A better way to seek unity is to vigorously pursue policies that have broad public support — and that begin to clean up the shambles the Biden administration inherits. Democrats may have slim majorities, but they have been given a mandate to lead. They need to remember the past four years when Republicans controlled the White House and Senate. The GOP grandly pronounced that “elections have consequences” and treated the Democratic minority like a doormat.
I’m not advocating payback for payback’s sake, tempting as that might be, but just being realistic. Look at where we are: More than 400,000 Americans have died from covid-19 — a higher number than any other nation. There has been such chaos in the rollout of lifesaving vaccines that the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hasn’t been able to find out how many doses are available or where they might be. We’re in a “K-shaped” recovery from the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression. The wealthy are seeing their stock portfolios soar while the poor and working class face hunger and fear. Calls for a reckoning on racial justice have gone unanswered and there were ridiculous Trump-era energy policies that ignored the existential crisis of climate change.
So yes, President Biden, if Republicans won’t help, you should continue to do as much as you can through executive action. And yes, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Senate should be prepared to abolish the filibuster — and should pull the trigger sooner rather than later if Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) continues to block the chamber from even getting organized to do its work.
Republicans have a choice. They can wail about the dangers of an “imperial” presidency and lavishly bemoan the abandonment of hallowed Senate tradition. Or they can face reality and work constructively with Democrats toward a national recovery, and give even the proposals they disagree with fair hearings and votes.
I haven’t mentioned the coming impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump because it is a sideshow. While it’s essential that the trial be held, and anyone who witnessed the seditious events of Jan. 6 knows he should be convicted and barred from ever again holding federal office, it’s unlikely that 17 Republican senators will summon the integrity to do the right thing.
Instead, the trial will mostly serve as evidence of the party’s weakness. The GOP could shake free of Trump’s grip by confining him to private life, thus taking away his ability to raise money and maintain grass roots. Most Republican senators surely realize the opportunity before them — but also fear Trump’s wrath and that of the GOP base he transformed into a cult of personality. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) embodies this pathetic haplessness. He says a trial will be “like taking a bunch of gasoline and pouring it on top of the fire,” ignoring that Trump, as arsonist in chief, lit the fire in the first place.
As Republicans refuse to even mount a struggle for the soul of their party, the country will need Democrats to take the helm and resolve our overlapping crises.
The most urgent matter of business is passing a new covid-19 relief package, providing desperately needed help for individuals, small businesses and state and local governments. Republicans who hardly batted an eye at Trump’s free-spending ways, and who blew a huge hole in the budget with a massive tax cut for the wealthy, have suddenly — and predictably — rediscovered their deep concern about the national debt.
There is nothing sacrosanct about the $1.9 trillion figure the Biden administration has proposed, and there is always room for compromise on spending bills. But it is heartening that Democrats have thus far managed to refrain from negotiating with themselves — and that Schumer has left open the possibility of passing the aid through the arcane process called “reconciliation,” which requires only 51 votes.
GOP senators can have a voice in the outcome if they engage in good faith. But they have to realize that “compromise” doesn’t mean “Republicans win and Democrats lose.” Not anymore.