What to expect from President-elect Joe Biden
The US election is over. Joe Biden will be the next president. The result is now largely accepted by the press, business leaders, foreign leaders, and others. What will the election outcome mean for government policy going forward? The answer is that it depends on the outcome of Senate elections which will determine which party controls the Senate. Currently, we know that the Democrats control 48 seats and Republicans will control 50 seats in the 100-seat Senate. Two seats are yet to be determined. The general consensus is that Republicans have a better chance of holding all four, but there is some uncertainty. The Democrats need two of those seats to gain control while the Republicans need three. The most likely scenario is a Democratic president and a Republican Senate. This means little likelihood of passing many of the ambitious domestic plans offered by candidate Biden. It means a more scaled-back fiscal stimulus.
On the other hand, it is reported that Biden intends to issue some initial executive orders that will shift the direction and tone of the Federal government. These include rescinding the restrictive immigration and refugee policies of the current administration, rejoining the Paris Accords on climate, rejoining the World Health Organization, allowing transgender people to serve in the military, and allowing government workers to join unions. Other potential actions might include reducing tariffs, changing rules regarding cross-border investment, and changing environmental rules that affect the automotive and energy industries. On the other hand, there are many legislative actions that the Biden campaign had proposed that are not likely to happen if there is a divided government. These include raising the federal minimum wage, expanding the Affordable Care Act, spending more money and imposing new regulations related to climate, reforming law enforcement in order to address systemic racism, raising taxes on upper-income households, and increasing the corporate tax rate. Another proposal is to spend heavily on infrastructure investment. This might have a chance given that there are some Republicans who favor this kind of expenditure.
Meanwhile, a divided government will likely lead Mr. Biden to be more focused on tasks a president can undertake without Congressional support. These include carrying out foreign policy, ordering the use of military force or changes in military deployment, and implementing changes in policy related to trade and cross-border investment. These are areas that Biden is well-prepared to do having spent decades on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (some of which were as chairman) and having played a significant role in the foreign policy of the Obama administration.
Biden is likely to face resistance to his policies on two fronts. First, some Republicans could follow a scorched earth policy meant to disrupt the success of the new administration. This would be especially true if Donald Trump continues to have an influential role in the party. Second, Biden will likely face trouble from the left flank of his own party. Already, there have been grumblings that Biden might be too much of a centrist, that he might choose technocratic centrists rather than those with ideological purity, and that he might even appoint Republicans to his administration. Biden has counseled compromise and respect for opponents. This attitude does not resonate with many people in both parties.
Biden’s supporters had hoped for a clear mandate in the form of a landslide election. This did not happen. Still, the presidential election was not nearly as close as it has been portrayed. Biden won the election, carrying more than 78 million votes and obtaining the largest share of the vote of any challenger to an incumbent since 1932. He got the third-highest share of the overall vote of a Democrat since 1944 and the highest share of the population of any candidate ever. Thus, although the result was closer than anticipated by pollsters, it was not actually close in terms of the number of votes cast. As for the more important electoral college, all major news organizations now predict that he will obtain 306 electoral votes compared to the 270 needed to win. This is the same number that Donald Trump received in 2016. On the other hand, Democrats made no gains in Congress, having lost seats in the House and at this time gaining only one in the Senate. Thus, the status quo nearly held. Yet it held as Americans voted in larger numbers as a share of the electorate than any time in the last century. Biden got the most votes ever achieved by a presidential candidate while Trump got the second most. Citizens were clearly engaged.