Joe Biden won the election, but Donald Trump’s presidency will continue to loom large over the White House for the next four years.
When Biden takes the oath of office Jan. 20 he will confront a galaxy of choices over how to deal with Trump’s administration – which policies to unwind, which to let stand and how quickly to decide – that could easily consume his first months on the job.
From the travel ban Trump signed early in his tenure to a deluge of last-minute regulatory changes that could affect millions of Americans, Biden will inherit the byproducts of one of the most controversial administrations in U.S. history. Whatever policies he chooses to jettison could offer insight into his ability to heal a divided nation while also maintaining the fragile coalition that pulled him into the presidency.
In the end, Biden’s election was not the wholesale repudiation of Trump that many Democrats had hoped for. The victory, which may still wind up in recount battles and courtrooms, is likely to raise questions about what sort of mandate the new president will have to take the country in a different direction on a host of issues. Biden won the popular vote with a record total and is on pace for a large Electoral College win, but the vote was close in several of the states that decided the outcome.
Coronavirus, travel ban and climate
Nowhere is change as likely as on Washington’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Fifty-five percent of Americans said they disapproved of Trump’s response, according to a survey of the electorate conducted by The Associated Press.
Biden has promised a more muscular federal involvement, more widespread testing and a more aggressive effort to pressure people to wear masks. Even if Republicans retain control of the Senate, Biden is also likely to push through another round of economic stimulus.
But some of the trillions of dollars in new spending Biden has proposed for child care, health care, education, Social Security, infrastructure and the environment would have been paid for by raising taxes on high-income individuals and on corporations. A GOP-controlled Senate is not likely to go along.
“That means that there’s not going to be a $4 trillion tax increase, which is what Biden wanted,” said Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist.
Besides pursuing his own agenda, there are Trump policies he’ll likely revoke.
Trump’s travel ban, which restricts visas from 13 countries – most with substantial Muslim populations – will be a target for repeal; Biden has said he will move quickly on that issue. The president-elect has vowed to return the U.S. to the Paris Agreement on climate on his first day, reversing Trump on a policy that will appeal to the left.
He may also reinstate Obama-era vehicle emissions standards Trump has rolled back, several Democrats predicted.
But if that’s the case, Biden will have to deal with a restive liberal wing of his party that will expect the new administration to look a lot different than the one that came before it.
Alex Morgan, executive director of the Progressive Turnout Project, said he hopes Biden learned his lesson from the Obama administration’s effort to work with Republicans on the 2010 health care bill – an effort that was abandoned after months of negotiation. Progressives want Biden to take quick action on campaign finance reform, voting rights along with other issues, and want him to appoint Cabinet members who are left of center.
“By the time he’s sworn in, he’s got to have an answer to all these questions,” Morgan said in an interview before the election.