The probability of President Biden getting his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package and other items on his agenda through Congress remains uncertain as Republicans push back on more spending.
This isn’t anything Biden hasn’t seen before. During his time as vice president, Republicans were intransigent, opposing many aspects of former President Obama’s agenda and oftentimes making it impossible for his administration to get legislation through Congress.
But it’s different this time around, according to Valerie Jarrett, former senior advisor to President Obama. With Democrats controlling both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, although by narrow margins, Jarrett is hopeful Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans will be willing to compromise, and not obstruct Biden’s policies at all costs.
“I do think our nation is in a very different point today than it was 12 years ago,” said Jarrett. “I think there is a lot more pressure that we're going to see, both in terms of voices from the American people and the younger members of Congress who are not just sitting by waiting their turn, but are willing to put pressure on their colleagues.”
From 2008 through 2016, during Biden’s time as vice president in the Obama administration, Democrats faced tough resistance from Republicans, led by McConnell, then Senate Majority Leader, often leaving negotiations in gridlock.
“We certainly did a lot back then,” Jarrett said of the Obama administration’s efforts to reach common ground with Republicans. “Vice President Biden was very engaged on this front, but [Republicans] made a political decision to not work with us. I hope that has changed in this current climate.”
During his inaugural address earlier this week, Biden stressed the importance of unity and called on the nation to come together. “This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge, and unity is the path forward… Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire, destroying everything in its path.”
With Democrats in control of Congress by slim margins, Biden will likely need support from Republicans to advance his agenda. The tone he set during his inaugural address was certainly a start.
“Today marks the start of a new chapter in our history,” Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), who has worked alongside Biden for more than two decades, said in a statement. “In his inaugural address, I was pleased to hear President Biden emphasize that unity is the path forward for our country.”
Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania showed support for the new administration this week, tweeting: “I commend President Biden for his call for national unity, and his assurance to those who did not support him that he will nevertheless be president for all Americans.”
Biden’s ability to bring both sides together is already being tested. The president has hit the ground running, pushing forward his ambitious plans during his first 100 days in office.
“He’s committed to be the president not just for those who voted for him, but the president for all America… [Biden] will invite in all parties and try to look for how to move forward, not to get exactly everything he wants, but the art of what's possible,” Jarrett said. “And I think that that's a strength that both President Biden and Vice President Harris have.”
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