When Joe Biden told the world on Inauguration Day that he’d fight just as hard for those who voted for him as those who did not, it raised a few eyebrows. When he strode into his old White House haunts and immediately signed 17 executive orders undoing key Donald Trump policies and ticking through Democratic Party goals on the environment, immigration, the census and more, a few heads started spinning. How exactly is this unity thing going to work? How will Biden apply it to world affairs? Today’s Daily Dose explores how the 46th president will govern.
Nick Fouriezos and Isabelle Lee, Reporters
reaching those 74 million
Can Biden actually win over those who voted for Trump?
1. What That Number Is Not
Some want to define all 74 million Trump voters as MAGA-touting, QAnon-believing insurrectionists willing to storm the Capitol. But reality is more complicated. Many voted as much against Biden as for Trump, and perhaps half of Republicans believe the rigged election nonsense. When people paint all 74 million with the same brush, they play right into extremists’ talking points — making their influence, and existence, seem much bigger than it actually is. But if Biden were to target them, nothing draws converts to a radical cause more than martyrdom. As journalist Megyn Kelly put it on Wednesday’s special live episode of The Carlos Watson Show, calls from the left to strip degrees or disbar figures like Sens. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley is “the crazy type of lunacy we should be avoiding.”
2. Balancing the Base
But Biden’s backers will insist their president not go chasing down the rabbit holes of Midwestern diners in search of Trump voters: They’ll argue Dems won and they should act like it rather than caricatures of meek lefties. There is a risk here if Biden is seen as trying too hard to win over Republicans that his base will feel left behind. Then again, Trump spent his entire presidency playing only to his hardcore supporters, which didn’t work out too well in the end. Unity is not so easy to come by.
3. Make a Difference
How? Focus intensely on legislation with direct impact. The Trump years showed voters care less about ideology than the perception that their leaders are fighting for them. The feeling that the government doesn’t work for us dominated the anti-establishment politics in both parties. Democrats promised that a Biden presidency would be meaningfully different from Trump’s. If Biden only passes politically safe, tepid policies that make little difference, Democrats can say goodbye to Congress in 2022 and the White House in 2024.
4. Which Means Getting Bold
Notice no mention of whether laws are labeled “progressive” or “moderate.” Biden can push for popular reforms like decriminalizing marijuana. Pass paid family leave, universal pre-K and subsidized day care: Are any parents, liberal or conservative, really going to be upset with that? People forget price tags quickly if their taxes are truly improving their lives. The keys are “direct impact” and “popular.” You could well see more stimulus checks, criminal justice reform, infrastructure investment, affordable college and affordable health care — even Medicare for All could fit the bill. Meanwhile, there are pitfalls to initiatives like student loan forgiveness (supported in small doses, but inevitably both elitist and inequitable) and defunding the police, a trendy slogan neither popular nor positive in practice.
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“Go for it,” is what Megyn Kelly would tell Biden, as the former Fox News host said on our election aftershow: Anyone “who wants a ‘Kumbaya’ moment is probably a Republican trying to slow down your agenda or limit it.” Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said she’s feeling “hopeful,” and though she doesn’t expect to agree with Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on everything, “I’m going to give them a chance. And even when I disagree, I’m not going to disagree readily.” But for conservative activist Grover Norquist, there’s already a mountain of disagreements on labor policy and more: “While he talks about unity … on the big-ticket items, [he’s] strictly partisan.”
Given the norm-shattering “abnormal presidency” of Trump, combined with Senate Republicans changing the rules to allow Supreme Court justices to avoid the filibuster, many Democrats are dreaming big with their return to power. They likely won’t be able to line up 60 Senate votes for a Biden climate plan to reach zero emissions by 2050 or a new Voting Rights Act in honor of the late Rep. John Lewis, but Democrats could elect to change the rules to pass them with their narrow majority.
The fall of the filibuster is far from guaranteed, though, as some worry about pulling a sword that could be turned against them by Republicans someday. Moderate Democrat Joe Manchin (pictured), now the critical swing vote on most Senate bills, has signaled he would refuse to end it. The West Virginian likely could only be swayed if Republicans embrace total obstructionism and block legislation near and dear to his heart, which means the GOP will have to tread carefully while respecting the Democrat’s wishes.
4. Manchin on a Mission
What Manchin will use his genie lamp for isn’t clear yet. He will hold tremendous power to drive cross-party agenda items, such as long-imagined infrastructure injections, opioid addiction aid, prescription drug pricing reforms and increased support for rural hospitals. If he wants to get bold, Manchin, who keeps photographs of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims in his office, could revive modest gun safety reforms he couldn’t pass in 2013. Smaller procedural shifts, such as a rule change to let every bipartisan bill in committee see a Senate floor vote, would help him codify the bipartisanship he so often promotes.
