One year into his term, President Biden might be the only person in the world who’s surprised by the extent of Republicans’ obstruction of his agenda.
On Wednesday, in a lengthy press conference just hours before the Senate spectacularly failed to pass voting rights legislation, Biden told reporters he “did not anticipate that there’d be such a stalwart effort to make sure that the most important thing was that President Biden didn’t get anything done.” This, from the former Vice President to Barack Obama, whose agenda and court picks Republicans notoriously obstructed for six years.
Biden denied that he has over-promised on what his administration would deliver this year, insisting, “One of the things I haven’t been able to get done is to get my Republican friends to get in the game of making things better in this country.” He went on to ask, “What are Republicans for? What are they for? Name me one thing they’re for.”
Both the press conference and the one-year mark of Biden’s presidency come amid mounting frustration among progressives. First there was the refusal of two Democratic Senators to let go of the filibuster, which resulted in the derailing of crucial voting rights legislation this week, and before that, there was the gutting of the landmark Build Back Better Act.
However much blame Republicans may hold for stalling any modicum of relief for working families, no one who’s been paying attention to the events of the last few years should be remotely surprised by Republicans making things more difficult for a Democratic administration—something Biden and his team
should have absolutely factored into the calculus of its agenda-setting. Instead, since the campaign trail, the Biden playbook has often been to wax poetic about bipartisanship, as if dated, feel-good ideas about political civility are going to pay the bills for working people.
Biden of all people should have anticipated the nasty tactics of Congressional Republicans: He was literally the vice president during the Obama era at the height of Republican obstructionism, which saw Ted Cruz reading Green Eggs and Ham to try to rob people of health care. He was also vice president when Mitch McConnell stole a pivotal Supreme Court seat, and with that seat, perhaps the human rights of future generations.
Still, throughout much of 2019 and 2020, Biden touted support from “reasonable” Republicans: In his 2020 victory speech, he chastised the supposedly equal “refusal” of both “Democrats and Republicans to cooperate with one another,” and at one point invoked his working relationships with literal segregationists to argue bipartisanship could be possible under any circumstances. Over the course of his first year in office, the president has shown increasing willingness to call bullshit on Republican tactics. But the administration’s continued refusal to take bolder, more progressive action is based on a fantasy that it can miraculously win over a “moderate” Republican or two if it neglects to do just enough objectively good things.
So long as a Democrat is in the White House, obstruction is and will remain Republican’s no.1 MO—meaning watering down a progressive agenda and playing pick-me with Congressional Republicans is basically useless. Americans clearly couldn’t care less about whether a stimulus check was the product of Republican and Democratic Senators holding hands and singing “Kumbaya”—they just want help.
There shouldn’t be a reason they can’t get it, either. The Democratic majority in Congress may be increasingly narrow, but Democrats hold power in the executive branch, and yet student loan debt still hasn’t been forgiven as the White House continues to parrot conservative talking points on the issue. While limited numbers of cost-free shipments of at-home covid tests and N95 masks will soon be available, it was just weeks ago that the administration’s excuse to not send N95 masks to households was that “half the country” wouldn’t use them. Speaking of pandering and conceding to a political party that is quite literally willing to set the world on fire to “own the libs,” 365 days into his presidency, Biden has yet to say the word “abortion,” let alone take any meaningful action to protect abortion rights as near-total bans proliferate across the country, and the Supreme Court is frothing at the mouth to gut Roe v. Wade.
It’s clear virtually no pieces of a progressive agenda, from voting rights and climate action to child care and the rest of Build Back Better, will pass Congress as the filibuster remains intact. It’s not clear why the White House isn’t taking more urgent action on wildly popular policy areas that are in its control — like student loan forgiveness or protecting abortion access — except to theoretically appeal to these mythical reasonable Republicans, or something like that.
A year into the Biden administration, often, it feels like our leaders are more interested in denying that they’re socialists — I’m sure that’ll stop Republicans from making the accusation! — and making concessions in the name of extinct notions of “bipartisanship,” than in actually helping people. Who are we really appealing to, inspiring, or mobilizing with any of this? How does the glossy, surface-level veneer of bipartisanship get communities the investments and supports they need? It doesn’t. We have to stop pretending that bipartisanship matters more than people’s actual lives.