Biden's First 100 Days: Challenges and Opportunities
This morning, Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States of America. As millions watch around the world, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Sonia Sotomayor will administer the oath of office to Biden and Harris and they will begin a new administration.
At noon, Biden will take a simple one-sentence oath, and yet it is unlike any promise any other world leader makes when they take office. “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” It’s a reminder to all of us that this is not a nation of men, of presidents, of congressional leaders, but a nation of laws. The president does not swear to do what is right in the eyes of their party or to fulfill the promises they made during their campaign. As the chief executive of the country, he promises to uphold the Constitution.
In 1 Timothy 2:2, Paul reminds us to pray for our government officials so that we may live lives of peace and holiness. This is not optional for us. Starting Wednesday, we begin praying for President Biden as the leader of our country. Let’s pray for wisdom and conviction, the courage to do what’s right, a godly vision of justice, and protection for him and his family.
The First 100 Days
Biden enters office with a formidable situation facing him in our country. Division is not new in America, but it is particularly volatile right now. Precautions for the inauguration are being taken against attacks from domestic groups and from the virus, which is now spreading faster than ever before. Here are some of the other challenges he’ll face in the first hundred days:
The Trump administration should be praised for “Operation Warp Speed.” It will go down not just as an accomplishment of the administration, but as one of the most significant scientific marvels of the modern world. But the plan is only as good as the distribution, and that’s where the problems lie.
Biden promises to vaccinate 100 million Americans in the first 100 days. That will be a gargantuan task, but would be a tremendous good for the country. So far more than 30 million doses have been produced and almost 11 million people have received the vaccine. Biden plans to focus on Americans over 65, use FEMA to set up federally administered vaccine sites, and pass $20 billion of stimulus directed toward the vaccine rollout. New Covid czar Jeff Zients and surgeon general Vivek Murthy will lead the charge for the administration.
A Divided Country
Joe Biden ran on healing and unity. He emerged in the primary field as an experienced moderate. Pundits claimed he would “Make Politics Boring Again.” Can he convince the American people?
A third of the country does not believe Biden legitimately won the election. 51% of Americans believe violence will increase in the next few years. 71% believe democracy is under threat in the country. 42% of people believe that division is the biggest problem facing the incoming administration. These are signs of a deeply divided and pessimistic public.
How will Biden unify the country? The aggravations in American life don’t look to be going anywhere. Donald Trump is a disruptor by nature, and that led to several of the triumphs of his presidency, but as time has gone on, he’s become a destructor. If he continues to play that role, although he will be out of office, divisions will continue to surge. Groups on the far right continue to threaten American democratic ideals.
The bigger and more enduring problem for any serious plans the Biden administration has for unity will come from the far left of his own party. Before the disastrous riots at the Capitol seized national attention, and when it looked as though the GOP would keep the Senate, the looming split in the Democratic party was in the focus. Now the GOP looks prone to implode. But don’t underestimate the pressure of governing; it’s much harder than being in opposition.
Strong voices on the left have not only called for a radical legislative slate, but they’ve also called for blacklists and reparations against their political enemies. While the Lincoln Project has been busy doxing former Trump administration employees, CNN has been promoting interviews with people who want to turn down right-wing voices and pressure companies to discontinue servicing other news networks. Not exactly a recipe for healing.
Although the election results indicate that the American people are wary of both political poles, the left-wing of the Democratic Party is taking control of Congress as a mandate. Losing both runoffs in Georgia could have generational consequences for the GOP, and for the country. Democrats have a very narrow margin in the House, a split Senate, and a president elected because he’s not Donald Trump and he promised a return to normalcy. But they also have total control of the federal government.
Will they go through with packing the court, D.C. and Puerto Rico statehood, nationwide mail-in voting, and abolishing the filibuster? They can if they stick together. Biden’s calls for unity and healing will be challenged by attempts to limit religious freedom, strip tax-exempt status from religious groups, curtail gun rights, and advance LGBTQ causes in schools and workplaces.
No matter what rhetoric president Biden uses to speak to the country on Wednesday, these social and policy goals will determine whether the nation comes together or drifts further apart.
