But Biden banked on the national success of his own presidency. And this poses an excruciating challenge in two overlapping ways.
He chose it for the popularity of its elements and the effects he envisions expanding opportunities and changing the course of the US economy. Its promulgation represents the test par excellence of its wish to show that democracies can “be at the service of their people”.
Yet the ultra-thin majorities in the Democratic Congress cast doubt on the prospects of defeating Republican resistance.
During Biden’s trip, developments on Capitol Hill gave the White House a silver lining. Ten senators from each party moved closer to a bipartisan compromise on the physical infrastructure elements of their plan.
Adopting this compromise could in turn reduce the cost of – and increase the willingness of moderate Democrats to vote for – a follow-up package with the remaining elements through a budget “reconciliation” process requiring only democratic votes. If Republicans block the compromise, moderate Democrats will see party unity on a reconciliation plan as the only way to act.
“Progress but still a lot of bumps to come,” a senior administration official told CNN. As long as 41 of the 50 Republican senators can kill one party by obstruction and one of the 50 Democrats can kill the other party by defection, it’s safer to bet on the bumps.
Biden’s second big challenge is to maintain government control for his party over a GOP with growing overtones of authoritarianism. Heightening the bet on Senatorial Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s famous but unsuccessful pledge to make Barack Obama a single-term president, Wyoming GOP Senator John Barrasso has publicly said he aims to keep Biden at a “half-hour”. mandate “of effective governance.
The long-established pattern of midterm elections indicates that Republicans are getting there. The typical midterm gain for the party that doesn’t own the White House would easily wipe out the 222-212 Democratic majority in the House; a mere gain of a Senate seat would make McConnell the majority leader again.
Additionally, Republicans are using Red State governments to tip the scales in the wake of Trump’s election lies and the failed Jan.6 insurgency on the U.S. Capitol. Their efforts include strengthening partisan oversight of election results certifications and reducing voting practices in 2020.
Democrats have sounded the alarm bells on voting restrictions. But the well-known 10-year process of redrawing the boundaries of the District of House poses a greater threat to their majority.
“The upcoming redistribution fights will make debates over electoral law changes look like a walk in the park,” said David Wasserman, a redistribution expert at the Cook Political Report. With Republicans in full control of state governments drawing 187 districts to 75 Democrats, gerrymandering alone could overthrow the House.
Biden found a silver lining last week for the Democratic effort to protect voting rights as well. Most recalcitrant Democratic senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia unveiled what he presented as a bipartisan compromise accepting Republican calls to demand voter identification while banning partisan gerrymanders, making Election Day a national holiday and guaranteeing 15 consecutive days of early voting.
It will not produce bipartisan courtesy. McConnell pledged opposition to roadblocks after black Georgia politician Stacey Abrams, a leading voting rights activist, passed it.
As with infrastructure, Democrats could still take advantage of Republican resistance to compromise on voting rights.
One possibility is that Manchin himself could join with other Democrats in voting to bypass the filibuster rules in order to pass his plan in the name of protecting democracy. More likely, the specter of abuse of power by a GOP blocking an independent January 6 investigation will provide Democrats with a powerful 2022 mobilization tool.
Biden’s party has other strengths. Having lost seats in the House in 2020, they have fewer marginal seats to protect. Trump remains dominant inside the GOP but a political burden outside. The participation of his blue collar base may sag without him on the ballot.
The reopened economy, boosted by Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion Covid relief program, is growing as the pandemic recedes. Biden has consistently held a net positive jobs approval rating – much like Bill Clinton in 1998 and George W. Bush in 2002, the only two presidents in the past half-century to win midterm seats.
Yet the historical ebb that Biden faces has been consistent and strong. His partisan opponents wield powerful weapons and a relentless determination to see him fail. Even for an experienced president with seasoned advisers, changing Vladimir Putin’s behavior may seem easy in comparison.