As the battle over counting continues, it is increasingly evident that Donald Trump lost the election and that Joe Biden is the president-elect. The transition, which is constitutionally mandated to culminate on January 20, is beginning even without the president’s concession. So, what should we expect from the Biden Administration?
First, the good news is that the dire predictions are wrong. A Twitter follower asked me yesterday if I thought that America would “end up like China eventually if the Democrats take over?” The answer to that question is an emphatic “no.”
We have constitutional protections that the Chinese have never enjoyed that guard against that sort of thing. But the Constitution only protects us as long as we respect the rule of law. That is why it is so important to abide by legal limits and traditional norms even when Republican presidents are in power. Shortcuts around constitutional limits are a two-way street and it should have been obvious that Democrats would return to power some day.
More good news is that Democratic power will be far from absolute. The Senate currently stands at 50 Republicans and 48 Democrats with two races in Georgia yet to be decided. At best, Democrats will have a slim, two-seat margin, but it’s more likely that Republicans will maintain the majority. If the Democrats don’t have a majority then the filibuster gets a new lease on life and controversial progressive ideas such as court-packing, defunding police, tax increases, admitting Puerto Rico as a state, and gun bans are dead on arrival.
That will probably be true even if the Democrats hold a slim majority. A Democratic majority would have the same problem that Republicans did with more moderate members who refuse to go along with controversial proposals. That is especially true of Democrats in red and purple states and districts that have been picked up over the past four years.
Joe Manchin is the current poster boy for the conservative Blue Dog Democrats. The West Virginia senator is typical of centrist pro-gun, pro-life Democrats. There aren’t many conservative Democrats left but even one or two can make the difference in a closely divided Congress. Manchin has already distanced himself from the defund-the-police movement, earning a wordless Twitter rebuke from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Other moderate Democrats that might join Manchin in the role of swing votes are Kirsten Sinema of Arizona, Mark Warner of Virginia, and Gary Peters of Michigan. The three are not conservative by Republican standards but they do have centrist voting records. Sinema and Peters, who was just re-elected by less than two points, are from very competitive states. They will be voting with an eye toward re-election.
With the radical agenda of the progressives stymied from the outset, Coronavirus and the economy are likely to be the top two priorities for the Biden Administration. As I’ve maintained from the beginning, fixing the economy depends on ending the pandemic. Thankfully, we are growing closer to an effective vaccine that will allow us to return to normal.
The immediate problem is one over which Biden has no authority. Virus levels are rising around the country and the Trump Administration seems to have shifted from a containment strategy to one of treatment. In the absence of a nationwide strategy, many cities and states are implementing their own measures to control the virus.
While at least one Biden advisor has floated the idea of another nationwide shelter order, it is impossible to say with any certainty what the situation will be when Biden takes office more than two months from now. Dr. Anthony Fauci said in an interview with Sinclair Broadcast Group on Nov. 12 that another lockdown may not be necessary, noting that the country already has “COVID-19 fatigue.”
“You can get a lot done without necessarily locking down if you adhere to the fundamental principles that many of us, myself included, have been talking about for quite a while now,” Fauci said.
The measures include “the uniform wearing of masks, the physical distancing, the avoiding congregant settings, and crowds, doing things outside preferentially over indoors, [and] the washing of hands.” Fauci stressed the mitigations need to be done “uniformly throughout the country, not in a scattered way, ” to be most effective. If we abide by these countermeasures, new shelter orders may not be necessary over the next few months.
Fauci also noted that, although distribution of a vaccine may begin as early as December for some high-priority individuals, it will be several months before the vaccines are widely available. The incoming president will have to deal with several months of pandemic but the situation will hopefully be improving by then.
If no Coronavirus relief bill is passed this year, the Biden Administration might shepherd such a measure through Congress in 2021. It is entirely possible, however, that the lame duck Congress can reach an agreement with the White House before President Trump leaves office.
The good news is that as the pandemic recedes, the economy should swiftly improve. The economy will also be boosted by removing Trump’s trade barriers, another measure which should have broad bipartisan support. Biden has signaled that he won’t remove the tariffs unilaterally but will push China for concessions. If the trade wars end as businesses reopen and demand increases in the wake of the pandemic, the economy could be poised to enter a major bull market.
Another international change the Biden Administration will likely make is to rejoin the Paris Accords. It took three years for the US to leave the climate change pact, a process that was completed the day after the election. Biden tweeted that he would rejoin the treaty as soon as he takes office. Since we’ve been in the climate deal all along, rejoining should have only a minimal impact.
Other items that Biden is likely to tackle quickly are reversing many Trump Executive Orders. Trump began his tenure by reversing many of Obama’s executive actions but then followed his predecessor’s example in bypassing Congress with presidential decrees. Executive Orders are easier than getting bills through Congress, but they are also easier to reverse. Democrats learned this in 2017 and Republicans are about to get the same lesson. Among the executive actions in question are Trump’s pro-life Executive Orders, funding for the border wall, and immigration restrictions.
Pro-life conservatives don’t have to worry about a spike in abortions under Biden, however. Even though Donald Trump did not sign a single piece of significant pro-life legislation and his Executive Orders will likely be rescinded, the national abortion rate has been undergoing a four-decade decline. While Biden was vice president, the abortion rate fell below the level from 1973 when Roe v. Wade was decided. I don’t give the Obama Administration much credit for pro-life policy since the decline is likely driven by better and more widespread birth control along with technology that allows people to see the life in the womb, but the good news is that abortion is becoming more rare regardless of which party is in power.
I’ve seen a lot of my Republican friends warning that energy prices will skyrocket under Biden and that the Democrats will start and continue “endless wars.” Energy prices are likely to increase even if Democrats aren’t able to pass bills that constrict energy production. The reason is that demand for energy will increase as the economy strengthens. Economic recoveries often drive up energy prices.
There is less evidence for the charge that Biden will start a war. America still has numerous adversaries around the world, but Biden is no more likely to start a war than President Trump has been. Forgotten amid the pandemic news is that the US and Iran were at the brink of war less than a year ago. There is also the chance that Israel or the Trump Administration might order an attack on Iran before Biden takes office, but the president-elect has not signaled any hostile intentions.
In his recent speeches, Joe Biden, who is not and has never been a socialist, has broadcast an intention to seek bipartisanship and try to bring the country back together. With Republicans in control of Congress and able to block his agenda, Biden has every reason to be conciliatory. The longtime senator is also well aware of how Congress works and what is needed to get things done in Washington.
Biden will need to fend off angry progressives on the left, but he also must overcome vengeful Republicans on the right. Mitch McConnell will almost certainly have the votes to stop the Biden Administration in his tracks, but he will also have the ability to move forward good legislation for the benefit of the country. One of the biggest obstacles here will be angry Republicans who view any compromise as “caving” and “surrender” to the left.
Over the next four years, it will be Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell who will together determine the course of the country. If they work together and succeed, they will draw fire from the extremes of both sides, but the country will be better off.
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