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How Biden’s first 100 days would not be as productive as he suggests

The Independent logo The Independent 03/11/2020 John T. Bennett
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Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is promising an aggressive first 100 days in office that would be calibrated to roll back many of Donald Trump’s most hardline policies on immigration, coronavirus and other matters.

But former officials warn against falling for any coming “hype”, as one put it, if the former vice president is elected, because there is one norm that the incumbent president has left in tact: The opening months of any presidency are defined by decades-old processes and political posturing they say will slow even a 47-year Washington veteran like Mr Biden.

On paper, a Biden presidency seems quite possible: A new poll from The Independent shows him leading nationally by 14 points, a 3-point increase in his lead from just a few weeks back. “Voters are negative about Donald Trump on a number of other aspects: 34 per cent agree [he] made America a safer place, but 51 per cent disagree. Only 33 per cent of voters say that Donald Trump made America great again, with 52 per cent disagreeing,” according to a summary of the poll by JL Partners, which conducted the survey. 

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When Mr Trump first entered the Oval Office as president in January 2017, his advisers had not quite figured out the White House printers. He signed a list of executive orders, many printed on large sheets of parchment paper.

Though Mr Biden, if he wins Tuesday’s election, is expected to hire many Obama administration officials who know how to print normal-sized executive actions, the former VP and his campaign team are promising a number of orders “immediately”.

The Democratic nominee is planning to do what he can on his own as the new Congress gets organised.

“I will end the Muslim ban on Day 1,” Mr Biden said in late July during a virtual event held by Emgage Action, a pro-Muslim group. “Day 1, I’ll work with Congress to pass hate crime legislation.”

Also in July, Mr Biden tweeted this about his first day: “On my first day as President, I will rejoin the @WHO and restore our leadership on the world stage.”

Here are three things to watch during President Biden’s (possible) first 100 days:

Filibuster finale?

“As we found out the hard way when [Barack] Obama was elected, the first 100 days are tricky. And they rarely match the hype,” said Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist and a former aide to then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “It takes a while to get the administration fully in place and the [congressional] committees set up. That slows you down.”

“That’s not going to change,” he added. “The big question is: What kind of Republican support would Biden get, especially in the Senate?”

Analysts on both sides of the aisle anticipate Democrats, if they win the White House and Senate, doing as much as they can with what one described as a “very finite window to address his agenda”.

“If Trump loses, we’re going to have one-party rule for the next two years,” said one Republican strategist. “Democrats are going to have carte blanche to change things as quickly as they can. But they’ll have to move quickly, and the process isn’t always set up to do that.”

“Will he and Chuck Schumer get rid of the filibuster all together? I think so, absolutely,” the GOP strategist said, referring to the New York Democrat who could become majority leader. “You can do a lot via a fast-track process called budget reconciliation, but for that broader policy agenda – especially those parts being pushed by the liberals, you’ve got to get rid of the filibuster and the 60-vote rule for bills.”

World’s policeman

Mr Trump promised as a candidate back in 2016 to keep the United States out of the kinds of post-9/11 conflicts the George W Bush administration started and the Barack Obama administration, in which he was the last voice the commander in chief heard before making most decisions, continued.

“He did keep us out of war,” said G William Hoagland, a former aide to then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, when asked to list some of Mr Trump’s accomplishments.

In short, Mr Trump for decades has railed against his party’s long held view that the United States is uniquely positioned to serve as the world’s police force.

Once in office, he shifted US national security and foreign policies dramatically. He ushered in a hodgepodge philosophy that essentially was a dizzying kaleidoscope of isolationism ramming into realism, mercantilism intersecting with the pursuit of global trade deals, dovish isolationism at war with tough-talking realism.  

“The Trump approach to national security is not unlike the stance of the Republican Party prior to World War II,” according to Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute. “It is a distinct departure, though, from the priorities espoused by both parties in the postwar era.”

“Because Biden has been so consistent in his views on security, it is not hard to see how he will change current US policies,” Mr Thompson added. “In essence, he will reverse the main lines of Trump security policies, and return to the agenda followed during the Obama years.”

The Lexington analyst expects the former vice president and Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair, to rebuild America’s alliances with its longtime allies that Mr Trump has kept at an arms distance. He also sees a Biden administration trying to give new life to US relations with and participation in global groups like Nato.

Mr Biden’s campaign website lists just that as a major goal: “We will also strengthen our alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia and other Asian democracies, while sustaining an ironclad commitment to Israel’s security.”

Expect those overtures to begin quickly after Election Day, if Mr Biden declares victory, or whenever a potential court battle with his rival might declare him the next commander in chief.

One other change to Mr Trump’s national security policy that the longtime Delaware senator likely would bring, no doubt to the frustration of his party’s progressive wing, is a belief in US military force. He supported Bill Clinton’s Balkan airstrikes, George W Bush’s 2001 Afghanistan operation, and the 43rd president’s invasion of Iraq two years later.  

Biden v. The Progressives

The former vice president has gone to some lengths to appease the progressive wing of his party that includes Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar, as well as Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

But, once in office, he would face daily pressures to sign executive orders and endorse legislation in line with their far-left views.

What those progressive House members might be able to pass in that chamber, where analysts see them gaining seats, likely would be DOA in the Senate – even if their party is handed a razor-thin majority come January.

Even if a President Biden agrees to include some of their environmental and other ideas in a “reconciliation” bill using Capitol Hill’s fast-track process, analysts doubt the chamber’s parliamentarian would oblige.

“Whether it’s climate change or some things on health care,” Mr Manley said, “many of the broad policy proposals the progressives are demanding almost certainly would be ruled out of order.”

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