USA TODAY International Edition
As pandemic wanes, Biden’s job gets tough
Pressure mounts from his base on guns, border, police reforms
WASHINGTON – From the moment he took office, Joe Biden made combating a raging pandemic the central focus of his presidency, deploying a wartime effort to distribute vaccines and laying out attainable goals to assure the public of progress.
More than 100 days later, other challenges have moved to the forefront.
Eased concerns about the pandemic have led to heightened demands from key constituencies – particularly among liberals – for major action on gun control, policing changes to curb racial discrimination, overhauling President Donald Trump’s hard- line immigration policies and more.
Biden is pushing the most dramatic expansion of the federal government’s social safety net in decades. He won congressional approval in March of a $ 1.9 trillion COVID- 19 rescue bill loaded with spending to help the poor. He
proposed a $ 4 trillion transformation of the U. S. economy with plans to rebuild infrastructure, invest in green technology, expand caregiving for seniors, subsidize child care and institute a national policy for paid family leave.
Biden faces added pressure from the left to deliver beyond his COVID- 19 response and economic agenda. If he doesn’t, he risks alienating those who helped put him in office, support that could be critical for Democrats’ efforts to maintain control of Congress in the 2022 midterms.
“Some people close to the Biden administration want to say he’s already achieved the success of FDR and LBJ, and I would say we are nowhere close to achieving those aspirations,” said Waleed Shahid of the left- leaning Justice Democrats organization.
Shahid applauded Biden’s work to administer vaccines, his inclusion of climate efforts in his infrastructure package and the decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. But he said progressives expect more action on health care, such as lowering the age eligibility threshold for Medicare, transitioning to clean renewable energy, adopting a $ 15 minimum wage, overhauling policing, expanding voting rights and passing comprehensive immigration reform.
“The administration’s focus – and the whole country’s focus – has been on getting through this pandemic,” Shahid said. “As more and more people get vaccinated, as the pandemic hopefully subsides, there’s more urgency to touch these issues that there’s been no action on for several years.”
‘ The unfinished business’
Biden used his first address to a joint session of Congress Wednesday night to push for several liberal causes. He set an ambitious goal of May 25 – the anniversary of George Floyd’s death – for the Senate to pass policing legislation named in the Minnesota man’s honor that would bolster police accountability and prevent problem officers from moving from one department to another.
The bill, which cleared the House in March, would end certain police practices that have been under scrutiny amid high- profile shootings of Black Americans by officers.
Biden is set to meet with House and Senate leaders from both parties May 12 to discuss the infrastructure and families plans and negotiate police changes.
“I think he’s going to push more on policing in the future, but we have to hold him accountable,’’ said Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League. “There’s a lot more left to do. The unfinished business is longer than the finished business.”
For more than 30 years, Biden said in his speech, politicians have talked about immigration reform. “It’s time to fix it,” he said, calling for members of Congress to pass legislation to secure the border and establish a pathway to citizenship.
After a series of mass shootings, Biden called for the Senate to pass legislation to strengthen gun background checks and reinstate a ban on certain weapons and high- capacity magazines. “I don’t want to become confrontational,” Biden said, “but we need more Senate Republicans to join with the overwhelming majority of their Democratic colleagues” to pass gun control.
Filibuster threatens agenda
Republican lawmakers have shown no willingness to support gun control or immigration changes. Unless compromise is reached, Biden faces a seemingly impossible path to pass these measures because of the threat of the filibuster that would require 60 votes in the evenly divided Senate to overcome.
These bills will have a tougher climb than Biden’s COVID- 19 rescue plan, which Democrats approved through a process called budget reconciliation without any Republican support. Biden could seek passage via the same legislative route with his American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan – as long as all Democrats stick together in support.
If Democratic- backed legislation is blocked by Senate Republicans, it could fuel more outcries from the left urging Biden to support getting rid of the filibuster. Though he called the filibuster a “relic of the Jim Crow era,” Biden has stopped short of saying the tactic should be eliminated.
“Over time, it’s only going to get more difficult for him,” said William Howell, a political scientist and professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy.
He said the COVID- 19 relief package had the best chance for success. Biden’s infrastructure and families plans are a harder lift. “Then when you look down the pike: Comprehensive immigration reform? Gun control legislation?”
Howell said the big question is whether Biden will consider “democracy reform,” such as overhauling the filibuster. “There’s just not a world,” he argued, where Biden would pick up 10 GOP votes to achieve the progressive agenda.
“If he wants to make headway on those, he’s going to have to start talking about reforms to the legislative process itself,” Howell said. “That would be a game changer.”
“Some people close to the Biden administration want to say he’s already achieved the success of FDR and LBJ, and I would say we are nowhere close to achieving those aspirations.” Waleed Shahid Justice Democrats