GSPM’s Todd Belt discussed what to expect from President Joe Biden’s first weeks in office as his administration implements policy and works to keep the Democratic Party unified.
By Tatyana Hopkins
President Joe Biden entered the White House with a sprawling agenda including gaining control of the COVID-19 pandemic, ushering economic recovery, implementing large-scale environmental initiatives and actions on racial justice as well as reversing Trump-era policies on immigration and foreign affairs.
The Graduate School of Political Management’s Todd Belt spoke with GW Today about how Mr. Biden could most effectively use his first 100 days to reshape policy and politics as the public watches for signs of the new president’s priorities and potential stumbles:
Q: What has the Biden administration done of note in the first week in the White House, and do these initial actions give any hint to what he might do in his first 100 days?
A: Mr. Biden has issued a torrent of executive actions to roll back policies of the Trump administration and to implement many of his own policies. These actions impact the coronavirus response, climate policy, economic relief, immigration, the Muslim travel ban and other social justice policies.
Importantly, he's also made many nominations to top federal posts, some of which have already been confirmed by the Senate. However, these early actions don't really shine much of a light on what else is to come, which will be legislation, a necessarily slower process. We know that Mr. Biden plans to advocate for his "Rescue Bill," $1.9 trillion for COVID response and the economy, as well as an overhaul of immigration policy.
Q: On the big issues—pandemic economic relief, tax issues, health care, immigration, infrastructure—how does capturing the Senate improve chances of dramatic legislative changes?
A: The Democrats have the smallest possible majority in the Senate—50 seats—so I don't think it's accurate to say that they have "captured" it.
This is especially the case given that at least two Democrats have come out in opposition to doing away with the 60-vote cloture rule, which stops legislation from being filibustered by the minority party. So, any new legislation on these issues following regular order will necessarily require input from Republicans.
The only exception is to use the budget reconciliation process, which would only require a simple majority, but using it can illicit ill-will among the minority and may make future legislative bargains less likely.
Q: What are the impediments to accomplish the administration's broad, bold goals through legislation?
A: As mentioned above, Democrats have the smallest possible majority in the Senate, and they have also lost seats in the House. This means that it will be challenging to keep the party together on these votes.
It's always easy to keep a minority party unified against the common partisan enemy, but it is much more difficult to keep it together when governing, when everyone has differing ideas of what is best. In the House, it will be interesting to see how the progressive and moderate Democrats work to craft policy without any defections. It may not be easy.
In the Senate, Democrats will have to get Republican buy-in unless they use the budget reconciliation process. Even then, they have to keep all their members together, including the pivotal Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who often breaks with his party.
Q: Why are the first 100 days so important; is it a media creation? Is Biden working with one eye on the 2022 midterms and a possible loss of one or both sides of Congress?
A: It's more than a media creation; it's also a scholarly concept.
Scholars have pointed out that the "100 days" has actually become much shorter—not to mention nastier and more brutish—in recent years. This time interval is important because this is when the president's power is at its greatest, with high public approval ratings, very positive press and a general lack of party in-fighting. As time goes on, compromises are made, pet projects are undermined, mistakes are made, and the shine wears off of the new president.
This is also why the president's party generally loses legislative seats in the midterm election. With margins so thin in the House and Senate right now, and the possibility of losing more in 2022, Mr. Biden faces a situation where he needs to use the majority now to move boldly, because it is likely he won't have it two years from now.