President Biden posted some historic accomplishments during his White House honeymoon — but the methods he used to earn them threaten to poison the marriage.
He’s won the largest-ever spending bill from Congress, issued a flurry of executive actions reversing Trump policies, checked off his 200 million coronavirus vaccines goal and largely thrilled his left flank, while still posting impressive approval numbers among the rest of the population.
But as he nears his 100th day in office the grim realities of governing in a deeply divided Washington are setting in, and the hardline approach he took toward negotiating with Republicans on the coronavirus spending bill has cost him considerable goodwill.
“The legislative approach this administration deployed has been akin to Biden walking into the honeymoon suite to say he was going out with the fellas,” said Josh Holmes, a GOP consultant and former chief of staff to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. “When you have explicit disrespect for bipartisanship from the jump it makes it significantly more difficult to find bipartisan support going forward.”
Mr. Biden will have a chance to patch things when he addresses a joint session of Congress Wednesday.
The next day he plans to travel to Georgia to take a victory lap highlighting the achievements of his first days in office.
Mr. Biden campaigned on themes of bipartisanship and unity and battling his party’s socialist wing — but in office, he’s governed from well left of center.
And he shunned overtures to work with Republicans, particularly on the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 spending bill, which passed with no GOP votes when Democrats used the budget process to avoid a filibuster.
Mr. Biden’s team says the president is operating from a new definition of bipartisanship, one that gives more weight to the concerns of Republican voters than to elected GOP officials in Washington.
Gallup shows Mr. Biden with a 57% job approval rating, which is solid, but still short of where Presidents Obama and George W. Bush were at this point, and in line with where President Clinton was.
Mr. Biden’s bigger worry is that soon he’ll need to start caring more about the Capitol Hill scorecard.
Sen. Susan Collins, one of the centrist Republicans the administration will need to clear the 60-vote filibuster, said Mr. Biden has failed to live up to his “great inaugural speech in which he pledged to unify the country and work in a bipartisan way.
“Unfortunately, I think he has been tugged to the left by some members of his staff and outside groups and I think that is unfortunate, and I hope he will come back to a more bipartisan approach and work with us on both sides of the aisle,” the Maine Republican told Punchbowl News.
Mr. Biden will soon face a breaking point, said John Hudak, deputy director of the Center for Effective Public Management and a senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brooking Institution.
“There is going to be this transition moment for the president into a period where he has a choice between either full gridlock or negotiating with a sufficient number of Republican senators to get an agenda moving,” Mr. Hudak said.
The list of issues on which Mr. Biden has demanded action but is likely to need GOP help is a lengthy one.
Among them is the president’s call for a major overhaul of state election laws. He’s also pushing for new federal rules on policing, an expansion of background checks on gun sales, reinstatement of a ban on so-called “assault” rifles, statehood for the District of Columbia and the provision of a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
Unless Democrats can find ways to shoehorn those requests into the budget process, each will have to clear the 60-vote filibuster threshold in the Senate — meaning they’ll need the support of at least 10 Republicans.
A Pew Research survey released this month found Americans’ views on the biggest challenge facing the nation split largely along partisan lines.
Over two-thirds of Democrats said gun violence, racism, the coronavirus outbreak, and affordable health care were very big problems, compared to seven out of 10 Republicans who cited immigration and the federal budget deficit as their top concerns.
Mike Howell, a senior adviser at the Heritage Foundation, said Mr. Biden’s relative silence on those issues of importance to Republicans does not bode well for his presidency going forward.
“Joe Biden so far has slammed through a partisan $2 trillion pork bonanza under the banner of COVID relief, incited a historic border crisis and refused to address it, threatened to pack the Supreme Court, end the filibuster, add new states and legalize all illegal aliens,” Mr. Howell said. “He has done almost everything possible to rule as a partisan ideologue and shunned any attempt at unity or bipartisanship.”
The White House says Mr. Biden is eager to work with Republicans on his infrastructure spending proposal, the $2.25 trillion American Jobs Plan.
Mr. Hudak said Mr. Biden may soon have to compromise with Republicans to notch more wins, but starting out with a left-leaning stance could still be good politics.
“It is a sort of counterintuitive situation where I think the president wins by losing,” Mr. Hudak said. “He wins the hearts and minds of the progressive base by trying to achieve the goals the base wants and failing to do so.”
The other benefit, Mr. Hudak said, is that Republicans may prove to be so obstinate that it paves the way for defanging the power of the filibuster and sidelining the GOP altogether.
“The only path to convincing Democrat moderates that the filibuster needs to go is to show why it needs to go,” he said. “Not just discussing hypotheticals, but actually demonstrating it.”
He doubted it would work, but said it’s the best shot filibuster critics have.