5. No Relief Guaranteed
Don’t max out your credit card assuming $1,400 stimulus checks are in the bag. Democrats now say it could take until March to pass a COVID relief bill. That’s problematic because even if Democrats use budget reconciliation to pass the $1.9 trillion Biden proposal with a bare majority, they will still need Manchin, whose initial gut reaction was that he would “absolutely” oppose another round of checks unless they were narrowly targeted. While he more recently suggested support for a third check, another month is an awfully long time politically.
6. Soak the Rich?
Democrats were universally opposed to Trump’s biggest legislative achievement: the 2017 tax cuts. Biden says he wants to undo them for those who earn above $400,000, as well as corporations, heirs and wealthy investors. But getting it done is going to be complicated, and there’s a question of how much political capital Democrats want to spend on tax hikes during a period of high unemployment.
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Remember the couple from St. Louis who went viral for brandishing guns as Black Lives Matter protesters marched past their home? Half the country praised them as heroes; the other half vilified them as symbols of the white resistance. Today, Mark and Patricia McCloskey join Carlos for a candid, respectful but difficult discussion about a divided America. Would they change anything about their actions that day in hindsight? How would they #ResetAmerica? Don’t miss this powerful episode.
Our northern neighbor has been a tortured ally under Trump, so it wasn’t altogether surprising when it was announced that Justin Trudeau will be the first foreign leader to speak with the newly inaugurated President Biden. The mop-haired Canadian heartthrob gave Biden a helping hand by being one of the first to congratulate the president-elect in November and frankly criticized the storming of the Capitol by MAGA supporters. But he also has a bone to pick with Biden, after the Democrat revoked the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline on Wednesday without first letting Canada make its case. This won’t be the easiest phone chat.
Biden and his allies wax eloquent about restoring America’s place as a pro-democracy champion. In Africa, no one’s holding their breath. For decades, long before Trump, America has upheld different standards of democracy based on the continent. In Africa, its closest allies include Ugandan dictator Yoweri Museveni — who just returned to power by using state machinery to rig the vote — and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who has also faced charges of corruption and election fraud. America has long settled for “stability” (read: a pro-U.S. regime) over democracy in Africa. Will Biden allow freer governments to rise, even if that means they are less beholden to America?
The trickiest maneuver facing Biden may take the finesse of a David Copperfield–esque magic trick, suggests OZY contributor John McLaughlin, the former CIA deputy director and amateur magician. Behind curtain one: Iran, which intelligence officials believed was faithfully executing its disarmament responsibilities in the Iran nuclear deal before the United States — led by Trump — pulled out of it in May 2018. Nearly three years (and one assassination of a beloved, if ruthless, public figure) later, Iran is back to having 12 times the amount of enriched uranium it agreed to keep. With Iranian hard-liners emboldened and the fact that America reneged first, it will be difficult to salvage the deal without crossing some wires.
How past presidents responded to taking the reins during turmoil.
1. The Truman Show
Harry S. Truman had been vice president to Franklin Delano Roosevelt for just 82 days before Roosevelt died. The former Missouri senator had barely interacted with Roosevelt and hadn’t been briefed on tensions with the Soviet Union or the humanity-altering Manhattan Project. When he was sworn into office on April 12, 1945, Truman inherited the tail end of World War II and, with it, the responsibility of deciding to deploy an atomic bomb for the first time. Truman said that when he took office, he “felt like the moon, the stars and all the planets had fallen on me.”
2. World War Wilson
When President Woodrow Wilson ran for his second term, he did so under the slogan, “He Kept Us Out of War.” It didn’t last long. In January 1917, the first month of Wilson’s new term, the Germans started a new campaign of unrestricted submarine warfare around England, effectively drawing the U.S. into World War I when several American ships were attacked by German submarines. Compounding the entrance into World War I, Wilson’s presidency also spanned the Spanish flu pandemic. Wilson actually contracted the flu while negotiating Germany’s surrender in Versailles.
Gerald Ford was inaugurated in Watergate’s wake, just 30 minutes after Richard Nixon left the White House in August 1974. Not only was he not elected to the office of the presidency, but he was only elevated from House minority leader to vice president when Spiro Agnew resigned. Eight months later, Ford was sworn in as president and stepped into quite the mess, which was evident during his first address: “I am acutely aware that you have not elected me as your president by your ballots, and so I ask you to confirm me as your president with your prayers.”