Joe Biden and the political limits of jurisdiction

register here to get On Politics delivered to your inbox on Tuesdays and Thursdays. In August 2019, in the midst of a Democratic pr...


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In August 2019, in the midst of a Democratic presidential primary that seemed fraught with uncertainty, Joseph R. Biden Jr. held a panel discussion with several black political journalists in Washington, DC

The stated goal: to brag about his support among black communities, highlighting the same constituencies that ultimately helped him win the party’s nomination. While Mr. Biden spoke for over 90 minutes, he also described his governance philosophy.

When I asked Mr Biden why his political agenda would succeed in Washington after Republicans repeatedly blocked the efforts of his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, Mr Biden categorically stated that these rules would not apply to him. Unlike Mr. Obama, he had decades-long connections in Congress, succeeded the historically chaotic presidency of Donald J. Trump, and was popular even among Republican voters, he said.

“Part of the role of a president is to persuade,” he said. If Mitch McConnell, the Republican Leader of the Senate, were to block it, he said, “Guess what? I’m going to go to Kentucky and I’m going to campaign.

Two years later, amid declining polls, a stalled agenda and growing fears among Democrats that a Republican bombardment will be inevitable in next year’s midterm election, Mr Biden learn the limits of this strategy. The proficiency projection hasn’t convinced enough skeptical Americans to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. His familiarity with making deals with Washington – although crucial to the passage of a bipartisan infrastructure package – has not jostled the needle on issues such as voting rights, police reform. or increasing the minimum wage. Mr. McConnell, as the leader of the Senate minority, still plays the role of Democratic chief obstructionist. And Mr. Biden, who prided himself on being able to campaign in predominantly white and conservative areas, continues to lose ground among white voters without a college degree.

According to Pew Research, about six in 10 white adults now say they disapprove of Mr. Biden’s presidency.

The challenges help explain Mr Biden’s subtle change over the past few months, which has caught the attention of activists and some lawmakers. Gone are the old Republican “epiphany” talk or the prospect of campaigning in Mr. McConnell’s backyard in Kentucky. The White House and its congressional agenda are in the hands of more centrist Democratic senators like Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

At a town hall with CNN in October that took place during a crucial period of negotiations for Mr. Biden’s “Build Better” social spending program, the president stunned some political observers by reversing his position on the Senate obstruction, the 60-vote threshold that has often hampered ambitious legislation.

Mr Biden – who was fiercely opposed to removing filibuster during his tenure in the Senate and during the 2020 presidential campaign – said he was open to a change in stance, especially on voting rights.

“We’re going to have to get to the point where we fundamentally change the filibuster,” Biden said. It “remains to be seen exactly what this basically means in terms of whether or not we are simply ending the filibuster.”

When Anderson Cooper, the host of the event, asked Mr Biden directly, “As far as voting rights are concerned – just so I’m clear, though – you would consider removing the filibuster on this. only question. Is it correct?”

The President replied: “And maybe more.”

His words will have little tangible effect in the short term (several Democratic senators, including Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema, are opposed to ending the filibuster), but they are another sign of a White House taking action. hand the scale of its political challenges.

Steve Phillips, a Democratic donor and strategist, said the party’s desire to appease their embittering conservative and independent white voters should not come at the expense of the excitement of their interracial liberal base.

“I think the loudest and most influential voices in the White House and the Democratic Party do not believe in a strategy of grassroots excitement and mobilization,” Phillips said. “I think there is still the whole myth that with the right language and the right vocabulary we can win more white voters.”

Democratic leaders are optimistic that the three-legged stool in the coronavirus relief plan signed by Mr Biden in March, the infrastructure law passed in November and the spending deal still under negotiation are enough to motivate the party base before the midterm elections. Some of Mr Biden’s closest allies blame the media, saying if voters feel disappointed with what the party has delivered this year, it is because of the way it has been reported.

“Why do we have to get all the president’s agenda in his first year in office,” said Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, a House Democrat and a close ally of Biden.

But it was Mr Biden who pledged ambitious action on topics like climate change, voting rights, minimum wage, criminal justice and police reform. And members of his own party fear the White House is missing a critical window for boldness, not competence.

“It’s not that these things didn’t happen,” said Representative Cori Bush of Missouri, a Democrat and House progressive. “We were talking about them. We were pushing these things, we organized ourselves around these bills and we still don’t have them. “


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