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Biden calls to ‘turn the page,’ but healing after election could prove difficult

by Stephen Loiaconi | Tuesday, December 15th 2020 | Original Article

WASHINGTON (SBG) — President-elect Joe Biden has committed to healing political divisions deepened by a long and contentious election campaign, but experts foresee complications for that effort, including ideological rifts within the Democratic Party and a refusal by many Republicans to admit that he won the race.

“In this battle for the soul of America, democracy prevailed,” Biden said Monday night after the Electoral College affirmed his victory. “We the people voted, faith in our institutions held, the integrity of our elections remains intact. And now it’s time to turn the page as we’ve done throughout our history, to unite, to heal.”

Biden stressed that President Donald Trump was given every opportunity to contest the results and prove his claims of widespread fraud, but his legal challenges consistently failed to alter the outcome. He called for Americans to work together to “lower the temperature” and find common ground.

“As I said in this campaign, I will be president for all Americans,” he said. “I’ll work just as hard for those of who you didn’t vote for me as I will for those who did.”

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany promptly dismissed Biden’s hopeful rhetoric, calling it a “DIVISIVE speech” on Twitter. She accused Democrats of engaging in an “assault on democracy,” complaining about their investigations of the Trump administration and baselessly claiming they rigged the election.

Biden acknowledged bring the country together would be hard work. His remarks followed a weekend in which violence broke out at protests over the election results in three cities, including Washington, D.C. Officials in several states had to implement security measures Monday to protect electors from threats as they cast their votes.

Republicans appeared less eager to move on than the president-elect. Last week, two-thirds of House Republicans backed a Supreme Court suit intended to throw out millions of legal votes in four states that Biden won, and many have continued to echo Trump’s unsubstantiated attacks on election integrity.

“Our country has been pulling apart for the better part of two decades, and there’s little any single politician can do to change that,” said Republican strategist Mark Weaver, predicting Biden will face obstacles on both the right and the left as he tries to unite Americans.

Some Democrats have voiced frustration that Biden is not bringing enough progressive voices to the table. A growing contingent of young, liberal lawmakers is likely to hold significant influence over the House agenda in the next Congress, and appealing to the center might require bucking their demands.

“Biden’s DNA is about bridging the political divide and achieving legislative compromise,” said Democratic strategist Bradley Honan. “His question is how he holds the Democratic Party together.”

After weeks of public pressure, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., seemed to resign himself to an impending Biden presidency Tuesday. While effusively praising Trump’s accomplishments in office, he signaled the president’s term is coming to an end.

“The electoral college has spoken,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “Today, I want to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden.”

Other top Republicans, including Sen. John Thune of South Dakota and Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, recognized Biden’s victory Monday. Some, like South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, were still unwilling to completely close the door to the possibility of Trump somehow overturning the results.

“It’s a very, very narrow path for the president, but having said that, I think we’ll let those legal challenges play out,” Graham told reporters on Capitol Hill Monday after speaking to Biden by phone and committing to working with him on some issues.

Trump showed no signs of surrender Tuesday, posting numerous tweets and retweets falsely asserting there is “Tremendous evidence pouring in on voter fraud.” He also retweeted a post by attorney Lin Wood calling for Georgia’s governor and secretary of state to be jailed for unspecified crimes.

At least one GOP lawmaker, Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, still plans to challenge the Electoral College results when Congress meets to receive the votes on Jan. 6. Some senators have not ruled out the possibility of joining him in that challenge, but there is little chance it would amount to anything more than a brief partisan stunt.

Experts say Republican elected officials disputing Biden’s win are reflecting the will of their constituents, who have been fed a steady diet of claims of election rigging and voter fraud from President Trump for months. Defying Trump and the party’s base carries significant political risk and very little potential benefit.

“Frankly, a lot of these senators and members of the House are beholden to their voters, and if their voters are still outraged by the election, that will make it more difficult to compromise with Biden,” said Todd Belt, director of the political management program at the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management.

A Fox News survey conducted last week found 36% of voters, including 77% of Trump supporters, believe the election was stolen from him. Other polls have similarly shown entrenched suspicions among GOP voters of the election results that will be difficult to dispel, especially if Trump continues to spread conspiracy theories.

How much the Republican opposition matters to Biden’s agenda could depend partly on the outcome of two Senate runoff elections in Georgia next month. Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock are fighting to unseat Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler and give Democrats control of the chamber.

