What Joe Biden Can Do


Discussing a range of topic with reporters

Look, I’ve never made a secret of the fact that I don’t think Donald Trump is a true leader. No doubt he’s got many devoted followers. So you may feel that in itself proves me wrong, and you may be right.

But anyone I’ve come across in my life who’s impressed me as a true leader is all about building people up. Trump is only about belittling people and tearing them down, then letting his followers revel in his enemies’ demise as their only reward.

Nonetheless, Trump will have a legacy. A lot of it will have to do with cracking down on immigration, legal and illegal. Yet Trump never got any kind of immigration legislation passed, even when Republicans had control of the Senate, the House, and the White House.

So everything he did with that: from family separation, to finessing money to get “the wall” started, he accomplished through a combination of Executive Orders, lawsuits, and Tweets.

Now, Joe Biden has said he’s not going to rule by Executive Order, and he’s actually going to try to work things out with Republicans. Control of the Senate is still up in the air and will be until January, where two simultaneous run off elections in Georgia will determine the balance.

If Republicans were to keep control of the Senate, would Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell go along with Biden’s “let’s everybody get along” initiative? On anything? All signs point to “no”. McConnell’s made a career of not letting legislation get to the Senate floor. 

Even during Trump’s term, most of his effort was focused on getting Conservative judges confirmed to federal courts. He was content to let Trump rule by edict—those Executive Orders—in lieu of any meaningful legislation for most of the rest of it. So it’s likely a continuation of the same role in a Biden presidency with a Republican-controlled Senate, minus the court appointees.

That would also probably mean Biden wouldn’t be able to muster the votes to roll back the massive tax cuts Republicans gave to corporations, as he said he intended to do during his campaign.

But there’s still a lot Biden can do. Even with that. And with a lot of other things he wants to do. Especially with what seems like a talented, capable cabinet, with people hired based on knowledge and ability, not abject loyalty.

Just a quick digression about Biden’s cabinet picks so far, all of whom of course will have to be approved by the Senate: lots of different backgrounds, different races, different genders, as he promised. None so far that would be widely characterized as “controversial”, much less “highly controversial”. The objections so far are pretty standard, along ideological lines, and seem almost quaint, as rival politicians and right wing media do some digging and also start making some stuff up. They may also come from the far-left, who may feel Biden’s choices are too middle-of-the road. Heck, even I may end up not liking all of his picks once I find out more about them.

But what I’m hoping, is that many Americans who are watching this cabinet come together are saying:

Hey, these people seem pretty normal. Maybe we didn’t have as much to worry about as we thought. Especially the descent into Socialism part.”

I remember having that feeling before, when a President I didn’t particularly like got voted into office, and then was buoyed at least a bit when they started putting their cabinet together and they seemed like competent, qualified people, even though they didn’t necessarily think as I did about political, social, and economic issues.

I did not at all have that feeling at Trump’s rollout of his initial picks, except one or two, whom I spoke out in support of at the time, and none of those few lasted. Though very few of anybody lasted for very long in the Trump administration.

And I’ll always remember one photo from this period. Because this is who Trump brought into office with him:

The “good old days”? With two of his top initial advisors, Steve Bannon and Michael Flynn. Now both convicted or indicted for federal crimes.

And they turned out to be just the first in a parade of lunatics (or lemmings).

But let’s not dwell on the past. Back to Biden: legislatively, there’s one thing he should do immediately upon taking office. Well two, really. And of course work on getting those vaccines out.

First, is to push an economic stimulus package, which is sorely needed especially as COVID-19 cases are surging. 

I do think there’s even a possibility Trump will start the ball rolling on this if he can stop sulking long enough, and disentangle himself from conspiracy theories. He’d also maybe have to give up on denying funds to cities and states that did not vote for him, which is a big part of why no more money has come through thus far. But maybe that’s too much to ask. 

But even Trump must realize at this point he’s got to rehabilitate himself somewhat, post-election, if he wants to leave the White House with any kind of positive feel, and any kind of image other than that he was indeed, not fit for office. As outgoing Republican Senator Lamar Alexander suggests to Trump:

When you are in public life, people remember the last thing you do.”

But maybe that’s too much to expect.

But from whomever that next round of spending for families and small businesses put out by COVID-19 comes, it needs to come.

I’m not a huge fan of deficit spending, as you know if you’ve been following me, but I do agree with Fed Chair Jerome Powell that if there’s ever time to throw caution to the wind and do it, it’s now. Powell will presumably stay on, and is one of the few people Trump hired who is really good and highly skilled at his job. And looks like he’ll be working directly with his immediate predecessor: former Fed Chief Janet Yellen, Biden’s apparent nominee for Treasury Secretary.  Are they both, together, a huge nod to Wall Street? Sure. They are also a huge nod to stability. 

And as I’ve pointed out many times, Powell is one of the most people-focused Fed Chiefs this country has ever had. He really does make an effort to extend beyond what’ll make banks happy and the financial system liquid, to the needs and realities of small businesses and individual families.

Second, even if Biden turns out not to have the votes to roll back Trump’s big corporate tax cuts, he can get the House to pass a bill mandating corporations actually bring jobs back to the U.S. if they want to keep getting those tax cuts.

Challenge Republicans in the House and Senate to oppose that. Challenge McConnell to ignore that or refuse to bring it to the floor, and if necessary, borrow a page from the Trump playbook and badger him every day, at every appearance, and on Twitter, until he does.

Let’s also not forget that the President of the Senate will soon be Kamala Harris instead of Mike Pence. So that makes a huge difference, since in the event of a tie, she’ll be the deciding vote. And that also means to get to that tie, Democrats will need one fewer Republican coming to their side on any money-related issue. Two fewer, actually, since even though Democrats didn’t do great in picking off Republican seats in the Senate, they did net oneSo far

And Presidents are often best known for achievements that had nothing to do with legislation passed during their time in office. I’ve never argued against Trump’s taking credit for a soaring stock market. Because it did happen while he was president.

Immediate case in point: with the Biden win, General Motors just now announced it will back out of a lawsuit in which it joined the Trump Administration to fight tighter auto emission standards. Now, why would they suddenly do that? Probably not because they’ve suddenly really come to care about the environment. But maybe because they do care about a stable, predictable environment in which to conduct business. And you see? No legislation necessary.

If Biden sweeps in and implements a COVID-19 policy that works, that’ll be part of his legacy. Especially since Trump’s given up on even the pretense of doing anything, while he’s wildly been swatting at election results, as the number of people in hospitals with COVID-19 soars to record rates. 

And I think that’s something Republicans right now are terrified of because they know it will happen.

Look, Trump does seem to have given a little, and finally agreed to a transition process at least, in a Tweet with only one word in all-caps, not the whole Tweet. That’s after Michigan certified Biden as the election winner there, shortly after Georgia did the same thing. Still, we all know Trump’ll swing the other way again, and back the other way, and back the other way, in the still nearly two months between now and Inauguration Day.

So there will still be some difficult times to navigate between now and then, and before a post-Trump presidency truly comes into focus.

At the same time, President-elect Biden’s demeanor, bearing, and behavior has set a tone for that. It’s part of why he won: let Trump go off and throw his mashed potatoes on the carpet. Keep an eye on it, but don’t get dragged in. And move steadily forward.