“What Is to Be Done,” by President Biden

Joe Agonistes….

Joe Biden’s job is hard.

Your job is relatively easy.

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Starting with Ronald Reagan, only one recent U.S president was not as smart as he thought he was.

Detractors of presidents of both parties are flat wrong: Stupid people don’t get installed in the Oval Office these days.

They just don’t.

Even the one contemporary commander in chief who is/was not as smart as he thought he is/was is/was quite smart.

To paraphrase the great JFK line: When Jill Biden, Valerie Biden Owens, Ron Klain, Steve Ricchetti, Mike Donilon, Anita Dunn, Jen O'Malley Dillon, Kate Bedingfield, Bruce Reed, Jake Sullivan, and Jen Psaki meet, it is the greatest assemblage of political talent and strategic genius ever convened at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, with the possible exception of when Barack Obama ate almonds alone.

There is a reason (actually: several reasons) why in 2016 and 2020 Mr. Obama’s posture on a Biden presidential campaign (and presidency) ran from deeply pessimistic all the way to pessimistic.

At least part of Team Obama’s skepticism about its #2 involved doubts about his decision making and capacity for innovative, creative strategic thought.

There is no shortage of those traits in the Biden dining room cabinet.

But the Big Guy himself is going to have to use his experience, wisdom, fingertips, and gut to make a passel of major decisions in this calendar year.

My reporting suggests that Biden is a decision maker more in the mold of George W. Bush than of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. (More on that in an upcoming WWoN episode…)

What does POTUSJRB face?

Forget the media’s obsession with the question, “How will President Biden deal with the hovering presence and desperation/desperado tactics of Donald Trump?”

With the same media squarely in Biden’s corner come what may in any clash with his predecessor, and with the incumbent’s well-honed patter on the matter, that “challenge” is largely on auto pilot. 

There are, however, some giant denizens of the deep to fricassee, and building the fryer, buying the oil, timing the cooking, and serving a hungry nation all involve presidential judgment, assessments, and rulings that are more TBD than TBA at this point.

Listed below are just some of the 130,000-feet questions. 

And sitting under every one of these queries are additinal strategic (im)ponderables that this president has to navigate, and under those are countless tactical decisions – all of which will determine the real health of the American people and the political health of Joseph Biden. 

Here we go:

* How to balance optimism with realism/pessimism when talking about America’s future with the pandemic, starting on this day when Biden must note a tragic milestone and/but not let it turn into a millstone.

* How to time his address to a joint session of Congress (the speech new presidents give in lieu of a state of the union address, but that look just like a SOTU) with the passage of his pandemic relief bill in mind – and what to talk about (besides COVID).

* How he can build bipartisan support and make good on his promise of unity after rushing to reconciliation on his first major legislative gambit.

(It would be great for the national debate if we could hear the administration’s line-by-line rebuttal to this sobering Wall Street Journal lead editorial that makes the case that half of the funding in the Democratic-only package is for party priories, not pandemic relief.)

* How he can build bipartisan support and make good on his promise of unity when Steve Scalise, a bunch of Republican senators, and (per this essential reading USA Today poll of Trump backers) a very large number of Americans continue to believe (or, maybe worse, pretend to believe) that the election was “stolen” from Mr. Trump.

* How he can work better with the states on handling the toughest logistical, public health, and public education aspects of the pandemic.

* How he can find positions on free trade and international agreements that stop hiding behind a largely incurious press corps, build international alliances, don’t freak out labor unions and the populist left, and represent an actual plan.

* How he can get business leaders and voters to see him as a president who understands how to be a good steward of a good economy. 

* How can decide when to pull the trigger on raising taxes – and keep the moment from becoming a politically and economically ruinous one after the bazaar is open to the Democratic caucus.

* How he will approach just how green, new, and dealy he wants to be when the time comes to enunciate his environmental and energy policies.

* Does he talk at all during this term about a path to a balanced budget.

* How to mend the Affordable Care Act.

* How to simultaneously deal with the search for an immigration compromise (within and between parties) and address the facts on the ground -- and handle the interplay between the two, as smartly laid out in this essential reading Washington Post editorial:

Taken as a whole, the [Biden] policy amounts to an elaborate set of circles that the new administration is attempting to square. And it occurs against the backdrop of President Biden’s ambitious legislative proposal, facing long odds in the Senate, to establish a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented migrants. Any significant new surge of illegal border-crossing could kill off that bill’s slight chance of success — or even hopes for the more politically palatable parts of it, such as a path to legalization for “dreamers,” young unauthorized immigrants brought to this country as children.

Understandably, officials are trying to buy time; they say it will be another few months before the administration produces a fully formed new policy. Critically, that approach must feature orderly procedures for asylum seekers that allow them to pursue their legal claims in the United States — which the Trump administration did not — and do not trigger a massive new run on the border by migrant caravans. Amid a pandemic, robust enforcement at the border will be more important than ever.

* How he will navigate the rough waters coming for his close allies Andrew Cuomo (read the Wall Street Journal op ed on the criminal charges he could face) and Gavin Newsom (read Politico on how closed schools rival closed businesses on the Golden State topper’s black eye list).

* Everything about how to deal with Putin that doesn’t involve rousing speeches to Europeans.

* Everything about how to deal with China that doesn’t involve rhetorical acknowledgment that Trump did some things right but not nearly enough.

* Getting rid of (or managing) North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities.

* Taking the reins of the Middle East peace process.

* Everything Saudi, including Yemen.

* How liberal his judicial nominees should be.

* How hard does he fight to end the Beltway swamp, starting with the activities and access of Team Biden-affiliated lobbyists and the naming of big ticket ambassador picks.

* How hard does he fight for election reform.

* How aggressively should he try to regulate Big Tech.

* How should he navigate the reality that his Justice Department is investigating his son (on the day Merrick Garland begins his confirmation process for the attorney general slot).

* How involved he should get in the midterms (recruitment, fundraising, travel, etc).

* Does he give Kamala Harris the leg up to succeed him as the party’s presidential nominee that he was denied by Barack Obama.

* Does he dethrone or preserve the roles of Iowa and New Hampshire in the nominating process.

As you read the list, Mr. President, recall you chose to run for this position; you were not drafted.

As your close friend Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga would say, “Ganbatte kudasai.” (頑張ってください)

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