Chairman's Desk

Biden is the man to lead a divided government and country

This article was originally published in the Toronto Star on November 8, 2020.

On Friday afternoon, it looked increasingly likely that Joseph R. Biden Jr. would secure the 270 electoral votes needed to earn the title of president-elect. It also became clear he wouldn’t be given the tools to drive sweeping change anywhere other than at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

True, Biden has probably sent Trump packing from the White House, but the same cannot be said for their respective parties.

As things stood on Friday, the Democrats failed miserably in their attempts to dispatch Republicans from other branches and orders of government. The Republicans held the Senate. Gained five seats in the House. Held five and flipped one statehouse. And Trump increased his own raw vote by nearly seven million votes.

The result? Mitch McConnell and other congressional Republicans will argue that Joe Biden has no mandate from the American people; that he has no right to move the country in a different direction. However, they are wrong — Biden did earn a personal mandate.

Biden secured the support of some 74 million Americans. And he did it without stoking the politics of division and anger that have come to define politics across the United States.

True, millions of voters endorsed Donald Trump’s vision of America. But the clear message from the suburban voters, among other groups, was a loud rebuke of Trump’s four years in office.

Although Trump and his party will try desperately to undermine the legitimacy of Biden’s win and the legitimacy of their own political system along the way, the writing is on the wall. Come rain or shine, Joe Biden will most likely be sworn into office on January 20, 2021 alongside a Democratic house majority and a Senate whose balance of power will be decided in two January run-off elections.

But what will Biden be able to achieve, assuming he becomes president? Well, if Senator Mitch McConnell is to be believed, very little. Sources close to McConnell have signalled that the majority leader intends to restrict Biden’s independence in selecting his cabinet. Never mind the fact that presidents are generally given wide leeway in choosing their team — it is shameful that McConnell could not even wait for the final results before stirring up exactly the divisive obstructionism that is his calling card.

McConnell’s comments highlight the emerging dynamic that will define Biden’s potential presidency: the impossible task of uniting a country while leading a divided government. As if his task was not already challenging enough, this reality will seriously frustrate Biden’s ability to unite its progressive and moderate wings and deliver for his party.

Unless Biden can take decisive action on issues like climate change and racial justice, progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders will resist attempts to bring them into the fold. Without their support, it’s hard to see how the president-elect can protect his moderate allies in the Democratic leadership. As it is, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are vulnerable to a leadership challenge and, in Schumer’s case, a 2022 primary challenge from oh, say, a popular, young, progressive congresswoman from Queens.

Mending those divisions will not be an easy task. But in a peculiar way, Biden is uniquely — perhaps singularly — suited to the job. He served 37 years in the Senate, plus another eight years as Senate president while Obama’s VP. He knows not only McConnell, but moderate Republicans like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, whose support he will need to achieve policy wins.

More importantly, Biden is determined to govern. Unlike Trump, whose four years in the presidency constituted a rolling, never-ending political campaign, Biden has a platform for his term. He has a determination to remind Americans that politics is about policy, not polls. He has ideas for rebuilding the nation and for improving lives in states — both blue and red — across the country.

And most importantly, the way things currently look he will have a personal mandate, one underpinned by the largest popular vote in American history and the first rout of an incumbent president since 1992.

So, we’ll have to wait to hear from Republican leaders and final vote tallies to know more about the fate of Biden’s policy objectives. But for now, the only thing they should be saying is, “congratulations, Mr. President-elect.”

What a relief that would be.