Punched in the mouth: No scripted presidency for Biden

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” 

— Mike Tyson, former heavyweight boxing champion 

Mike Tyson was asked about an upcoming fight with Evander Holyfield, another great heavyweight champion, specifically as to how Tyson would try to disrupt Holyfield’s fight plan.  This is when Tyson uttered his now famous maxim about taking a punch to the mouth.  That was part of Tyson’s fight strategy all the time.  He hit them with such power and ferocity that most fighters would freeze in the moment and their plans would crumble under the weight of a devastating uppercut.  

President Joe Biden’s administration now faces its first real punches in the mouth.  Through the president’s first 100 days, few major challenges presented themselves.  Members of the Republican Party threw a few jabs, just feeling out the new chief executive.  Now into a steady rhythm, the administration is absorbing a few power shots that will try to throw Biden and his team off balance.  

The jab 

The latest and perhaps most devastating setback for Team Biden is the latest jobs report.  In April, the United States added 266,000 jobs, according to the Department of Labor.  That doesn’t sound too bad until you consider that analysts predicted a significantly higher number, about four times that number to be more precise.  Unemployment rose slightly from 6.0% to 6.1% and the jobs numbers from March were revised (to 770,000 jobs added and down from the original estimate of 916,000).  This is definitely not the news the administration hoped to see.

Though the president cannot single-handedly control the economy (for good reason), he or she takes credit when the country prospers (re:  Bill Clinton) and also bears the blame when the economy spirals out of control (poor Herbert Hoover).  This is part of the game, so to speak.  

So what’s the play for the administration?  The jobs report obviously gives the GOP ammunition, but the president and his people should spin this as simply one month’s worth of data, and the long term predictions for economic growth still show a positive trend.  Moreover, this is an opportunity for Biden to stress the need for his infrastructure bill, which could establish millions of jobs.  

The right cross 

The problem of the jobs report will dissolve with the next news cycle, though it stings.  A greater problem has been brewing at the southern border of the United States, and thus far, it’s the serious threat to The White House’s agenda.  So far, the administration has not used the term ‘crisis,’ but it’s a crisis.  Previous presidential administrations have consistently passed down this problem to their successors, and that’s unfortunate, but the problem belongs to Biden and he must own it.

Migrants came across the border in record number in April 2021

In March, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection tallied over 170,000 encounters and apprehensions of migrants illegally entering the country.  This staggering figure represents the most in a 20 year time frame, and stretches manpower thin.  The numbers for each of the first four months of Biden’s presidency compared to President Donald Trump’s show significant increases in illegal border traffic.

What’s causing the increase in the number of migrants crossing the border?  Men and women have been coming from South America, Central America, and Mexico for decades, and that’s not new at all.  However, the surge of migrants has increased under the inability of many of those nations to adequately provide care and vaccinations for COVID-19.  The recovery from the pandemic also limits economic opportunities in nations already short on jobs.  During the pandemic last year, Central America endured a series of brutal hurricanes which inflicted significant damage.  It’s also likely that many poor migrants saw a Biden administration as far more permissive on its immigration policies than former President Trump.

The Biden administration is currently transferring unaccompanied children who crossed the border from the custody of Customs and Border Protection to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  This is not an insignificant action, considering Customs and Border Protection are responsible for detention whereas HHS provides care and shelter.  President Biden also increased the number of refugees the United States would take from 15,000 to 62,500 — a salve upon the wound, at best.  

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) also has a role to play in this situation, as they have been tasked with reuniting families who had previously been separated in crossing the border or during processing by Border Patrol agents. 

President Biden has personally made an appeal via the media for migrants to not come to the United States and to definitely not sent their children.  However, to stop the humanitarian crisis at the border, broader policy changes need to happen on immigration.  Any president’s authority to take unilateral action has limits.  Congress must establish legislation for any long lasting change to occur, and that might be a problem … 

The body blow 

About that need for legislation?  It shouldn’t be this much of an issue for President Biden to guide legislation through Congress during this early portion of his term.  Not only does the president enjoy a 54% approval rating, but Democrats currently control the House of Representatives (218-212 with five vacancies) and the Senate (50-50 with the Vice President casting tie votes).

