Joseph Robinette Biden, a 78-year political veteran, will sleep tonight in the White House, albeit deprived of the traditional crowd bath. The most voted president in the history of the United States comes to power with slim majorities in both houses of the Capitol. Take the reins of a country shaken by a devastating pandemic, plunged into the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression and with international prestige in tatters. As if all this were not enough, he assumes command in full hangover of an unusual popular revolt destined to prevent him from being president. A spectacular insurrection, whose threat remains latent, starring hordes of fanatics who believe that progressive elites are Satan worshipers, cannibals and pedophiles, and that the vaccination campaign against covid-19, the only one that can begin to remove the country of the hole in which it finds itself, it is something like a Bill Gates strategy to introduce chips into citizens. “These are dark times,” Biden told his supporters in his tearful farewell to Delaware shortly before flying to Washington. “But there is always light.”
To find that light, the 46th president’s plan is to start as soon as possible and in a big way. To start with, accelerate the distribution of the vaccine, to reach the goal of administering the first dose to 100 million Americans in his first 100 days in office. At the same time, bring to Congress the economic rescue package worth 1.9 trillion dollars that his team has prepared. This package, divided into two legislative initiatives, includes a new remittance of direct payments to citizens and an increase in the minimum wage to $ 15 an hour (about 12.40 euros). Not content with that, this Wednesday he also plans to release the details of his immigration bill, which will provide a fast track to citizenship to about 11 million people who live in the United States without legal residence permits.
With those legislative bombs, and the precedent of the monumental traffic jam that has been produced in the Capitol by the economic bailouts approved since the pandemic struck in the spring, the president is preparing to immediately test the willingness of Republican legislators to work with his Administration. Their hopes of pushing through all this legislation will be met with the harsh reality that Democrats have extremely fragile majorities in a Congress whose upper house (Senate) will have to deal with the impeachment of Trump after his impeachment in the House of Representatives.
The same reality will be found for Biden for the mandatory confirmations in the Senate of the members of his Government, five of whom already appeared on Tuesday before the committees of the Upper House to start the process. Confirmation in the Senate may just be a process for that Cabinet of experienced politicians, diverse in ethnicity and gender, but with the stigma of the Obama Administration and void of prominent voices from the progressive sector that has dominated the Democratic Party. With the disappointment of that left wing in his formation, the new president will also have to deal with as soon as the truce imposed by the seriousness of the latest events expires.
With 44 years as a senator behind him, Biden will be the first true creature of the Capitol to occupy the White House since Gerald Ford (president between 1974 and 1977). On that experience, he bases his credentials as a politician capable of building bridges between the two parties. It will not be easy. Although in private many Republican legislators will breathe relief to leave the Trumpist storm behind, it is still true that the ambitious proposals brought by Biden touch squarely on the country’s traditional ideological divisions: public spending, taxes, health, immigration , the size of the state.
This is not the Great Depression, but Franklin Roosevelt winks are not lost on anyone. Like the one with the New Deal, Biden’s project is to get out of a serious crisis with strong public investment that, incidentally, transforms the economy and tackles the country’s major endemic problems.
So, as his team moves to their field of maneuver on Capitol Hill, President Biden is also preparing to pull executive power, at least in its early days, to reverse some of the more controversial policies of his Republican predecessor. Aware that it is convenient for him to make a difference as soon as possible with the Trump era, the new president is reluctant to wait for progress on the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue and, without leaving the White House, plans to sign a battery of dozens of executive orders in the first 100 days of presidency, at the risk of falling into the abuse of executive power that the Democrats accused Trump of precisely.
Up to a dozen decrees are being signed this Wednesday. Among them, the rescission of the travel ban of Muslim countries, the adherence to the Paris Climate Agreement from which Trump left, the mandatory use of protective masks in federal agencies or the mandate to find a way to reunite with his parents to minor migrants separated from their families at the border. On the second day, executive orders to increase the capacity to carry out diagnostic tests for covid, and aid for the reopening of schools and businesses. The third, “immediate action to provide economic relief to working families.”
In his 50 years of political life, in his 21-month presidential career and, even more clearly, in the 78 days since he won the election, Joe Biden has offered enough clues about the kind of president he wants to be. Focused on the big issues, on which a consensus can be worked. Soft in the forms, close in the treatment. Away from the noise, both from the toxic Twitter debate and from the loudest voices of his own party. But the same problems that have taken away his ceremony this Wednesday will make him give up a honeymoon. The president, oblivious to the shrillness, the boasting and the blows of effect, nevertheless knows that only an energetic outburst can help him leave the drama and the hurts behind.
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