The President plans to move aggressively later in the week, taking steps to boost US workers, address racial inequality and combat climate change.
But true, lasting change and the nation’s hopes of finally overcoming the pandemic will rely on Biden’s ability to leverage years of experience to forge common ground in the scorched earth of the capital.
It’s a tough reality that Biden, who follows a President who often ignored the coronavirus crisis, is already parrying questions about whether his vow to deliver 100 million vaccine doses in 100 days is sufficiently ambitious.
But it’s a measure of the desperation in the country, with normal life an increasingly distant memory, amid worrying new warnings about more infectious and possibly more deadly viral strains.
‘The plane is in a nosedive’
Xavier Becerra, Biden’s nominee for Health and Human Services Secretary, on Sunday addressed tension between the President’s push for urgent action to fight Covid-19 and the fact it will take months for improvements to show.
Speaking to Dana Bash, Becerra was unable to answer the question everyone wants to know: how much longer will it be until sufficient supplies of vaccines bring the days of social distancing to an end? Already, hopes of deliverance for the country by early summer look premature.
White House chief of staff Ron Klain defended Biden’s 100 million target — which means only 50 million people will be fully vaccinated, given the two-dose regimen, during the period in question — as “a very bold and ambitious goal.”
“As everyone in America has seen — the way in which people get vaccine is chaotic, it’s very limited,” Klain told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
White House appeals for Republican buy-in for rescue package
There was strong agreement on the need to push hard on money for vaccine distribution, Jared Bernstein, a member of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, told CNN’s Pamela Brown on “Newsroom” Sunday.
“That doesn’t mean everybody is going to agree on every detail,” Bernstein said, before billing Biden — who served in the Senate for more than three decades — as the key cog in the process in the coming days.
“Joe Biden has a long history with working on those types of negotiations.”
The extent of the new President’s task was made clear when Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, one of the GOP senators seen as open to compromise, appeared to raise questions about the speed and the size of the economic rescue bid.
“It’s important we don’t borrow hundreds of billions, actually trillions of dollars from the Chinese for things that are not absolutely necessary. This is a time to act with prudence and care.”
GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said in a statement on Sunday evening that she too had reservations about the Biden plan and wanted it to be better targeted.
“It seems premature to be considering a package of this size and scope,” Collins said.
Given the urgency of the situation, Democrats are already prepping a plan to use a rare and controversial procedural tactic known as reconciliation to pass major parts of the package if Republicans try to block it or water it down. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told donors on a Thursday Zoom call that she was ready to pass the bill in two weeks using the tactic, a source told CNN.
The problem with using reconciliation to pass the bill with narrow Democratic majorities is that it could scupper Biden’s hopes of a bipartisan plan and set back his longer-term plans for defusing the poison in Washington. But the search for support from Republicans could also force the new President to dilute his ambitions for the Covid-relief measure and make it less successful — a serious consideration at the start of a presidency that will be defined by his capacity to end the pandemic and restore the economy.
Republicans split on both Trump and Biden
Such objections, however, reflect a disregard for the results of the election. Biden won a clear victory in the Electoral College and amassed seven million more votes than Trump, so he can claim a mandate for his early actions.
The mood between the parties is hardly being improved by an increasingly tense spat between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and his Republican counterpart, Mitch McConnell, over how the 50-50 chamber will operate.
Biden’s aspirations are challenged by an extraordinary confluence of political forces boiling in his first few days in office, all of which were in evidence on a clarifying weekend that predicted the year’s political themes.
“I think the trial is stupid. I think it’s counterproductive. We already have a flaming fire in this country and it’s like taking a bunch of gasoline and pouring it on top of the fire,” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Rubio is one of the Republicans who faces a new twist of an old dilemma about Trump. Are their political interests best served by voting to punish the former President for inciting an insurrection against Congress and an attempt to steal the election? Or is Trump’s power in the party still so strong that they invite a backlash by convicting the former President?
But one of the Democratic House impeachment managers, Rep. Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania, said on “State of the Union” that Trump must play a price for actions that have no parallel in American history.
“It’s an extraordinarily heinous presidential crime. And we must move forward,” said Dean.