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Biden apparently defeats Trump but verdict mixed in Congress

Jules Witcover, syndicated columnist

WASHINGTON — Democrats are ecstatic at Joe Biden’s (apparent) capture of the presidency, but their failure to win control of the Senate and their loss of House seats augurs a continuation of the deep political divide in the country in the wake of cultural and racial turmoil, no matter who sits in the Oval Office starting January 20.

Biden exceeded the 270 electoral votes required to become the 46th president. But he will now face a Republican Congress dug in, through disappointment or resentment, to thwart his announced ambitious agenda to restore the economy along more progressive if not radical lines.

The unwillingness of congressional Republicans by and large to repudiate Donald Trump, and return the Grand Old Party to more conventional conservative views, bodes ill for Biden’s optimistic notions of an era of bipartisanship that was the hallmark of his 36 years’ service in the Senate.

The voters’ rebuke of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s hope for a stronger House majority can weaken her hand as a principal Biden ally. Unknowable right now is what role Trump himself will play in his own party, reduced as an outsider by his defeat.

In the short term at least, Trump has said he will unleash a determined effort to restore his presidency by appeal to the Supreme Court now dominated by a 6-3 Republican majority achieved by him.

Chief Justice John Roberts, himself a GOP appointee, would face a critical choice of conscience to inject the Court again into the presidential process as occurred in 2000, when it gave the highest office to Republican George W. Bush over Democrat Albert Gore by a highly controversial 5-4 vote.

Justice John Paul Stevens, appointed to the court by Republican President Gerald Ford, sharply dissented. He argued that, in intervening, the court demonstrated “an unstated lack of confidence in the impartiality and capacity of the state judges” that “can only lend credence the most cynical appraisal of the work of judges throughout the land.”

He went on: “It is the confidence in the men and women who administer the justice system that is the true backbone of the rule of law. Time will one day heal the wound to that confidence that will be inflicted by today’s decision.

One thing, however, is certain. Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year’s presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the Nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law.”

That opinion of 20 years ago, often quoted by liberal lawyers and commentators as a caution to federal judges to stay in the lane of their own jurisdiction, is likely to be resurrected should the present Supreme Court take upon itself the role of deciding who should be the American president for the next four years.

It is particularly so when the prime petitioners are the sitting president and his legal beagles, seeking to reject the judgment of the voters as seen in their ballots, no matter how or when they are legally cast and counted.

Editor’s note: Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at juleswitcovercomcast.net.

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