Biden Signals Waning Taste for Bipartisanship Amid GOP Blowback
(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden signaled in his first formal news conference that he’s in no mood to let the trappings of bipartisanship stand in the way of his agenda, offering clear notice he values his policy ambitions over a post-Trump detente with Washington Republicans.
“I want to change the paradigm,” Biden told reporters Thursday at the White House.
The president for the first time suggested he may eventually support getting rid of the Senate filibuster entirely, after Republicans threatened to use the procedure to stop many of his priorities, from expansions of voting rights to an immigration overhaul, gun control and measures to fight climate change.
The filibuster, he said, had been “abused in a gigantic way” by Republicans. He portrayed GOP efforts to restrict voting rights in states racist, saying “this makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle.”
“I’m going to do everything in my power, along with my friends in the House and Senate to keep that from becoming the law,” he said.
The news conference was Biden’s longest back-and-forth with reporters to date. Long known for gaffes, the president committed no major missteps, but he was also cautious. At one point he seemed to lose his train of thought while explaining his position on the filibuster, leading to an awkward pause, and he read much of his answer to a question about China from prepared notes.
The biggest news from the event was that he expects to run for re-election in 2024, when he’ll turn 82.
His remarks on the filibuster and Republicans, though, brought into relief a shift Biden has undertaken from candidate to president. He showed that he believes his electoral victory offers him a political mandate to fundamentally expand and refocus the mission of the federal government.
Biden brushed aside questions about why he wasn’t doing more to court Republicans like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, pointing implicitly to his public approval rating. He has the support of about 54% of Americans, according to a Gallup poll conducted March 1-15.
“I would like elected Republican support, but what I know I have now is I have electoral support from Republican voters,” Biden said. “Republican voters agree with what I’m doing.”
Biden’s newfound willingness to dispense with courting Republicans offered one of the few emerging themes from a press conference that otherwise hewed closely to expectations.
On questions about foreign policy topics like China, North Korea and the Middle East, he referred often to prepared notes and reiterated familiar talking points. A follow-up question did yield a prediction American troops would withdraw from Afghanistan by year’s end.
Much of the post-press conference social media chatter focused not on the president himself, but instead on the assembled press corps, who asked Biden multiple questions about his re-election prospects and his handling of a surge of migrants on the southern U.S. border, but none about the ongoing pandemic -- likely the top concern of ordinary Americans.
Biden’s display of cold political calculation was notable, given that his long career in the Senate and his bipartisan appeal were core to his presidential campaign.
Biden said he “strongly” supported returning to a “talking filibuster” that would require senators to stand and continue speaking to hold the floor and block legislation. He said he agreed the procedure had a history rooted in discrimination and said that if Republicans used the technique to block “certain things that are just elementary to the functioning of democracy,” like voting rights, he could back even more extreme changes.
“If there’s complete lockdown and chaos as a consequence of the filibuster, then we’ll have to go beyond what I’m talking about,” Biden said.
At the same time, the president demonstrated little interest in finding common ground on voting issues, with Republican state legislatures across the country looking to restrict access to the ballot box following his electoral victory in November and former President Donald Trump’s false allegations of widespread fraud.
“What I’m worried about is how un-American this whole initiative is,” Biden said. “It’s sick.”
Hours after his news conference concluded, the Republican-controlled legislature in Georgia sent Governor Brian Kemp legislation that would restrict voting by mail, which was particularly popular among Democrats last year. Biden narrowly won the state in November and two Democrats won both of its Senate seats in January runoff elections.
Despite flashing emotion on some issues, Biden also made clear that his willingness to let go of longtime traditions and cross-party collaboration was largely rooted in a calculated pragmatism. When he was asked about what specific gun control actions he would take in the wake of mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder, Colorado, the president said his agenda was ambitious but “all a matter of timing.”
“Successful presidents, better than me, have been successful in large part because they know how to time what they’re doing,” Biden said. “Order, deciding priorities, what needs to be done.”
Biden Promises a New ‘Paradigm’ in Economic Program Next Week
As if to illustrate his point, the president pivoted quickly from gun control to an exposition on his upcoming, multi-trillion-dollar proposal for a new infrastructure and jobs program -- touching on everything from wellheads leaking methane to asbestos in school buildings. The winding answer seemed to illustrate, on the fly, the president’s reorientation toward achieving as much policy change as possible.
“There’s so much we can do,” Biden said.
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