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The Initial Positives of a Biden Administration

by Marcus Lawniczak

Photo: Gayatri Malhotra https://unsplash.com/photos/qBBS6GvyCA8

President-elect Joe Biden did not run an inspiring campaign for those on the left, consistently opposing policies supported by the progressive wing of the Democratic Party such as Medicare-For-All and the Green New Deal. Since his election victory, it has become increasingly clear that the Biden Administration will be dominated by establishment and conservative blue dog Democrats, leaving big name progressives like Bernie Sanders in the Senate.


Much has been discussed about how a Biden Administration will not challenge the status quo, the corporate influence in Washington DC, or the power of the military industrial complex. While the negatives of the incoming president have been laid bare for all to see, it is important to analyze the clear initial positives for environmentally vulnerable and immigrant communities.


Major Executive Orders Coming on Day 1


Upon his inauguration, President-elect Joe Biden reportedly plans on signing a plethora of executive orders that would see the United States rejoin the Paris Climate Accord; reinstate approximately 100 Obama-era environmental regulations repealed by President Trump; reinstate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and repeal Trump’s travel ban targeting majority Muslim countries.

Protest in support of DACA at Trump Tower in New York City. Photo: Rhododendrites. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

Such actions taken by the Biden Administration would materially impact the lives of many millions of people essentially overnight. The most obvious is the positive effect Biden’s executive orders will have on the almost one million DACA recipients currently living in the United States. Their status as legal residents will no longer be under threat. Repealing the Trump Travel Ban will have a similar effect for the many hundreds of thousands of Iranians, Nigerians, and other citizens of banned nations who are living in the US. They can presently not leave the country if they wish to return, while their relatives have been unable to visit since 2017.


At the same time, some of those 100 Obama-era environmental executive orders that Trump repealed could be reversed. Such as limiting coal power-plants from dumping toxic wastewater into rivers and preventing oil and natural gas drilling sites from burning off excess methane. Rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, while not nearly enough to combat the climate crisis, is a clear step in the right direction. Reinstating these orders will directly affect downriver communities and the air quality of residents living by such drilling sites.


Will The Initial Positives Continue?


While the Biden Administration will not challenge the status quo or do what is necessary to properly address climate change, it is clear that less people will suffer under his administration than the current one. The bar has been set extremely low by President Trump, but the first days of the Biden era will be objectively good. DACA recipients and their families will be able to take a deep sigh of relief, for now, while environmental activists can at least be happy that Biden is not an active anti-environmentalist.


The long time Democratic senator will reinstate the half-hearted environmental policies that the establishment of the Democratic Party supports. While Biden will initially be able to govern via executive order, any legislation must pass the Senate, and this is where things get interesting.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. This United States Congress image is in the public domain.

The recent general election will see Democrats maintain their majority in the House, but two Senate seats in Georgia remain unfilled. If the Democrats manage to win both - a feasible objective seeing that Biden won the southern state - the Senate will be split 50/50 with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as the tiebreaker. If this best-case scenario for the Democratic Party happens, it could have long-last implications for not just the Republican Party, but the American left as well. Automatic voter registration and universal mail-in balloting could be passed, making it much easier to vote in the US. And if the Democratic Party unites behind it - ensuring Washington DC and Puerto Rican statehood.


This would fundamentally change an inherently undemocratic institution that favors the Republican Party, as the induction of these two states into the union would certainly result in four more Democratic Senators. Policies such as Medicare-For-All and the Green New Deal could become a political possibility. Whether President-elect Biden will be able to do more than sign a few executive orders will be decided in Georgia on January 5.


Quite a Few “Ifs” and “Maybes”


The legislative prospects of the Biden Administration hinge on a few too many “ifs” and “maybes.” “If” the Democrats win the two Georgia Senate seats, and “if” the Democratic Party unites behind Washington DC and Puerto Rican statehood, then “maybe” the Senate and American democracy will fundamentally change. The Republican Party will fight these strategies to make voting easier and increase the size of the senate to the bitter end.


President Trump commented in March on this issue. “They had things, levels of voting, that if you’d ever agree to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again,”said the 45th president. That tells you all you need to know about what the GOP thinks of democracy.

The United States Capitol Rotunda. Photo: Joshua Sukoff https://unsplash.com/photos/5DDYHjk_KMU

The most likely scenario to play out is that the Republicans win one of the open Georgia Senate seats, meaning a divided government during Biden’s first two years as president. Judging by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s track record, this means that Biden will not be able to appoint a single federal or supreme court judge.


A Presidency Defined by Executive Order?


The initial positives of a Biden presidency will materialise via executive order, but with an obstructionist Senate controlled by McConnell likely, Biden’s scope of power will be severely hampered unless Georgia surprises us all. Obama’s former vice president will be able to repeal any action President Trump has taken via executive order, but unproductive governments fraught with hyper-partisan conflict, especially in times of great economic and public health crises, are incredibly unpopular. Could such unpopularity pave the way for more progressive, left wing candidates to push the Democratic Party further left, or will a red wave wash away even the slightest semblance of progress?