended to reignite the long-gone flames of bipartisanship. He let us know that his extensive record in the Senate and his moderate standings could bring some agreements that would go beyond the partisan divide in DC, after all his campaign was based on “uniting” the country and restoring the “soul of America”.
Many in the conservative side were fairly skeptical on the bipartisan drums coming out of Biden’s camp, others (me for example) decided to give the President-elect the benefit of the doubt and see how would he act when push came to shove. If the actions and decisions his administration has followed over the last weeks are an indication, it is very sad (although not surprising at all) to note that conservatives were right: Biden will not even try to approach the other side.
The first test was COVID relief, an issue that both Democrats and Republicans had managed to reach a bipartisan compromise twice during the Trump administration, an era not well known for bipartisan deals. Let us be clear, had the Biden administration wanted to pass a bill with some Republican votes, they could have done so.
The fact is, they never intended to do it. Ten senators went to the White House and offered a counterproposal to the President and the President (or his team) rejected them just a day after. Furthermore, as Democrats intend to pass the bill through reconciliation (a process that would allow a bill to pass with a simple majority) the Biden administration doubled down on a party line vote, not even attempting a negitoation process with the GOP.
It is understandable that the party in power decides to pass a legislation if they have the votes and the opposition does not even want to talk. However, Republicans have shown twice that they are receptive to a pandemic relief bill. GOP lawmakers, in contrast with the image that some Democrats might have, are not soulless ghouls that enjoy the suffering of working Americans and they know that a relief bill is both good politics and good economics. The GOP was not against the necessity of the bill but had some concerns about the finer detail.
What cannot be asked is that Republicans blindly approve a bill that; would ensure that 63% of recipients will be making more money unemployed than employed, more than a third of the total amount would not be used until 2022 or after, and that commits the federal government to spend $1.3 trillion after already spending almost $4 trillion in 2020. For comparison, the controversial stimulus package of the Obama administration was estimated to cost $787 billion and the infamous bailout to the financial sector in 2008 was $475 billion.
This partisan approach to a bill that had the potential of building bridges between both parties has united almost all of the GOP in opposition to it. Biden’s approach and absurdly huge bill has remembered both MAGA republicans and Never Trumpers in Capitol Hill why they are in the same party. The bill is so partisan that Senator Romney, who has had tremendous fights with the GOP, published a complete op-ed denouncing it in the Wall Street Journal.
Biden’s speech and rhetoric has been far more calmed and cooled than Trump or the radical sectors of the Democratic Party, which is great if we want to stop demonizing our political rivals. But, actions speak louder than words and right now, the actions of the Biden administration have been more akin a deeply partisan than to a national healer. Biden talks like Manchin but govern like Pelosi.
Biden won the presidency by being not being Donald Trump. However, he has succeeded in the one thing Trump failed at; uniting the Republican Party.