President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the omicron surge and COVID-19 relief efforts during a speech at the White House on Dec. 21, 2021. (Screenshot)
About halfway through his marathon news conference this week, President Joe Biden finally asked the only question in Washington that’s worth asking. With congressional Republicans standing in the way of the Democrats’ every initiative, including voting rights (which should be as bipartisan as it gets), what do they actually support?
“What are Republicans for? What are they for? Name me one thing they’re for,” Biden fumed.
The short answer, according to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell? Not much of anything really.
“That is a very good question,” McConnell told reporters when he was asked about the GOP’s priorities if it retakes control of Congress after this fall’s midterm elections. “And I’ll let you know when we take it back.”
It’s bad enough that Biden already has to deal with such double-agents as U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. Trying to play nice with a congressional GOP, where a preponderance of its members don’t recognize his legitimacy and still bend the knee to the authoritarian-in-exile in Florida, is just compounding the torture.
So after 12 months of getting batted from one side of Capitol Hill to the other by McConnell (who did exactly the same thing to Biden’s old boss, Barack Obama), the 46th president appears, at long last, to have realized that there’s no point in trying to do his old job or negotiate with people who refuse to negotiate.
“And one of the things that I do think that has been made clear to me — speaking of polling — is the public doesn’t want me to be the ‘president senator.’ They want me to be the president and let senators be senators,” Biden said, according to the Washington Post, when he was asked about reaching out to Republicans to fix the Electoral Count Act.
“And so, if I’ve made — and I’ve made many mistakes, I’m sure. If I made a mistake, I’m used to negotiating to get things done, and I’ve been, in the past, relatively successful at it in the United States Senate, even as vice president. But I think that role as president is — is a different role,” he said.
Okay, so it’s not exactly, “We don’t negotiate with terrorists,” but it’s a start.
Last year, I wrote that Biden was on his way to being the most transformational president in decades. And I still believe there’s a strong prima facie case for that.
In 12 months, the White House won passage of not only the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Act, which sent badly needed assistance to state governments and school districts, but also a $1.2 trillion infrastructure law that will provide badly needed funds for road and bridge repairs, as well as broadband expansion. Even Republicans who carped about its cost and voted against it haven’t been above taking credit for the aid it brought to their home states.
As The Washington Post points out, more than 200 million Americans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and more than 80 million have received booster shots. Yes, the White House has not been able to win over vaccine skeptics – but that’s a tall order when an entire media ecosystem is actively working to short-circuit those efforts. Admittedly, the government’s messaging has been muddled, and the current testing crunch is aggravating, but the White House has been taking steps to address it.
It is galling that Biden has not been able to win approval for his Build Back Better plan or the two voting rights bills mentioned above, nor bring two rogue members of his own party into line.
It’s insane that 10 Republican senators cannot summon the political courage to realize what’s obvious to a high school civics student: Our nation is stronger when more people participate in elections, and that our preaching to the rest of the world about the wonders of democracy is more believable when we throw open the polls to every eligible voter instead of manufacturing excuses to keep them out.
Give Republicans this much, though, either out of ironclad loyalty to the Dear Leader or fear of a primary from the right, or both, their discipline is extraordinary. That is particularly true in the face of Democrats who are still treating their congressional majorities in much the same way as the dog who caught the car.
The American public saw a different Biden this week: One both pragmatic and combative. One who can speak inspiringly to the nation’s better angels; act as his own best advocate for his achievements; but also one who bluntly confronts the threats of strongmen at home and abroad, and one who uses his bully pulpit and the airwaves to advance his agenda.
The president has less than 10 months to push through Build Back Better and to finally get voting rights over the goal line. No more Mr. Nice Biden. It’s time to get it done.
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