In contrast to his image as a moderate Democrat, upon which he campaigned for president, Joe Biden’s actions and words since he took office have revealed him to be intent on pursuing a liberal agenda far more extreme than the policies of the Obama administration. Furthermore, Biden and his fellow Democrats are seeking to impose that agenda on the American people without receiving a clear mandate from them in the November election.
Biden’s margin of victory in the nationwide popular vote was less than 5%. He won in the Electoral College by the same margin as Trump did in 2016 because he carried four states — Georgia, Arizona, Nevada and Wisconsin — with a total popular vote margin of victory of only 75,000 out of 13,000,000 votes cast in those states, which is less than 0.6%. That was about half of the total popular vote margin that Trump won in the swing states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, which gave him his 2016 Electoral College victory.
The outcome of the 2020 election in the House and Senate indicated an even greater a lack of support for liberal Democrat policies by the same voters who elected Biden president. The Democrats actually lost ground in the House, where their majority shrank to only nine seats after a New York State Supreme Court judge ruled that the winner in the last undecided House race in the country was the Republican candidate.
In the Senate, Republicans faced the challenge of a dozen vulnerable incumbents up for re-election. Nevertheless, Democrats barely managed to pick up the three seats they needed to reach a 50-50 split with Republicans, and rely on Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote to pass any legislation not blocked by a filibuster. The Democrats were only able to pull even in the Senate by virtue of victories in a January 5 dual runoff election for two seats in Georgia undecided in the November vote.
As a result, Democrats barely control both Congress by the smallest working majority in our lifetimes, and the Senate only by virtue of the vice president’s tie-breaking vote.
BIDEN ABANDONS COMPROMISE ON THE COVID RELIEF BILL
Nevertheless, Biden and his fellow Democrats have already decided to forego any serious effort to reach a mutually acceptable compromise with Republicans in the House and Senate on the first important piece of legislation of Biden’s presidency, a Covid pandemic relief bill.
The measure, crafted and released by Biden’s transition team before he took office, without any Republican input, is loaded with items from the radical progressive policy agenda wish-list — such as the $15-an-hour minimum wage — which are unrelated to the Covid crisis. The proposal also features excessively generous debt-financed payouts to taxpayers and unemployed workers, and a $350 billion bailout, masquerading as Covid aid, to cover the old debts of near-bankrupt, mismanaged Democrat-ruled cities and states across the country.
Last week, Biden held a White House meeting with 10 moderate Republican senators who offered to negotiate a compromise on his $1.9-trillion Covid relief proposal, using as a starting point their agreement to more than $600 billion in directly Covid-related spending already in Biden’s bill. But within 48 hours, Biden signaled to his fellow Democrats that the White House meeting was just for show, and that he had no intention of negotiating any reduction in the overall size of his proposal with the Republicans.
The only negotiable point in the proposal seems to be the $15-an-hour minimum wage provision. Biden admitted in a CBS broadcast interview last week that, “I put it in [to the Covid bill] but I don’t think it’s going to survive.” That said, Biden added, “no one should work 40 hours a week and live below the poverty wage. And if you’re making less than $15 an hour, you’re living below the poverty wage,” suggesting that the minimum wage hike may need to be passed as a separate measure.
The minimum wage proposal became more problematic after the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued a report Monday predicting that it would eliminate 1.4 million American jobs over the next four years, while lifting only 900,000 workers out of poverty. In addition, the CBO predicted that the minimum wage hike would increase the federal deficit by $54 billion over the next decade. However, Senator Bernie Sanders, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, expressed his determination to keep the minimum wage hike in the larger bill, despite the CBO’s report.
Questions are also being raised within Democrat circles about whether the original $75,000-per-person income cap on eligibility for the $1,400 stimulus check shouldn’t be reduced to a lower figure, such as $60,000, to make sure that the aid is “targeted” at a needier population.
NO REPUBLICAN VOTES REQUIRED
Despite these uncertainties, Biden is urging congressional Democrats to push forward with their plans to force his original Covid measure through the Senate without a single supporting Republican vote. The Democrats would evade a certain Republican filibuster in the Senate by using the extraordinary reconciliation procedure, officially reserved solely for the passage of financial legislation.
