Conventional wisdom suggests that the best-case scenario for President-elect Joe Biden is for Democrats to sweep the two Senate runoffs in Georgia in January, wins that would hand Democrats control of both sides of the US Capitol, not to mention the White House.
Conventional wisdom, though, isn’t always right – especially when dealing with raw political calculations.
Look. There’s no question that a Democratic Senate majority would make it easier for Biden to select a Cabinet that he really wants as opposed to one he thinks can secure the few Republican votes necessary to be confirmed if the GOP holds onto their majority. And that unified control, of the legislative and executive branches at least, creates the possibility of two years of Democrats’ putting forward their dream legislation on everything from health care to taxes to immigration.
But dream scenarios almost always remain just that – even when a party controls all the levers of power. Consider what we know about Biden and the current state of the Democratic Party in Congress:
Biden ran (and won) on a promise of a return to “normal” politics.
“I just think there is a way, and the thing that will fundamentally change things is with Donald Trump out of the White House,” Biden said back in May 2019. “Not a joke. You will see an epiphany occur among many of my Republican friends.” His entire message – especially in the general election – was that Republican elected officials were fundamentally good people who he could work with if elected president, not mindless drones following President Donald Trump down a dead-end road.
Biden’s record in Congress (and as VP) is as a deal-maker.
Biden is the epitome of a pragmatic centrist, and a guy who likes to find a way to make deals – even if it requires giving something to Republicans in order to get something for his side. (Biden clearly relished his work with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to avert the debt ceiling crisis of 2011 and the fiscal cliff of 2013.) In a town hall just weeks before the 2020 election, Biden said this of his plans if he won:
“What I will be doing as – if I’m elected president, the first thing – and not a joke, and you can ask, if they’d tell you, your dad’s old friends on the Republican side. I’m going to pick up the phone and call them and say, ‘Let’s get together. We’ve got to figure out how we’re going to move forward here.’ Because there are so many things we really do agree on.”
The Democratic party is fractured between centrist and liberals.
Just eight days removed from a disappointing election which will see them lose seats, House Democrats have rapidly turned into a circular firing squad. Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger denounced her liberal colleagues on a phone call last week. “We need to not ever use the words ‘socialist’ or ‘socialism’ ever again,” she said. “Because while people think it doesn’t matter, it does matter. And we lost good members because of it.” Which drew an immediate rebuke from New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the caucus’ most prominent, liberal voice.
“You can’t just tell the Black, Brown, & youth organizers riding in to save us every election to be quiet or not have their reps champion them when they need us,” AOC tweeted. “Or wonder why they don’t show up for midterms when they’re scolded for existing. Esp when they’re delivering victories.”
Now, given all of that, think about Biden’s challenge if Democrats manage to win back Senate control in Georgia early next year.
He will be constantly pressured by liberals – particularly in the House – to push programs like the “Green New Deal,” “Medicare for All” and all sorts of other progressive wish list items. (Biden, of course, has already made clear he doesn’t support those massive liberal initiatives.) And he will also be pushed to pick liberal favorites for top Cabinet posts – like Elizabeth Warren at Treasury or Bernie Sanders at Labor.
It would be a massive headache for Biden. While he could try to go his own way – in terms of Cabinet picks and his first-term agenda – he would face opposition from the liberal left at every turn. And while Biden’s primary win over several more liberal options does suggest the pragmatic center of the Democratic Party remains vital, there is little doubt that the passion (and donor dollars) are primarily located on the ideological left.
Now, consider the alternative. Biden is president while his old friend McConnell is Senate majority leader. (In 2016, as Biden was leaving his role as vice president, McConnell described Biden as “a real friend … a trusted partner. … We’re all going to miss you.”) Biden can credibly make the case that there is no point in pushing through certain legislation in the House because it will be DOA in the Senate. While liberals might hate that, they’d struggle to deny the obvious political reality.
Which would leave Biden in the role he not only campaigned on but spent decades in the Senate (and as vice president) perfecting: Cutting deals on major issues facing the country that might not make everyone happy, but which move the ball slightly closer to a goal.
You tell me: Which scenario sounds more appealing to the Biden that we know?