What should be the work of government for the next two years?
It’s clear from last night’s results in Georgia that the Democrats, having flipped two more Senate seats, will have a slim majority (50/50, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking ties). It’s also clear that despite the protests of the president and a dozen Republican senators, Biden will be certified as our next president when the Congress counts the electoral votes today.
It may take a few days, but neither result is in doubt.
So, just like the rest of us, Joe Biden and his team are working on what to focus on in the coming year.
There are two possible priorities on which the Biden administration and its allies in Congress could concentrate their efforts.
The first possibility is to focus on getting things done. For example:
- Efficient rollout of the Coronavirus vaccine.
- Economic relief and recovery support.
- Election reform and improvements in election security.
- Regulatory action on climate change.
- Student loan reform, to allow a generation of young people to continue to participate in our economy.
- Infrastructure investment.
- Social media regulation and enforcement.
- Racial justice and policing reform.
- Rebuilding international alliances.
- Tax increases on wealthy citizens and corporations.
Alternatively, the administration could focus on punishing Trump and his followers with prosecutions and other sanctions.
I have a clear preference. Getting things done comes first.
Why we must focus on action and not reaction
Why did America elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris? Why did Georgia elect Raphael Warnock and John Ossoff to the Senate?
To get things done.
We can (and will) argue about which things to do first. But here’s why a focus on getting things done quickly is appropriate:
- The nation is in crisis. People are dying and losing jobs. We need help.
- We elected Biden and Harris as much for their competence as for their politics. I’d argue that’s the primary reason that they won swing voters who have rarely voted for Democrats before. They must deliver on that promise.
- Biden and Democrats may only have two years. Stuff that they put off for later may never come to pass.
- When the time comes for Biden or Democrats to run for reelection, their ability to help the nation will matter most. Whether they prosecuted Trump or not won’t change many votes.
Accomplishing much of this will require ending the filibuster in the Senate, which effectively requires a 60-vote majority for most legislation. This would be an end to a significant norm in how our country is governed. But given the number of norms that Trump and Republicans have violated — including challenging the seating of a president elected by a huge majority of voters — it’s a small price to pay. The alternative is an inability to pass urgently legislation over a recalcitrant opposition, which would be catastrophic for the nation.
What about the behavior of Trump and members of his administration, which likely includes violations of many federal laws? (Take the latest example, Trump’s call in which he attempts to bully the Georgia Secretary of State into changing “finding” 11,780 votes?)
These are not trivial violations. But they are not urgent. State Attorneys General should continue their prosecutions. And Biden should select a U.S. Attorney General and instruct him or her to tell the Justice Department to prosecute whatever they find — and then stay out of it.
You may ask “Can’t we do both?” We can, but there has to be a priority. The messaging and action from the Biden administration will determine how people see the new president — as another vindictive and reactive politician, or as a leader attempting to accomplish what the nation needs.
If Biden can make life in America better, his party will win seats in 2022, and he or Kamala Harris will be reelected in 2024.
If all he can do is rile people up by punishing Republicans, he won’t.
Donald Trump will soon be out of power. The less we hear about him, the better.
Get stuff done, Joe. That’s why we put you there.