He was a prominent senator who wanted to be the Democrats’ presidential candidate, but ended up being content with being the vice-president of a young and charismatic newcomer to the party. This president gave him an increased role as second-in-command, giving the vice president skills he later used when he took on the role of commander-in-chief.
As president, he wanted to pass a civil rights law considered essential to ensure equality of black voters at the ballot box, and he used what has been called “treatment” to rally nervous members of the Congress.
It was President Lyndon B. Johnson, who used both his own connections on Capitol Hill and the unique influence of the Oval Office to do what seemed nearly impossible – convince Congress, where essential leadership roles were held. by segregationists – to pass the course. Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965.
More than half a century later, President Joe Biden faces a similar situation. As Republican-led state legislatures pass dozens of restrictive election laws – making it more difficult to vote, especially for minorities and the poor, critics say – the president is under tremendous pressure to pressure Congress to that he thwarts these new laws with sweeping federal standards on voting rights. But can Biden channel his inner LBJ to make it happen?
Biden surely has advantages that LBJ had – an in-depth knowledge of the Senate, its rules and its personalities, experts note. But the president also lacks the assets Johnson has enjoyed, from the transition (Democrats held a large majority in Congress in the 1960s) to the near-anachronistic, mystical and intimidating of the presidential office.
What have the “intimidating chair” presidents used to rally American voters and with them, lawmakers, to support major political agendas? It is collapsing, deteriorating under the weight of social media platforms that give everyone the opportunity to call themselves a leader or journalist.
Political cartoons about Joe Biden
“Anyone can be on stage now. You get a mental picture of the president standing in the pulpit of the bullies on the stage but no one is in the audience. That’s because everyone who was once in the audience is in. done on stage with their own mini-chair, and I don’t want to be persuaded, ”says Barbara Perry, presidential researcher at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia.
Biden also doesn’t have the power of LBJ to terrify his former colleagues – partly because the affable former Delaware senator doesn’t have LBJ’s over-the-top personality, but mostly because presidents don’t have the power. that they once had to elevate or crush the careers of inferiors. rank of their own party members.
“LBJ was considered a master of Congress because he had served there for so long. He knew how to use the levers,” said Donald Wolfensberger, Congressman at the Wilson Center, noting that the large majority of Democrats left a margin of maneuver to Johnson. .
Johnson was known to have twisted the arms of his former colleagues: he once said to his former boss, Senator Richard Russell, “Dick, I love you. I owe you, but if you challenge me on these bills on civil rights, I’m gonna crush you! ” The late Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota – a man who would later become vice president himself – told biographer Robert Caro that “The president grabbed me by the shoulder and almost broke my arm!” when Johnson was dealing with the Senate on civil rights.
“Everyone who was once in the audience is actually on stage with their own mini-chair and doesn’t want to be persuaded.”
Biden, meanwhile, faces an almost opposite situation. With the Senate split 50-50, every Democratic vote is needed to pass something by simple majority, giving amplified authority to any senator who wants to delay things. At present, this individual is a moderate Democratic senator from dark red West Virginia, who balks at the most radical version of a franchise bill as well as the idea of eliminating the vote. Senate obstruction – a dramatic proposal that would make it easier for Democrats to pass things without a single GOP vote.
“For years people have been talking about the ‘imperial presidency’. People would worry about this every time we saw an increase in executive orders, “a tactic used by presidents to make policy changes without congressional approval,” says Vanessa Beasley, a professor at Vanderbilt University and expert in presidential rhetoric.
But now Congress – especially individual members of Congress who aren’t afraid of the potential wrath of the president or party leaders – is holding the levers, she said. “Why do we even know who Joe Manchin is right now?” referring to the Senior Senator from West Virginia.
Progressive groups have urged Biden to “end the filibuster” – which no president has the power to do, since the tool is a function of Senate traditions – or to exert more pressure on Manchin.
“President Biden’s Remarks in Philadelphia,” where Biden gave a fiery speech on the importance of voter protection, “indicates he may not understand that failure to act in Congress is an event execution for democracy and the Democratic Party, “said Josh Silver, co-founder of RepresentUs, a pro-democracy electoral reform group. Without swift action, GOP legislatures will soon begin to draw gerrymandered lines for state and federal offices, locking district boundaries for a decade, he adds.
But for Biden, putting the screws on Manchin is risky, experts say. West Virginia – one of the most pro-Donald Trump states in the 2020 election – is unlikely to respond warmly if their senator appears to be following the orders of the man who beat Trump.
Texas state lawmakers in Washington to prevent a vote on draconian election law in the state legislature met with Manchin to pressure him over voting rights and filibustering. But while Manchin has indicated he wants some sort of voting rights bill, he hasn’t moved the obstruction – meaning even a reduced vote bill might not pass the Senate. very divided.
The filibuster still in place – and likely will remain so for the foreseeable future – Democrats are considering another legislative workaround, budget reconciliation, to achieve their ends. While it would be a stretch for Democrats to address voter protection in the budget bill, they are preparing a massive $ 3.5 trillion package to implement many of Biden’s other priorities that Republicans are now upholding. Budget reconciliation bills cannot be filibustered, so they only need the support of every Democratic senator.
The bill would be on top of a separate $ 600 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill and would include huge elements of the president’s national agenda, including initiatives to address climate change, expansion of Medicare and Medicaid, senior care, child care, family and medical leave, among other items. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York has said he wants to start the two-way strategy next week, even though the infrastructure bill has not been fully drafted.
Bill Hoagland, senior vice president of the Bipartisan Policy Center who served for three decades on the GOP Senate Budget Committee, is concerned about the extensive use of budget reconciliation, which is supposed to be strictly reserved for budget items. And he says it’s directly related to the massive use of filibuster by senators from both parties.
The use of filibuster to simply thwart an opposing party’s agenda has created “this pressure to find an alternative to removing filibuster or to find another way around it,” says Hoagland. “You can almost track the increase” in reconciliation bills with the increase in obstructions, he adds.
The president, meanwhile, retains the optimism of an earlier era. “I am extremely confident that everything will go perfectly,” Biden joked Thursday at a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. And despite critics, he added, he believed Congress would accept both a bipartisan infrastructure bill and a budget reconciliation bill. “I don’t think he’s dead. I think he’s still alive, ”Biden said.
Meanwhile, “right now for Joe Biden, it feels like his whole agenda depends on Joe Manchin,” Perry says. That leaves the world’s most powerful man with little power to force his party’s Capitol Hill contingent into line.
But the margin of error is minimal. “Right now, for Joe Biden, it feels like his whole agenda depends on Joe Manchin,” Perry said. That leaves the world’s most powerful man with little power to force his party’s Capitol Hill contingent into line.