The president’s ‘transformative’ agenda runs into reality
Sometime in the last week, Democrats looked at the calendar and realized that President Biden is in trouble.
My theory is that the moment of truth arrived on May 27. That was when Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer had to scramble to save one of his priorities, the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, from falling apart. Then, on May 28, the proposed commission into the January 6 riot at the Capitol failed to clear the filibuster.
The panic started. You began seeing articles about the “summer slump” that afflicts presidencies. You started hearing that Biden can’t let negotiations with Republicans drag on. Before leaving for Memorial Day recess, Schumer told reporters that when the Senate returns he plans to hold votes not only on the constitutionally dubious “For the People Act,” but also on the Paycheck Fairness Act, the Equality Act, and two gun-control bills.
And that’s just what the House has passed already. The president’s $4 trillion American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan haven’t come to a vote in either chamber of Congress. They haven’t been put into legislation. The fate of these projects depends in large part on Biden’s ability to strike a deal on infrastructure with Republican senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia. The likelihood of a bargain? Not great.
For Democrats, the Biden presidency is an hourglass and the sand is running out. They have two years to enact the “transformational” agenda that, presto change-o, will turn Biden into the new Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And since they have incredibly narrow margins in the Congress—four votes in the House, a tied Senate—they have to remain unified. “That is a problem with the Democratic Party,” the activist Rev. William J. Barber II told the Washington Post. “What you see with Republicans—they stick together no matter what.” He must not see many Republicans.
It is still a problem with the Democratic Party, though, because Democrats agree on one thing alone: They oppose Donald Trump. They’re happy he’s not president. They don’t want him to be president again. Beyond Trump, however, Democrats are all over the place. They have Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema on one side of the caucus and Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren on the other.
The coalition that elected Biden is even broader, stretching from Cindy McCain to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. An alliance formed on the basis of opposition to one personality is never going to be ideologically uniform. Nor is it going to be stable. The Democrats face a similar problem as the coalition government that was agreed to in Israel this week: What do you do after the boogeyman is gone?
The Senate filibuster isn’t the Democrats’ chief obstacle. Coherence is. Biden is pretending he has 60 votes for the liberal wish list. In reality, he doesn’t have 50. So what does he do? He blames his party’s congressional majority of “effectively, four votes in the House and a tie in the Senate, with two members of the Senate who vote more with my Republican friends.” He doesn’t ask why the majority is so small. He doesn’t rethink his plans. Instead, he amps up the rhetoric. He says Republicans are engaged in an “un-American,” “truly unprecedented assault on our democracy.”
It’s part of a strategy to browbeat Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia into reversing his well-documented support of the filibuster and becoming the 50th vote for the “For the People” Act. More than 100 left-wing groups sent a letter to Schumer this week demanding that the filibuster be junked. As Rev. Barber told the Post, Democrats “need to let Manchin understand we elected Joe Biden—not Joe Manchin—to be president.”
Joe Manchin isn’t president, of course. He’s a senator from a state that gave Donald Trump a 39-percent margin of victory in the last election. Nor is it only Manchin who’s keeping the filibuster alive. Sinema, who won a narrow victory in 2018 in a state that went for Biden by some 10,000 votes in 2020, is too. And Dianne Feinstein seems to agree with them—at least when her staff isn’t around. There are probably several other Democratic senators who are happy to let Manchin and Sinema take the heat for a policy they privately agree with.
If you listened only to Biden, you might conclude that the 2020 election was a victory for the left. It was not. The election continued a three-decade-long partisan stalemate and, for at least two years, handed slight control of government to the Democrats. Why? Because the public disapproved of Donald Trump.
It is this failure to recognize the limited nature of his electoral mandate that has set Biden up for disappointment. “June should be a month of action on Capitol Hill,” he told the audience during his speech in Tulsa, Oklahoma, this week. It more likely will be a month of frustration. The president’s long hot summer is just getting started.