On January 20th, Joe Biden placed his hands on the Bible and officially became the 46th President of the United States. His inauguration marked the end of the months-long fiasco that has been the power transition, one that has marred the processes of American democracy and sowed new fear of the election procedure for years to come. But the fight is not even remotely over. As President, Joe Biden’s responsibility of attempting to mend an America crippled by COVID-19 is one that may destroy any hope for his presidency proving itself as a successful term.
As of January 22, 2021, America is suffering from 24.5 million cases of COVID-19—and that number is sure to keep rising. Biden’s inheritance of this America echoes the predicament that Barack Obama faced in 2008, when he was tasked with shouldering the horrible economy that George W. Bush Jr. had left for him: just like Bush, Biden will be inevitably blamed for America’s disastrous mishandling of the pandemic. Under his administration, it seems likely that the national attitude toward COVID-19 will only become more cavalier.
Trump himself has questioned the legitimacy of the election, leading his supporters to do the same. According to NPR, around 80% of Republicans believe that the election was fraudulent in some way. With a Democrat president coming in at the heels of such a hotly contested race, any solution presented by Biden will find natural resistance with about half of the country. This is a huge problem when a solution offered by the Democrats in Congress could save immeasurable amounts of lives.
Biden has the ability to do some work; he won’t be relegated to act as a sitting duck for the entirety of his presidency. He has the House, and with just enough control in the Senate now that Georgia has gone to the Democrats, there will be certain broad measures, such as bipartisan support for COVID restrictions or guidelines concerning how to combat the coronavirus that can be passed quickly and effectively. Legislation that doesn’t require extensive work, national coordination, or movement of supplies will likely find an easier path to success in a Senate that could potentially find itself gridlocked. It’s the sweeping stimulus checks for Americans still economically affected by COVID-19, the rent cancellations and reductions, the national mask mandate, and other huge pieces of national legislation that will be met with extreme resistance. The political tension already exists; Mitch McConnell has made headlines numerous times this past week for pushing back efforts to increase direct payments to Americans to $2,000, even going so far as to speak out against President Trump’s wishes. It’s in this political arena that Biden will undergo trial by fire as an incoming President—will he willingly make concessions to Republicans in order to garner approval, or will he stick by his original legislation (and in doing so, potentially cause gridlock)?
With a majority in the Senate and House, Biden will face little to no trouble in passing legislation that will speed up America’s fight against the coronavirus. However, the gravity of the legislation will require bipartisan support, something that Biden may find hard to come by given the lack of bipartisanship in the Senate. At the same time, it is entirely possible that these bill texts may simply not be enough. Through their terrible mishandling of COVID-19, Republican politicians have demonstrated a complete and utter disregard for human life, and there is no doubt that McConnell and other high-ranking Republicans would use the urgency of implementing change to sneak in legislation that would benefit them in the future. In December 21, 2020, for example, pro-life policies such as the Hyde Amendment and the Weldon Amendment found support in the $1.4 trillion fiscal year omnibus introduced by the Senate. Trump’s recent attacks on the election results, combined with the sheer number of Republicans willing to speak out against the legitimacy of the Biden administration, spell troubling news for the Biden administration. He will have to deal with a powerful Senate minority that views him as an illegitimate president.
It’s an unfair situation, but one that Biden has inherited. There is no real way for Biden to blame this on Trump, either; it was up to Obama to fix the broken economy he was handed, a task he was able to successfully. Whether or not Biden will be able to deal with the coronavirus in an America this politically divided is left to be decided. But in an America that’s reeling from a domestic terrorist attack upon its own Capitol, Biden faces a tough road ahead of him.
By Kenneth Kim
Illustration by Lauren Young for Science Friday