USA TODAY US Edition

As pandemic wanes, Biden’s job gets tough

Pressure mounts from his base on guns, border, police reforms

- Joey Garrison

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

 ?? EVAN VUCCI/AP ?? Liberals expect more action from President Joe Biden on health care, climate, voting rights and more.
EVAN VUCCI/AP Liberals expect more action from President Joe Biden on health care, climate, voting rights and more.
 ?? TOP: BRANDON BELL/GETTY IMAGES; BOTTOM: BETHANY BAKER/USA TODAY NETWORK ?? Biden faces calls to stop police violence against African Americans and to prevent mass shootings.
TOP: BRANDON BELL/GETTY IMAGES; BOTTOM: BETHANY BAKER/USA TODAY NETWORK Biden faces calls to stop police violence against African Americans and to prevent mass shootings.
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