If Republicans hold on to at least one of those seats, McConnell would remain the majority leader, and even getting a Cabinet confirmed could be an uphill battle for Biden. That is one reason he traveled to Georgia Tuesday to campaign for Ossoff and Warnock.

“Georgia, we need to do right by Joe Biden. We need to make sure Joe Biden can pass his agenda,” Ossoff said before Biden spoke at a rally in Atlanta. “Because if Mitch McConnell controls the Senate, they’re going to try to do to Joe and Kamala just like they tried to do to President Obama.”

Republicans have already objected to some of Biden’s planned Cabinet nominees, declaring them outside the mainstream or insufficiently experienced. His pick to head the Office of Management and Budget, Center for American Progress President Neera Tanden, has been harshly critical of many GOP senators over the last four years.

“So much for unity,” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., tweeted after Biden unveiled his first slate of nominees last month.

Weaver noted Biden is placing some of his more politically controversial allies like former national security adviser Susan Rice in positions that do not require Senate confirmation. He expects the way Biden and Republicans handle confirmation hearings for his nominees will set the tone for the year ahead on Capitol Hill.

“If you want to see what life in June is going to be like, you’ll watch the Cabinet confirmations,” he said.

According to Honan, it will be important for Biden to show the public he can work across the aisle, even if some Republicans have shown no interest in doing the same. Not all Trump voters will be persuadable, but an earnest effort at compromise could help.

“There is a hardcore base of GOP voters who may never accept that Biden was elected legitimately,” he said. “The more that Biden appears fair and even-handed, rather than partisan, the more quickly these feelings will dissipate.”

Bloomberg News reported the Biden administration is already planning to create a position focused on outreach to conservatives. Rep. Cedric Richmond, who will head the White House Office of Public Engagement, said at The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council last week the administration would attempt to create demand in the country for politicians to work together.

“We’re not elected just to help Democrats or urban cities or minorities,” Richmond said. “We were elected to help this entire country and that means reaching out to conservatives, that means reaching out to rural areas, reaching out to people who didn’t vote for us.”

An NBCLX/YouGov survey conducted in late November found 41% of registered voters want Biden to prioritize uniting the country over pursuing a progressive agenda, while only 29% said he should put the policy goals of the left first. Nearly 80% of Democrats expect Biden will succeed in making the country at least somewhat more united, but 74% of Republicans believe the nation will become even more divided during his presidency.

“It appears as though we will have divided government for two more years, and divided government makes for a divided country,” Weaver said.

Biden’s challenge is not entirely unique. Several recent presidents have faced questions about their legitimacy, including Trump, and they have struggled to overcome partisan divisions.

“There are a lot of Democrats who never considered President George W. Bush to be legitimate,” Belt said. “I can see that continuing with Republicans.”

Some prominent Democrats and many voters remained skeptical of Trump’s claim to the White House for several reasons, including suspicions his campaign colluded with Russia. Similarly, Weaver said many Republicans who do not believe there was rampant fraud in the 2020 election still think “unfair elements” like the role of the media and social media tilted the scales in favor of Biden.

“The parallels between incoming President Donald Trump and incoming President Joe Biden are fascinating,” Weaver said.

Biden, who spent nearly 40 years in the Senate, might be better suited than most presidents to forge a consensus on Capitol Hill. He had strong relationships with McConnell and several other GOP senators, but as the reluctance of many of those same lawmakers to acknowledge his victory demonstrated, political dynamics have shifted since he left the chamber.

Beyond fulfilling a campaign promise, Biden’s need to reach across the aisle is also a simple political reality. At best, he would be taking office with a 50-50 Senate and a narrow majority in the House, so bipartisan support will be required to get most legislation passed.

Biden’s more moderate approach has already rankled progressives, and intraparty strife will only grow once he is inaugurated. If Republicans retain control of the Senate, Honan suggested Biden might find it easier to jettison some of the more extreme ideas of the left and move toward the center because there would be no other option.

“Biden will have a better time unifying the country with a GOP Senate, which may be the result that the Georgia runoffs produce,” he said.

Even if Democrats win both Senate races in Georgia, most bills would still need 60 votes in the chamber to pass unless they eliminate the legislative filibuster, and several moderate Democratic senators have publicly expressed opposition to that change. That means many of Biden’s priorities—economic stimulus, climate change, racial justice—could die in the Senate without Republican buy-in.

“This is sort of the ‘meta’ thing hanging over everything,” Belt said. “You don’t get the COVID relief bill unless you start bringing people together… He’s going to have to bring people together to get the things done that he wants.”