There is, of course, the damage plain for all to see, starting with the corrosive effect of Trump sowing unfounded doubts about the integrity of an electoral process in which he was fairly — and soundly — defeated.
So, too, are the autocratic tendencies that are fully on display with Trump’s unprecedented, self-serving abuse of the president’s unlimited power to grant pardons and his entertainment of outrageous proposals to subvert the election results by declaring martial law or ordering the Department of Homeland Security to seize voting machines.
But what Biden is correctly worried about are the subversive things that Trump and the fringe actors who surround him are likely to be doing behind the scenes in his final days in office.
Speaking with a small group of columnists on Wednesday, Biden noted that he has taken some criticism for stocking his administration with many familiar figures, rather than bringing in more fresh faces. As Biden put it: “One reason you need old hands is the old hands know where the old bodies might be buried.”
He also said his team is having quiet consultations with “former Republican appointees, former Republican personnel telling us what they know and don’t know about how the system is rotten,” as well as GOP senators “worried about things being left untethered.”
Still, the soon-to-be 46th president sounded upbeat and confident about his abilities to marshal the resources — and the bipartisan political will — that he will need to lead the country out of the coronavirus pandemic. With covid-19 now killing about 3,000 Americans a day, he said, the costly denialism that Trump fostered in the early months of the pandemic is being replaced by “a new sense of urgency, I think, on the part of the public at large.”
Biden pointed to the centrist coalition of senators who drove the overwhelming passage of the $900 billion package of pandemic relief as “a leverage point” supporting his theory that consensus-building is not some lost vestige of a primordial past.
Then again, we haven’t seen how the legislation’s fate will be decided amid the fit that Trump is throwing. After sitting mute on the sidelines through the negotiations, the president shocked officials of his own administration on Tuesday by threatening a veto, saying the measure doesn’t provide enough direct relief. Congressional Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), have gleefully called Trump’s bluff, saying they, too, support larger stimulus checks that Capitol Hill Republicans were unwilling to countenance.
Biden also said that, as a president who wants to avoid inflaming a closely divided Congress, he plans to tread lightly when it comes to using his executive power — a declaration that no doubt will cause some heartburn on the left, where such caution is considered naive.
Upon his inauguration, Biden says he plans to issue executive orders to undo some of what Trump has done. He will instruct the United States to rejoin the 2015 Paris climate agreement, to protect immigrant “dreamers” whose parents brought them to the United States as children, and to reinstate environmental regulations that Trump did away with.
“That’s different than my saying, and I’m going to get in trouble for saying this . . . for example, it’s arguable that the president may have the executive power to forgive up to $50,000 in student debt,” Biden said. “Well, I think that’s pretty questionable. I’m unsure of that. I’d be unlikely to do that.”
“It’s a balancing act, but I’m optimistic that we can get a lot of the things that I’d like to do done,” he added. “I’ve spent most of my career arguing against the imperial presidency. . . . We got three equal branches of government. I’m confident that there are a number of areas that are of such consequence that they go beyond the partisan boundaries.”
Sure, there will be doubts about this humble and idealistic approach, including within his own party. “Obviously, we’re going to find out if I’m dead wrong about this,” Biden said. But he’s right about one thing: After what the country has been through these past four years, it’s worth a try.
Read more from this interview with Biden:
Read more from Opinions: