Society

President Biden and the 117th Congress: Journalists’ Perspectives on What to Expect

The $1.9 trillion Covid relief package, passed along party lines in Congress earlier in March, set the path for many questions on the possibility of a bipartisan government under the new administration. In the first event of the series “Voices on the first six months of the new U.S. Administration” Bob Cusack, Editor in Chief of The Hill, and A.B. Stoddard, Associate Editor and Columnist at RealClear Politics, debated opportunities and challenges shaping the current political landscape. Former Republican representative of Virginia, Barbara Comstock, moderated the discussion. The series is conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress.

Biden is likely to be a one-term president and is, therefore, more willing to push the boundaries to get his policy priorities passed. A.B. Stoddard

Joe Biden’s narrow election success in November 2020 foreshadowed a difficult time ahead for the new president. As a candidate, Biden had emphasized bipartisanship as key to his governing. The passing of the Covid bill in March, however, revealed President Biden’s willingness to also govern along strict party lines to get legislation passed. A.B. Stoddard observed: “Biden is likely to be a one-term president and is, therefore, more willing to push the boundaries to get his policy priorities passed.”

The Covid relief package was ultimately not passed through a bipartisan effort but the so-called “reconciliation process”. This process enables legislation to pass by a simple majority, which the Democratic Party currently holds with Vice President Harris’ tie-breaking vote in the Senate.

The slow response to the migration situation at the border was the first political mistake of the Biden administration. A.B. Stoddard

As Stoddard points out, the new government not only faces a potential partisan gridlock in Congress but also opposing sentiments within the Democratic Party itself. The current migration influx at the southern border poses the first challenge to a unified Democratic government. Whereas some in the Senate may call for a more progressive approach, others emphasize the need to focus primarily on the domestic situation before anything else. Stoddard warned: “The slow response to the migration situation at the border was the first political mistake of the Biden administration: it divides the party and creates a diversion away from the success of the Covid vaccine program.” It might affect the president’s current high favorability among voters. 

Internationally, Joe Biden is expected to combine a return to traditional foreign policy while also adapting to the new challenges that arose under the prior administration. While President Biden reenters the U.S. in international accords and treaties, Cusack also points to the new foreign policy confrontations and dynamics, such as toward Russia, Iran, and China, that the U.S. government will have to face: “The Biden administration’s foreign policy has been cautious and is still evaluating many situations. The traditional allies, however, that have been pushed away by the former administration, are back in the fold of the U.S. government, ” Cusack said.

There has been a clear emphasis on multilateralism thus far, shaping the U.S. foreign policy theme. According to Stoddard, the cautious undertone mentioned by Cusack could also serve the administration’s interest in keeping the international stage calm and free of conflict, to better focus on domestic challenges instead.

If there is one thing that won’t go back to normal, it’s trade.Bob Cusack

Cusack warns that not all will go back to as it used to be: “If there is one thing that won’t go back to normal, it’s trade,” the journalist observed. Both parties share skepticism in terms of how trade will continue to be conducted going forward, and this won’t change even under the new administration.

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