Following his inauguration this week, Joe Biden’s new administration faces an immediate challenge; how to deal with a Republican Party which, having almost unwaveringly rallied behind Donald Trump for the past four years, is now looking to reform the party again into something more electorally palatable.
Predictably prominent GOP members are calling for ‘unity and healing’, as they did throughout Barack Obama’s tenure. Whilst calling for national reconciliation is a sensible move, to follow this path of bipartisanship in Congress would be a mistake.
Biden, and Democrats in general, cannot repeat the same mistakes of the Obama presidency, dampening down policy so that Biden may be labelled as a great unifier by the press. Pursuing such a course would only weaken needed legislation, further empower the American radical right and disaffect the progressive wing the Democratic Party desperately needs to find electoral success in the future.
Starting with punishing those responsible for inspiring the recent riot in Washington, Biden and Democrats must not allow Republicans to control the post-Trump narrative.
A clear priority is how to deal with the members of Congress who created the political landscape which triggered an attempted insurrection in early January. Despite a complete lack of evidence for their claims, 126 Republican members of the House of Representatives supported contesting 2020’s election results, even after the Capitol Riot.
Many of these same Republicans, like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Representative Jim Jordan, and Senator Ted Cruz, are now saying: ‘We must come together and put this anger and division behind us.’ None of these prominent Republicans saw fit to do this before the riot, all employing similarly brazen language as President Trump to contest the results and then using the myth of the stolen election to fundraise.
Through this pivot they reveal the true nature of many key figures of the current GOP; a group of electoral grifters ready to abandon most of the political fundamentals as long as it gives them a better chance of keeping their conservative agenda alive.
Biden and the Democratic Congress cannot lose sight of how, cheered on by many within his party, a sitting president encouraged an insurrection against the democratic process. Those responsible for such actions should be punished, and lose their place within US politics, regardless of how much they now call for bipartisanship and unity.
This sudden change from many Republicans, away from Trump and now seeking to appeal to the political centre, is indicative of an issue which will continue to plague Biden throughout his presidency: how to work with the supposedly reformed party on the other side of Congress. No doubt the GOP will use the same lines they did under Obama, emphasising the need for cooperation between the two parties and claiming that anything else would be a radical liberal/socialist tyranny.
What this ignores is how few Republicans had any objection to the majority of Trump’s behaviour for the past four years, as long as it furthered their conservative agenda: three Supreme Court Justices, increases in defence spending, tightened immigration laws, as well as enormous tax breaks for the wealthiest in society. For each of these expensive policies, little bipartisanship was shown.
It is, therefore, surprising that the party is so concerned over the potential impact on the deficit when $2000 stimulus cheques for Americans struggling through the pandemic are mentioned.
Senator Lindsey Graham epitomises this concern the best, clamouring that now is the time to ‘finally begin to address the debt.’ Graham and the now Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had similar concerns about the cheques becoming ‘socialism for rich people.’ However, they were more than happy to implement tax cuts for their rich friends which resulted in a deficit increase of $1 trillion, Trump leaving office with the deficit 36% ($8.3 trillion) higher than when he entered it.
In the aftermath of the pandemic, President Biden must not get stuck in debates over fiscal responsibility with a party that has chosen to ignore it for the past four years. Obama failed to do so, and his policy was constantly stifled by deficit hawks both in Congress and within the media.
For example, the Affordable Care Act could have been far more progressive had Obama been more resolute against these Republican attacks. With a healthcare crisis overshadowing his first year in office, Biden cannot allow similar obstacles to be placed before him.
The deficit is merely one example of the current Republican hypocrisy. One does not need to look far to see the difference in treatment of Supreme Court nominees Merrick Garland and Amy Coney Barrett, the latter of whom was rushed through a confirmation process the former was denied by the GOP. Whilst we can criticise the Republican party for this flip-flop, the Biden presidency needs to be careful not to fall into the same trap as Obama.
Biden cannot spend four years hamstrung in Congress looking for compromises or following rules the other party would not. On the one hand, it gives the GOP an enormous amount of undeserved power, but more importantly, it excuses the behaviour of the GOP throughout the Trump presidency.
The chaos, however, does not just belong to Trump as 56% of the Republican base and many of its members of Congress, who spent the past four years enabling his assault on American democracy, still support him.
We need to punish those responsible for the outright violence seen at the Capitol, but also we cannot allow Republicans to get away with suddenly rediscovering their ‘principles’ to hinder Biden’s agenda.