Joe Biden is off to a pretty impressive start. Not a single false public note, from the wonderful ceremony the night before his inauguration honoring the COVID dead (see, a president can actually do these things provided that president is a decent and mature human being) to his on-point inaugural address to Jen Psaki’s strange insistence on not lying to and picking at journalists.
The executive orders are great, especially the one on racial equity, which is quite brave. It orders all executive branch agencies to study the extent to which their policies perpetuate systemic racism and make changes where needed. There’s going to be massive blowback on this one, which indeed has already started. The right-wing agitproppers are going to try to whip white people into a rage about this. But Biden seems intent on forcing an awareness of the hidden (to most white people, not to Black or brown people) ways that racism infiltrates so many aspects of life. No president has ever touched this. He deserves huge credit.
On the right—from some members of Congress, some pundits, on down to my Facebook page—we’re already hearing the predictable, contemptible whine about he’s being divisive: So this is what you call unity? That sort of thing. Please. He ran on these things. He said he was going to do them, and he’s doing them. That’s not being divisive. That’s keeping campaign promises.
Anyway, none of these people give a crap about unity. If they did, they’d be talking right now about finding ways to work with the Biden administration on the COVID relief bill, but of course they’re not. And no, this isn’t how they all behave. Think back to early 2017. Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, Schumer especially, said many times that they’d be happy to work with President Trump wherever they could agree; on infrastructure, for example. They took a huge amount of heat from their left for making these friendly overtures to Trump.
But they said it, and from everything I knew at the time they meant it. They were willing to give Trump the political victory of an infrastructure bill because they… wanted an infrastructure bill. It was Trump and the Republicans in Congress who showed no interest, because their big donors didn’t want it and because it would have involved government doing something for people, and we can’t have that.
Compare and contrast Schumer and Pelosi’s posture then to Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy now. They, too, have constituents who are dying, losing their businesses and their jobs, getting evicted, struggling with kids at home all day, relying on food banks. The state of Kentucky and Bakersfield, California, aren’t exactly Beverly Hills. I suppose on some human level they care; they’re not Donald Trump. But they don’t care enough to want to pass a bill if that would be a political win for Biden.
We’ll see. The Washington Post reported Sunday that some Republicans are complaining that the Biden White House hasn’t reached out to them yet. If that’s so, that’s probably an error, but the article reports that such outreach has begun, and it’s only the fifth day of his presidency. That hardly constitutes leaving people dangling.
Biden should try. He should try to get Republican votes. He said he would, and he should keep his word. And maybe on certain things, he’ll get a few. I suspect that on the COVID bill, he’ll eventually get a deal on a smaller number that won’t include the minimum wage increase, unfortunately. But he shouldn’t waste too much time on this. Barack Obama spent months off and on talking to Republicans about the Affordable Care Act, and he didn’t get a single vote out of them. Instead he had McConnell openly declaring that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
Now, McConnell isn’t even letting Democrats take over the committees. The minority leader said he’d only relent on Senate reorganization if Schumer vowed he’d never try to do away with the filibuster. Schumer said no, and to McConnell’s dismay and no doubt surprise, every Democrat has stuck with Schumer on this point, up to and including Joe Manchin. So in other words, something that always happens very normally when control of the Senate changes—the transfer of committee chairs to the new majority party—is a hostage negotiation with McConnell. Is that “unity”?
By the way, on the filibuster: Don’t call this quite a prediction, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see it gone by summertime. Every Democrat (and the two Senate independents) knows the deal, which I and many others have been writing for a long time. Their choice is between preserving this anachronistic and anti-democratic rule that the founders opposed—when writing the Constitution, they considered and rejected super-majority requirements except for a few specific purposes—and getting nothing passed and being seen as failures who’ll lose Congress in 2022 and the White House in 2024, or ditching that stupid rule and passing lots of things that people will like and having a chance at coming out of both of those elections in good shape.
Everyone, very much including Manchin, understands this. They’re not stupid. What’s going to happen over the next few months is a game of chicken where Republican obstruction has to reach a certain level where all Democrats can say “hey, we tried, but there’s just no doing business with these people.” And they’ll kill the filibuster.
Republicans will howl publicly, but secretly, they’ll be glad. McConnell doesn’t want the filibuster either. He fully expects that he’s going to be the majority leader again in 2023, so believe me, he’ll be delighted then if there’s no 60-vote requirement to repeal a minimum wage increase and whatever else the Democrats pass, and ram through more tax cuts for rich people without having to use reconciliation, which imposes a time limit on such tax cuts. And his hands will be clean, because it’ll be the Democrats who committed the murder. So he’ll probably be a little extra-obstructionist, to force the Democrats’ hand.
That will take a while. In the meantime, we’re going to get the usual Republican hypocrisy. Oooh, the debt, oooh, the deficit! Oooh, that mean Joe Biden, doing things we don’t agree with! What happened to unity?
It’s sickening. They are the opposite of everything they say they are. They say they’re patriots; they practically destroyed democracy (and they’re not done). They say they’re the law and order party; they’re utterly lawless. They say they’re tough guys; they’re the whiniest snowflakes in the world. Who’d want to unify with such people anyway?