On Saturday, November 8th, 2020, Joseph R. Biden Jr. was projected to become the 46th President of the United States. The verdict became clear after he won the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which pushed his Electoral College votes over the 270 he required to win. While Biden’s win was met with immediate celebration in many parts of the country, his biggest challenges might still lie ahead. He is stepping into the White House while the country endures profound economic hardship, and during an ongoing pandemic that has already claimed more American lives than the Vietnam War.
Biden’s agenda includes a public healthcare option, codifying abortion rights into legislation, and the decriminalization of recreational cannabis. His response plan for COVID-19—dubbed “Build Back Better”—will attempt to acknowledge and repair the disastrous impact of Trump’s response to the virus, which has left 237,000 Americans dead, by providing nationwide testing and hazard pay for essential workers. Biden also ran on a highly ambitious climate change platform by embracing the framework of the Green New Deal, a proposed set of legislative initiatives derived from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s, combined with green initiatives such as renewable energy and resource efficiency. Biden has promised a nearly $2 trillion investment in clean energy and infrastructure and also supports regulations on fracking.
Biden will likely have to take power with a majority Republican Senate, which could severely obstruct many of the president’s proposals. As executive actions can only take the president so far, a Republican-majority Senate could trammel Biden’s proposals, effectively preventing the realization of Biden’s agenda from the start. Republican presidents have had far fewer restrictions in implementing their agenda precisely because of a Republican majority Senate, and there is a deeper history of Republican presidents being granted far more freedom than their Democratic counterparts.
In 2016, then-President Barack Obama attempted to appoint Merrick Garland to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia and was prevented by a Senate Republican majority. The Republican majority refused to consider the nomination on the basis that, because it was Obama’s last year as president, the next elected president should be the one to fill the seat. Less than five years later, Trump was able to appoint Amy Coney Barrett to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg less than one month before the next Presidential Election. Furthermore, Trump has appointed three Supreme Court justices during his time in office, an unprecedented move.
The road ahead may be rough for Biden due to the stifling influence of a Republican-majority Senate. The upcoming run-off races in the state of Georgia are paramount in determining control of the Senate. If the Senate has a majority of Republican seats during Biden’s presidency, one wonders how much “building back” he will be allowed to do.
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