By this time in Donald Trump's presidency Michael Flynn had resigned as National Security Advisor, Sean Spicer was struggling to control messaging as a short-lived Press Secretary, and a dozen insiders such as Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Senior Advisor Steve Bannon were within a few months of being ousted. The Biden administration is the polar opposite, run by a cadre of generally boring veterans who would have formed the core of a Hillary presidency four years ago. How are they doing?
First the easy stuff:
1. Press Secretary Jen Psaki has perhaps the easiest job. The audience is friendly, and the president doesn't take questions when he does speak. The highlight of the first weeks was the kibuki impeachment of Citizen Trump. Fortunately for Team Biden, Governor Cuomo provides a distraction for reporters and news consumers seeking a scandal. When the Director of National Intelligence determined that the Saudi Crown Prince was directly responsible for the murder of US resident Jamal Khashoggi, presidential candidate Biden's earlier promise of accountability was forgotten, and the press largely didn't notice.
2. The Biden administration inherited a rapidly accelerating vaccination program - one of the greatest accomplishments of the Trump administration - and Biden understandably takes the credit. Merck gave up on their vaccine development in January and went looking for ways to participate in combating Covid 19 in the United States or globally. Team Biden took money available from a 2020 appropriation and supported Merck (the world's second largest vaccine manufacturer) in their efforts to partner with Johnson and Johnson, adding about a quarter to the monthly vaccine supply. Operation Warp Speed could have done this, but, to their credit, Team Biden did.
3. Unlike Democratic senators during the Trump administration, Republican senators give broad deference to administration appointees (who require 50 affirmative votes), uniformly rejecting only a divisive nominee for Budget Director, and likely forcing the Vice President to cast the deciding vote in favor of the unqualified California Attorney General Xavier Becerra for Health and Human Services Secretary.
4. As long promised to liberal supporters, there have been executive actions to rejoin the Paris Climate Accords, cancel the Keystone XL Pipeline, rejoin the World Health Organization, extend student loan payment deferrals and eviction/foreclosure bans, increase bargaining power of federal workers, expand legal immigration, and to expand protections for the LGBTQ community. The order to pause drilling on federal land serves as a major bargaining chip with Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski who is up for election in 2022, whose state is highly dependent upon revenue from federal oil and gas leases, and whose vote may be needed in an evenly divided Senate were Joe Manchin to defect.
Some a bit more difficult:
2. Strategies are being developed relative to China, Russian hacking, and the Iranian nuclear program. Each deserves its own discussion.
3. Parents want their kids to be in school; teachers want to be at the head of the vaccine line. Biden tried to thread the needle by waffling on the definition of having a school open, and by recommending that teachers be given priority by the states. In political terms, there are more parents looking to follow the science than teachers who prefer the status quo.
And there have been a few fumbles:
1. By stopping construction of the wall on the southern border, halting deportations, and reinstituting the Obama-era "catch and release" program for asylum seekers, Biden has doubled the number of illegal crossings in January, and amped up the number of unaccompanied children to a projected 117,000 for 2021 - well beyond current holding capacity. Even some of the Democrat friendly press has taken to call it a crisis.
2. Kamalla Harris has been largely kept out of sight, but two appearances have shown her to be less astute than her peers: first she did television interviews in West Virginia and Arizona intended to put pressure on Democratic senators who will provide critical votes on the next round of stimulus legislation, drawing White House apologies when they complained; then she stepped on Biden's virus credit line by making the embarassingly false claim that the Biden administration was "starting from scratch" with a vaccine distribution plan when nearly 1,000,000 doses per day were being administered.
3. Biden's call for bipartisan cooperation was shown to be empty rhetoric as 10 moderate Republicans made the trek to the White House to discuss amendments to the Democrats' looming $1.9 trillion "virus relief bill" monstrosity, and were given a nice cup of tea, but no consideration. Biden was lucky that the Senate parlimentarian divined that the $15 minimum wage provision could not be included under Senate procedures, thus preventing Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema from fulfilling their promises to vote against it. As to the moderate Republicans, fool me once .... With the Democratic establishment uninterested in finding middle ground, Team Biden will be totally dependent upon their slimmest of majorities.
How much of a better world this would be for our kids and our grandkids if just one of those Georgia Senate seats had stayed Republican.
As a special bonus this week we have a brief compilation of Sean Spicer's artistically challenged post-White House career on Dancing with the Stars.
bill bowen - 3/4/2021