Foreign Policy Challenges
The Trump administration conducted one of the most drastic foreign policy turnarounds in modern political history. These changes led to the Abraham Accords and the new NAFTA, the tariff war with China, the death of Suleimani, withdrawal from international agreements and the WHO, and moving the embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
The Middle East will be a key region to watch as the Biden administration begins to shape foreign policy. Biden’s incoming Secretary of State Anthony Blinken was an instrumental voice in the Paris Climate Accords and the Iran Nuclear Deal, both of which Biden has vowed to rejoin.
Presidential transitions always invite challenges. In the first 100 days of the Biden administrations countries in Europe and the Middle East will seek to renegotiate their relationship with the US, feel out Biden’s commitments to the policies of the Trump and Biden administration, and gauge his interest in taking direct action. Bad actors across the world may see an opportunity to act while the United States is in disarray.
China poses the greatest threat to the world order and one of the weakest spots in Biden’s resume. After bragging that he had spent more one-on-one meeting time with Xi Jinping than any other world leader, he sought to convince the American people that he would be tough on China. Biden plans to curb China’s influence through a grand alliance, utilizing multilateral organizations to pressure and rein in China’s increasingly brutal human rights abuses. This will be more difficult after China’s giant investment pact with the EU, which was signed in December.
In the previous administration, Biden sought to convince China to join international agreements and sign on to broad initiatives. Whether or not China decides to make good on any of their commitments, and whether Biden and Blinken can continue to build relationships with India and the Five Eyes will spell success or doom for Biden’s foreign policy.
To read more on the foreign policy challenges facing Biden, see this essay from two former Obama administration advisors, “How American Can Shore Up Asian Order,” and what’s become a must-read book on the current state of global affairs, Battlegrounds by H.R. McMaster.
Before Biden can begin working on his big agenda items next week, he’ll need to have his nominees clear the Senate. Now that the Democrats effectively control the split Senate, that should guarantee safe passage for most of his picks. However, it will require the VP to be present and presiding over most of the hearings and all of the Democrats to stick together. Expect several of his picks to be grilled by Senate Republicans and a couple to hit snags with moderate democrats. Here’s the hearing schedule for this week.
Outside of cabinet nominees, Sen. Chuck Schumer has a long to-do list to get the Biden administration rolling including swearing in new senators, replacing VP Harris’ seat in California, dividing the committees between the two parties, and passing the next round of stimulus.
In between confirmation hearings, the Senate will be navigating an upcoming impeachment trial. There will be a lot to talk about next week after the Senate returns and Biden is inaugurated. Sens. Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell will both have a say in how the hearings proceed in the Senate. Lead manager Rep. Jamie Raskin announced in an interview yesterday that he will bring the charges to the Senate soon. He argues that although Trump will be out of office, there is a Constitutional precedent for impeaching him and barring him from ever running for office again. Another House manager, Rep. Ted Lieu argued that “removal through impeachment would strip Trump of taxpayer-funded benefits like a pension, health insurance, office space and staff.”
Not everyone agrees on whether or not a president can be impeached after he leaves office. Harvard Law professor, Noah Feldman has argued that Trump can and should be impeached after he leaves office, citing the precedent of former Secretary of War William Belknap in 1876. John Yoo, a law professor at Cal Berkeley argues that the Senate has no jurisdiction to impeach a private citizen and that while Trump did fail to execute his duties, he did not commit a federal crime or incite an insurrection. In a much longer forthcoming law review article, Yoo and Jon C. Philips argue that the founders did not intend for impeachment to be used in cases like this one.
Sen. Ben Sasse wrote a powerful article in The Atlantic this weekend calling the GOP to ditch Trump and conspiracy theories and return to the Constitutional foundations of the party. He cites “America’s junk-food media diet,” the decline of social and political institutions, and the erosion of meaning and identity in the American public. This is a dire and wise warning. Sasse will likely vote to convict.
The most important domino is Sen. Mitch McConnell. Without his vote, Trump is unlikely to be “removed,” but if he votes yes, as Ross Douthat argues he might, that could change the calculus for reaching 67 votes in the Senate.
A new poll shows a slight majority (56%) of Americans favor removing Trump and barring him from running again, but the numbers are split dramatically down party lines. The impeachment trial could further entrench these numbers. We’ll learn a lot when the Senate takes this matter up in the coming weeks.
Cole Feix is the founder and president of So We Speak.