Aside from the interminable drag of near biblical proportion, the days from November 3rd to today have seemed like an eternity in contemporary American politics. We’ve had a Presidential Election, a losing president refusing to concede, an insurrection and, finally, an abridged inauguration. It seems like years squeezed into months.
But we now officially have a new President, one who’s inherited four plagues: one biological---a pandemic---and three political, a teetering economy, an impeachment, and an insurrection. Were that not enough, the President also has to put together a cabinet.
President Joe Biden has vowed to vaccinate a hundred million Americans in a hundred days. Easy enough. But while there’s a vaccine---developed in record time---his predecessor left him with no plan on how to get it out and into the arms of millions of Americans. This lack of presidential leadership and, perhaps, even acknowledgement of the enormity of the virus, said Dr. Rob Preuss, may have been Donald Trump’s biggest mistake. To date, more than 25 million Americans have been infected and its death toll will soon hit a half a million.
It was a massive political fumble that arguably cost Trump a second term. “It became clear to the middle and swing voters, that presidential leadership and policies did not fit the enormity of the situation,” said the Metropolitan State University of Denver political scientist.
Biden, with nearly four decades in the Senate and eight as Vice President, wasted no time after officially taking office. Within hours, he signed a slew of Executive Orders, some reversing Trump administration policies, others addressing policies his predecessor actively opposed, including ones on the environment, immigration, the census, stopping construction on the wall, gender discrimination and one outlining a national facial mask policy. Biden also rejoined the World Health Organization. “They were symbolic,” said Preuss, but important. “They were signaling to the base that there is a shift in policy…they also changed the trajectory of international relations.”
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris also began the work of fine-tuning a COVID relief plan and stimulus package. America now leads the world in both infections and deaths.
With the virus at the top of Biden’s agenda, other parts of it will address ways to keep millions of Americans from evictions and foreclosures. It will also boost the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $15. With a Democratic majority in the House, it should move through easily. If there are no surprises in the Senate, and the vote is along party lines, the 50-50 tie would be broken by the Vice President.
While the new president’s agenda is chockful of pressing issues, he’ll have to navigate carefully with the body he once served in. In two weeks, the Senate, beside its own normal workload, will also be tasked with conducting the impeachment trial of now Florida resident, Donald Trump. President Biden has so far indicated he’ll keep a distance from the proceedings. But it’s hard to imagine that those around him won’t be counting votes. All fifty Senate Democrats are expected to vote for conviction. But with a growing number of Republicans coalescing against conviction, that may be more wishful than reality. Republicans seem more willing to censure than convict. But even censure is no sure thing.
But anything short of seventeen Republican votes to convict Trump---67 are needed---he’ll walk away, historically stained but no worse for wear. A conviction would mean he can never again hold public office. Trump’s attorneys are expected to argue the Senate trial is unconstitutional, that since he’s out of office, the trial is nothing more than show and Democratic retribution. Democrats will focus on the charges, that Trump implicitly urged the insurrection and is, therefore, guilty of sedition. www.noktashop.org
One prominent Republican Senator, Mitt Romney, has argued that Trump inspired the insurrectionists who seized the U.S. Capitol and sedition is an appropriate charge. “What is being alleged, what we saw, which is incitement to insurrection is an impeachable offense,” said the Utah Republican. “If not, what is?” The prosecution will include two Colorado Representatives, Diana DeGette, and Joe Neguse who will join seven other House colleagues as impeachment managers.
Biden, who became President on his third attempt, has stressed again and again that his number one goal is to unite the nation. But the January 6th insurrection proved that unity may be his biggest challenge. A recent poll showed that about half of all Republicans still believe the election was somehow rigged. An impeachment trial---no matter its outcome---will not change that, said Preuss. While Biden won both the popular and Electoral College votes, there were still more than 70 million votes cast for Trump. Uniting the nation, as is often said, may be more poetry than prose.
“I think our country, in a lot of ways, feels different,” said the MSUD professor. There is “an underlying polarization.” We are, he said, living in an era of tribal politics that he likens to “shirts versus the skins and any win by the other side is seen as a loss.”
But Biden, who is either blessed or burdened with eternal optimism, may be just the man to govern at this time. After serving in the Senate for six terms, he knows it as well as anyone. He also has, strange as it may appear, a good personal and working relationship with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“I’m not hopeful for compromise, but there’s room” said Preuss. There is at least rhetoric coming out of the White House about unity and working together, he said. That stands in stark contrast to the undermining and name-calling that permeated sex shop the Trump years.