Unfortunately, the nature of the Senate’s rules on debate make it possible for the minority party to stifle any legislation which they might find too objectionable.  Under Senate rules, debate on a bill cannot end unless 60 senators agree.  Since it is rare that either party ever has this many senators, it’s often difficult for legislation to pass even if a party has a majority of senators.  Thus, any senator who wishes to continue ‘debating’ a bill can stall the process under what is known as a filibuster (it comes from the Dutch word for ‘piracy,’ so draw your own conclusions).  

Members of the Senate can vote to change the rules of the body, with only a majority needed to eliminate the filibuster.  Okay, so Democrats can do that, right?  Not exactly.

Senator Joe Manchin, a very moderate Democrat from a very red state (my beloved West Virginia), believes he can somehow restore a sense of bipartisanship to American politics.  As such, he wrote in an op-ed piece for The Washington Post, “There is no circumstance in which I will vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster.”  

To be fair, Manchin’s argument pertaining to why he won’t vote to end the filibuster has some merit.  He rightfully pointed out that without the minority party’s ability to potentially halt legislation, there could be drastic swings in federal policy.  This is true when we consider the pendulum-like nature of party control in Congress.  Popular or successful policies could be eliminated simply because the majority party disagreed with them.  

Manchin might be correct about swings in policy making at the federal level, but while he stands firm, legislation important to the nation sits idly in committee rooms of the Senate.  Two of these pieces of legislation (already passed by the House), are significant in the future of this nation, and both would genuinely benefit his home state.  Of course, any vote for a Biden initiative appears to many West Virginians as some kind of betrayal (it’s a wonderful, yet strange place to live).

Is it possible that President Biden’s agenda hinges entirely on Joe Manchin?

The For the People Act (also known as HR1) would prevent partisan gerrymandering, mitigate the influence of big money in elections, and require states take significant actions to make voting easier.  Additionally, The American Jobs Plan would make a significant investment into the infrastructure of this nation (long overdue) and provide millions of jobs for Americans (mostly blue-collar jobs according to The White House).

While I think some moderate Republicans are open to negotiations about these pieces of legislation, the current leadership structure of the GOP does not want either of these bills to pass the Senate.  If either of these bills passes, President Biden will have two signature pieces of legislation passed in less than a year.  The implementation of these policies would win elections in 2022 for Democrats and Republicans want to prevent this.  The GOP treats these bills as a zero-sum game, where a victory for Democrats means a defeat for them.  While they cause more gridlock in lawmaking, the American people miss out on opportunities. 

If anyone thinks the GOP cares about bipartisanship, look no further than the recent infighting in House leadership where Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) caved to the right wing of his party in moving to hold a vote to remove Liz Cheney (R-WY) from a leadership position, due to her vote to impeach former President Donald Trump and her refusal to perpetuate the lie that Trump was cheated out of the 2020 Presidential Election.   The GOP seems to be sending a clear message to anyone in the party that stepping out of line will come at a price.

The GOP also didn’t seem to care much about bipartisanship in the Trump administration, when they passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Acts of 2017.  This law passed both the House and the Senate with zero votes from Democrats.  (Note:  The 51-48 margin in the Senate was achieved through the reconciliation process.)

I understand what Joe Manchin is hoping to do for the country, but the Republican Party has not, and will not play by the same rules.  This is why his insistence is such a blow to the Biden administration.  In past years, presidents from either party were given an honest chance to implement their agenda without the opposing party becoming the party of ‘no.’  

This is where the Biden administration seems to find itself at the moment, hit with some serious punches to the mouth.  Yet, the Manchin situation is the most devastating shot.  How does President Biden counter?  What does he do about one rogue senator?

Oh, about that Mike Tyson fight against Evander Holyfield?  Tyson was right, to an extent.  We do see what happens to a plan when someone gets punched in the mouth.  Holyfield, known as one of the great counterpunchers in boxing history, took Tyson’s best shots and stuck with his plan.  He TKO’d Tyson in the 11th round.  Here’s to hoping Biden can channel his inner-Holyfield.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s