As a veteran of national politics, Biden knows that time is the most precious commodity for a new president. His sense of urgency is reminiscent of that of another very experienced president who served in Congress: Lyndon B. Johnson.
When he assumed the presidency in November 1963, following the tragic assassination of John F. Kennedy, Johnson set a timetable for his closest advisers, including Bill Moyers, to help them understand how quickly a window of progress would open. Johnson picked up a notebook with a cut-out calendar of handwritten columns from November to 1968. Johnson’s message was that he had about a year and a half left before the midterm elections began and that his chances of passing a law were beginning to dwindle. Bill, I just realized how much time we have left to do what we want to do, Moyers said. I intend to end Franklin Roosevelt’s revolution…. In a perfect world… …we’d have about 110 months out of his 144 months… Of course, I never go that far, so suppose we had to do all this in 1965 and 1966, and maybe lose our big lead in Congress in 1966. That means it will be a hell of a fight in 1967 and 1968.
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Biden hopes to deliver the same message at an even more urgent time. Although many Democrats are wondering how he will move forward while the Senate considers impeachment articles, and Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell is counting on filibuster, the president-elect will not be locked up.
Biden’s goal is to repair the damage the Democrats have done, according to Trump. Thanks to executive action, he plans to lift travel bans in a number of predominantly Muslim countries and join the Paris Climate Agreement on his first day in office. It will also do what Mr Trump refused to do to fight the pandemic, including an injunction to cover up federal property and interstate travel, and work to reunite separated families on the US-Mexico border. Biden’s stimulus bill would provide the kind of $350 billion in economic aid to states and localities that Republicans have blocked, and propose a bold immigration plan that would usher in an era of restraint.
Unlike some of the other famous first 100 days, such as Roosevelt’s in 1933, Biden’s plan is primarily aimed at reversing the political direction taken by his predecessor and stabilizing society in the face of a pandemic, rather than embarking on a fundamentally new path that reshapes public policy. Nevertheless, given the circumstances, the plan is extremely ambitious.
Apart from decrees and legislation, the biggest problem in the coming months will be implementation. Here, Biden also showed that he would not be passive. His new government promised to vaccinate 100 million people in 100 days. He is working to open new vaccination centers and said he will use the Defense Production Act to increase vaccine distribution.
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If Biden is working on this agenda, the Senate impeachment proceedings against Trump will not stifle Biden’s first 100 days in office. If the Senate did most of the work, a trial and vote would give Democrats some accountability. There’s even a chance that some Republicans could even get convicted.
The strategy will not be easy. Biden will inevitably be criticized for using the same kind of executive actions that Trump has been accused of. Although Republicans have lost control of the Senate, Senator Mitch McConnell still wields enormous power if his caucuses remain united and Democrats don’t give up on filibustering. The anger and rage of the loyal Trump GOP base will be great. And Biden should be leading a world in which the conservative media continues to peddle conspiracy theories and vilify him over and over again.
But Biden’s attempt at a fresh start could work. The nation may be in crisis, but he will not act like a captured president. The president’s main authority in the early stages is to set the agenda – outlining the issues to be discussed and encouraging Congress on the issues it wants to address.
While President Gerald Ford tried to end our long national nightmare by pardoning President Richard Nixon for the crimes he may have committed, Biden is taking a different approach. It seeks to redefine the political agenda, to bring us out of our national isolation and back to a time when we had ambitions to make this country more welcoming and engaged, to work to combat climate change, to open better global markets, and to take us out of the world that Covid-19 created.