Most of us are ready to welcome a new team in Washington to run our huge government. But how much change will President Joe Biden bring with him?
Without question, this will be the most diverse collection of Cabinet members ever been assembled by a new president. Biden’s aim resembles that of President Franklin Roosevelt, who in 1933 put together a wide range of political groups that he expected to give his Democratic Party control of the presidency for many years. In fact, he and his successor, Harry Truman, occupied the Oval Office for the next 20 years.
A striking omission from Biden’s Cabinet appointments is the left wing of his Democratic Party. Sen. Bernie Sanders lobbied for a Cabinet appointment because Biden needed support from young people who liked Sanders’ socialist ideas. Sen. Elizabeth Warren was another liberal who was passed over. She represents the anti-Wall Street segment of the party. A far-left liberal firebrand, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, vocal advocate of massive change in Washington, didn’t get a job in Biden’s administration, but she will continue her campaign to move the party leftward.
A major reason for Biden’s omission of left-wing appointees became obvious when congressional elections were tabulated. Instead of gaining seats in the House of Representatives, as predicted, the party lost them. They did capture control of the Senate, however, after two run-off elections in Georgia were won by Democrats, giving the party control of the Senate once Vice President Kamala Harris is installed as president of the Senate and the tie-breaker in 50-50 votes. President Biden may now have difficulty restraining the big spenders in his own party.
If Biden intends to pursue moderate instead of radical change in policy, what should we look for in his domestic and foreign policies?
Biden will start by insisting that Congress provide more funds for the unemployed and others experiencing the effects of the COVID pandemic. President Trump’s last-minute demand that pending legislation should provide much larger funding for individuals will help Biden persuade Congress to approve more spending.
Biden will reinstate many environmental regulations that Trump dropped, charging they stifled the economy.
The new president also will give labor groups more say in formulating policies that benefit workers. Democrats learned from the November elections that the party lost many traditional supporters among labor because of erosion in the party’s appeal to working people.
President Biden’s toughest domestic problem will be persuading Congress to raise taxes on the middle class and plug massive loopholes in the tax code that favor special interests. Conservatives deplore spending trillions of dollars on COVID-related needs by adding to the massive national debt. Biden will need to persuade a tax-averse public and a reluctant Congress that action is essential if America expects to continue as a leading power. Success of his presidency may depend on how he manages this major task.
The first thing he’ll do as president, Biden says, will rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement that Trump abandoned in 2017. That’s an easy decision, because it costs the U.S. nothing and enhances America’s international reputation. It also supports the new president’s domestic program of focusing attention on environmental issues.
Biden also wants to rejoin the Iran Nuclear Agreement that Mr. Trump denounced because, he said, it didn’t include long-range missiles and didn’t curtail Tehran’s military support for Syria’s brutal regime. Biden says he will press for renegotiation of the 2015 agreement and insure Iran doesn’t secretly produce nuclear weapons and that it stops production of missiles that endanger Israel.
But the major foreign policy issues remain what they are today: How to deal with China that practices predatory trade tactics and expands its territorial waters to encroach on Vietnam, the Philippines, and Japan. Even more dangerous, China is building up its military to force a showdown over Taiwan, which it claims as Chinese territory. Mr. Biden must decide whether defending Taiwan is a vital U.S. interest and, if so, how to counter China’s moves.
Another danger is Russia’s policy under Vladimir Putin. He uses all means short of war to expand Russia’s influence in Eastern Europe and the Baltic Sea countries. He is replacing the U.S. as pre-eminent power among the Arab states. Biden will need the cooperation of Europe to counter Putin’s moves, support which Trump neglected.
The new president may find that his dealings on these and other issues come closer to Trump’s policies than many in his party admit. The foreign policies pursued by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, with Trump’s support, were realistic ones that many Democrats who preceded them would appreciate.
Realism rather than American idealism in foreign policy is fully understood abroad, especially in Beijing and Moscow. Biden seems to fit that role.
Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and author who lives near Charlottesville.