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Biden has choice: Demand his goals be met or start negotiating

Jules Witcover, syndicated columnist

WASHINGTON — As President Joe Biden takes the reins of government, he promises a formula of unity and bipartisanship. But the two prime ingredients may not be compatible. There can be little hope for political peace and accommodation as long as Republicans in Congress resist his ambitious and expensive relief proposals to combat the continuing coronavirus pandemic.

They already are balking at the $1.9 trillion price tag on his economic stimulus bill on the heels of a $900 billion bailout voted in December, and now including a call for a $15 hourly minimum wage, long a Democratic goal. GOP Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, while lauding bipartisan efforts, said over the weekend: “My own thought is that we should only be spending money where there is need that needs to be met, and so I’d like to see the figures and calculations behind their proposal.”

At the same time, the new president is encountering pressure from his party’s progressive wing to start out by meeting the needs of working-class Americans. Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts weighed in: “If the best path to that is to do it in a way that can bring Republicans along, I’m all in favor of that. But if Republicans want to cut back to the point that we’re not delivering what needs to be done, then we have to be prepared to fight them.”

The roadblocks are already readily apparent. Ground rules must be worked out between new Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. They must replace GOP committee chairmen with Democrats and iron out procedures whereby the new President of the Senate, Vice President Kamala Harris, is empowered to break the 50-50 party tie created In the two recent Democratic pickups in Georgia.

Those results gave President Biden full if narrow control of both houses of Congress and the federal establishment. But they thereby require him to decide whether to apply his political muscle or continue his career-long preference to work across the partisan aisle. The theme of his well-received inauguration signaled the latter, but early indications presage no easy accomplishment.

Among Republicans, there has only been token acceptance of the electoral defeat of Donald Trump, and indications are that the GOP’s course will be combustible as long as Trump clings to a hope of retaining his heretofore hold on it. Overhanging the whole political scene right now is the impending Senate trial to convict or acquit him of a second House impeachment for inciting violence against the government.

The facts in the case, overwhelmingly supported by hours of videotaped scenes widely viewed by the Senate jurors and millions of Americans, are beyond dispute. The outcome therefore may rest on whether a defeated and departed president can legally be convicted after he no longer holds the office. Upon conviction, the Senate by a simple majority can bar him from ever again seeking or holding a federal office.

McConnell as of now remains the highest-ranking Republican in government, and he has been uncommitted on Trump’s fate. But the ousting of the GOP strongman could favor McConnell’s own political purposes and purge the Grand Old Party of the worst pestilence ever visited on it by the will of the people.

Republicans in Congress who were there before Trump, along with those who arrived on his coattails, now have it with their power to decide whether he will continue to be a force in their ranks, or perhaps form a party of his own to remain on the public stage he so desperately desires. The rest is up the American people to make sure, now well warned, that he or his like will never achieve power again in this great country.

Meanwhile, President Biden must remember his obligation to fellow Democrats who voted for economic recovery and an aggressive fight against the pandemic, by playing the winning hand dealt him. If in the process he can remain open to reasonable compromise and bipartisanship in the cause of unity, so much the better.

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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