The Biden presidency and top Democrats suddenly face a moment of truth with an audacious nation-changing agenda imperiled by the treacherous political math of divided Washington and stiff resistance by pro-Trump Republicans.
A crucial phase is now unfolding with President Joe Biden’s plans to redefine the concept of infrastructure, with huge government social spending, slowed by stumbling bipartisan talks with the GOP. Hopes of a sweeping voting reform law to counter Republican efforts in the states to restrict access to the ballot have no clear path forward in the Senate. A bipartisan drive for a relatively modest tightening of background checks for some gun buyers is at risk of fizzling. The best chance for a headline-grabbing win may be intense talks on police reform between Republican Sen. Tim Scott and two top Democrats. But hopes that a deal could happen before the anniversary of George Floyd’s death this week have faded. And the President is yet to unveil expected efforts to tackle immigration reform and climate change — two highly divisive policy areas.
Biden is trying to capitalize on the perception among Democrats that after a once-in-a-century pandemic and grave economic crisis, the country is ready for a fundamental shift in attitude toward ambitious government solutions. But the reality of a 50-50 Senate means he cannot even guarantee all of his own party is on side with his biggest goals. Republicans, still in thrall to ex-President Donald Trump, have already shifted to a war path to the 2022 midterm elections. This week in the Senate they are expected to block a bipartisan, independent commission into the January 6 Capitol insurrection. The move would further enshrine the turn by a party that once boasted it won the Cold War against totalitarian communism away from safeguarding democracy in its own country.
Perceptions of the economy — always an important driver of political sentiment and key to a President’s authority — are caught in a strange limbo. Some signals are pointing to a bounce back to match the Roaring Twenties 100 years ago but other data on jobs and inflation offers an opening for GOP claims that Biden’s big government policies are inviting trouble.