Democrats Can Salvage Biden’s Presidency With These Three Simple Moves

·5 min read
Photo Illustration by Kelly Caminero/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Kelly Caminero/The Daily Beast/Getty

We’re a year into the Biden presidency and the historic moment for broadscale change has come and is probably gone. Democrats are deflated, dreams of addressing society’s unmet needs — like strengthening the social safety net and addressing climate change — have been pared down and postponed. Voting rights are compromised and promises of transformational change have been shelved, at least for now.

Reality is here. The time for wishful thinking is over. Democrats don’t have the votes in the Senate to pass voting rights bills or the expansive Build Back Better (BBB) spending bill they’ve spent months debating among themselves.

But Democrats can do their part to salvage the Biden presidency by doing three things.

First: Reach out to Republican Senator Mitt Romney, the GOP’s one-time standard bearer, and take him up on his offer to modernize the 1887 Electoral Count Act (ECA).

Next: Move quickly to seal the bipartisan deal on the domestic manufacturing of desperately-needed semiconductor chips.

Finally: Figure out what a certain moderate Democratic senator from West Virginia will allow in BBB, and as Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg put it, “Sign whatever deal [Joe] Manchin will go for.” And then go sell it like crazy to the public.

“What I’m hearing is that Democrats are ready to unite around anything Biden can get from Manchin,” Greenberg told The Daily Beast, signaling that progressive Democrats too are at last reconciled to reality. Manchin might have balked at the originally proposed $3.5 trillion BBB price tag, but earlier in the process Manchin proposed his own $1.8 trillion package that included significant tax-the-rich proposals. Those policies, if adopted, would have put him to the left of where Barack Obama was as president.

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Electoral Vote Count reform and taking a huge step toward greater technological competitiveness with China each have bipartisan support. If Democrats play their cards right, they can help Biden earn a couple more easy legislative victories, and thereby restore some luster to Biden’s presidency.

Sen. Manchin and fellow moderate Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema dashed their party’s ambitions on the voting rights bills that Democrats were counting on, since not a single Republican was willing to break ranks. But Romney’s offered some help, challenging the White House to put its muscle behind a group of 12 bipartisan senators negotiating reforms to the 1887 Electoral Count Act (ECA). These reforms would head off any coup attempt by former President Donald Trump and his allies to have GOP legislatures and friendly election officials overturn the will of the voters and substitute pro-Trump electors.

“It’s important to fix because it’s a loaded gun pointed at our democracy,” says Matt Bennett, a co-founder of the moderate Democratic group, Third Way. As written over a hundred years ago, it takes only one House member and one Senate member to object to the vote count. The reform recommended by House Democrats would require a third of each chamber to raise an objection before it could be heard.

Biden ran on his long experience in the Senate and his belief that he could make the Congress work again. He was able to pass significant legislation on infrastructure with bipartisan support, and he could burnish his record with the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA). It passed the Senate in June (68 to 32) but has been languishing in the House along with the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors for America Act (CHIPS), which is a component of the broader bill, USICA.

Republicans and Democrats love this legislation because it stands up to China and it establishes new semiconductor facilities in the United States, along with a National Semiconductor Technology Center. Anybody paying attention to the supply chain crises knows there’s a crippling shortage of semiconductors. An analysis by Goldman Sachs found 169 industries are affected, with automobiles and electronics hit the hardest.

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This legislation could have passed and been signed by Biden six months ago, alleviating some of the supply chain issues that the administration is grappling with today. There’s still no timetable for passage, and no apparent rush by the House, where the leadership indicated it wanted to write its own bill as opposed to accepting what was sent over by the Senate.

Back in the spring of 2021 when the CHIPS Act sailed through the Senate with 68 votes, everything seemed possible to achieve. “The mood was the sky’s the limit, and to some extent the administration got caught up in that,” says Bill Galston, a senior fellow in governance studies at The Brookings Institution. “After their stunning early victory with the American Rescue Plan, the administration may have concluded the force was with them — and so they outran their political supply lines.”

This always happens, says Third Way’s Matt Bennett. “Presidents’ reach far exceeds their grasp. It happened to Clinton on health care, Obama on cap and trade (carbon tax) and Biden on voting rights, George W. Bush on privatizing social security and Trump on getting rid of the ACA (Affordable Care Act). Presidents always try for the moon, and they often fall short. It’s not unusual, not surprising, and now is the time when you take what you can get.”

It’s sad, it’s like a death in the family, the loss of all those big hopes and dreams. But unless there’s a miracle, the Democrats can’t win in a Senate that protects minority rights so zealously that a majority cannot prevail. It’s like a Las Vegas casino where everything is rigged but occasionally there’s a pay-off that lets everyone think things are on the up and up.

That’s what it’s come to, but a win is a win. Democrats should take the victories where they can get them, and then sell the heck out of them.

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