President-elect Joe Biden faces considerable political obstacles to enacting the most ambitious pieces of his agenda. The biggest hurdle, pending the outcome of two Georgia runoff votes, would be a Republican-controlled Senate. Most Republican senators have yet to even acknowledge Biden defeated President Donald Trump.
In the short term, we call on U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst to acknowledge Biden’s election win and reject Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud. Doing so will help facilitate a smooth transition of power.
Next year, there are things Biden can accomplish even in a divided federal government.
The new president clearly will take the coronavirus pandemic far more seriously than his predecessor. Biden has named a 13-member panel of health experts and scientists to help guide his response. This past week the president-elect said he plans to urge governors to initiate mask mandates and is proposing a $25 billion effort to distribute a vaccine for free once it’s available. Biden also has pledged to vastly increase testing and the availability of personal protective equipment, among other plans.
According to researchers at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, Trump has issued 159 executive orders curtailing environmental protection or promoting the use of fossil fuels. Biden can reverse those orders, as well as Trump actions to shrink national monuments and allow drilling in environmentally sensitive areas.
The United States, under Biden, can rejoin the Paris Climate Accord, return to cutting vehicle emissions and restart Obama-era efforts to curtail carbon dioxide emissions scrapped by Trump. The new administration will stop putting climate crisis deniers in key administrative posts and create a more productive atmosphere for climate scientists who have seen their work blocked or hidden under Trump.
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Biden can pursue rational, compassionate immigration policies. He can re-establish the DACA program for undocumented immigrants brought here as children, and reverse Trump policies discouraging asylum-seekers and refugees. The new administration must not return to the Obama precedents of record-high removals, which tore thousands of families apart. Given his poor record on immigration enforcement as vice president, advocates must commit now to hold Biden accountable.
The president-elect immediately can begin work re-establishing strong ties with our allies. And he can start to repair the damage done by Trump’s failed go-it-alone trade wars by joining with allies to pressure China to make concessions on trade rules.
The Department of Justice can start pursuing public corruption and protecting civil rights, and stop being the president’s personal law firm. The Department of Education can return to looking for ways to improve public education. The Environmental Protection Agency can go back to protecting the environment, not polluting industries.
We’ll no longer have an administration actively sabotaging basic government functions such as the census and the postal service. Biden should put a special focus on helping rebuild trust in government, which has been maligned the past four years. Some of this will come through government reform. He needs to focus on healing: people with COVID, the economy and the extreme ideological divide.
Biden can also use the presidency to put issues front and center, including racial justice, economic inequality, student debt relief, workers’ rights and others neglected over the past four years.
Despite congressional divisions, there are areas where the president-elect could work with lawmakers of both parties. Trade policy is one example. The urgency of a worsening pandemic could force cooperation. Infrastructure needs could yield a bipartisan breakthrough. There’s an appetite for criminal justice reforms on both sides of the aisle. His long experience in the Senate and as vice president should be an asset.
Biden can have an influence, regardless of the obstacles. Navigating them to bring the change voters sought will be the first test of his presidency.
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