Thus, in his presidency’s first serious legislative encounter with Senate Republicans, Biden rejected their offer to negotiate a good-faith compromise to deal with the Covid crisis, as was done five times during the last year of Trump’s presidency. Instead, President Biden’s opening move in his relationship with Republicans was to announce his intention to ram his bloated $1.9 trillion Covid proposal down their throats, poisoning the atmosphere for any future efforts at bipartisan cooperation.
GOVERNMENT BY EXECUTIVE ORDER
From the very first day that Biden took office, he abandoned the unity theme of the inaugural address he had delivered to bipartisan praise just hours before. Instead, the new president launched an unprecedented blitz, signing dozens of executive orders, as well as presidential proclamations, presidential memorandums and two letters of intent to rejoin international organizations. They shared the common purpose of canceling or reversing all the key domestic and foreign policy innovations put in place by the Trump administration over the past four years.
They also reflect the goals and priorities of the radical progressives who now dominate the Democrat policy agenda. For example, Biden’s executive orders reflect the extremist climate change view which has no tolerance for the continued use of fossil fuels. Biden’s executive orders banning fracking on federal lands and halting work of the Keystone XL pipeline ignores their devastating impact on the American economy, and the importance of continued energy independence to American national security. Biden would also hold American industry hostage, once again, as President Obama did, to the impractical 2015 Paris Accord’s goals on greenhouse gas emissions, which no other major industrial country in the world currently accepts as binding.
REJECTING TRUMP’S ACCOMPLISHMENTS
President Biden actually boasted of his intention to cancel all Trump’s presidential accomplishments, domestic and foreign, successful or not, by labeling them all as complete failures despite abundant evidence to the contrary.
For example, on February 2, the president signed three executive orders intended to throw open America’s southern border to waves of unrestricted immigration and largely end the deportation of illegal immigrants already in the country. Biden then explained, “And I want to make it clear — there’s a lot of talk, with good reason, about the number of executive orders that I have signed — I’m not making new law; I’m eliminating bad policy. . . The last president of the United States issued executive orders I felt were very counterproductive to our security, counterproductive to who we are as a country, particularly in the area of immigration.”
With regard to foreign policy, Biden announced in a February 4 speech at the State Department that “the message I want the world to hear today: America is back.” With those words, Biden implicitly rejected everything Trump did over the past four years to make the world a safer place. These include the defeat of ISIS, strengthening NATO resources in response to the Russian military buildup, the avoidance of war with North Korea, the weakening of the ability of Iran to extend its influence across the Middle East through the re-imposition of sanctions, standing up to unfair trade practices and military intimidation by China, and a new kind of American negotiating effort which led to historic peace agreements between Israel and several Arab states.
POMPEO PUSHES BACK AT BIDEN CRITICISM
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pushed back in response to Biden’s snub of the Trump administration’s foreign policy record. In an interview with Fox News, Pompeo declared, “When he [Biden] says. . . America is back — does he mean back to letting China walk all over us, destroying millions of jobs in places like Kansas and South Carolina, that we know so well? I hope that’s not what he means by back.
“He [Biden] talked about allies, when he said go back — does he mean back to dissing allies and friends like Israel and treating the terrorists in Iran like friends by giving them $150 billion in pallets of cash? I don’t think the American people can afford to go back to eight more years of Barack Obama’s foreign policy. I hope they’ll move forward with a foreign policy look much more like [Trump’s] ‘America First’ foreign policy.”
Pompeo also makes no apology about pushing American interests, which was unpopular among some Western European allies. “When I was secretary of state, I shot straight, I told it like it was,” Pompeo said, “and there were some cold receptions in Brussels and some of the salons of Europe, there’s no doubt about that. I’m proud of the work we did. We spoke the truth.”
He also pushed backed at Biden’s accusation that the Trump administration failed to stand up to threats and aggressive behavior by Russian President Vladimir Putin. “We worked hard to prevent Russia from interfering in our election. I’m proud of the work that we did. I’m proud of the work we did to push back against Russia,” the former secretary of state said.
Pompeo also denied Biden’s claim that America’s closest allies had been alienated by Trump’s more pragmatic attitude towards international diplomacy. “What we did was deliver good outcomes. So ask [India] Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi. Ask [former Japan] Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe. Ask Prime Minister [Scott] Morrison in Australia,” the former secretary of state declared. “All these leaders understood that America had their back. We were their friends. We were their partners. We were working diligently to deliver security. We did that. They were great friends, great allies, great partners. And I am proud of the alliances that [the Trump] administration built.”
NO MENTION OF ISRAEL AMONG AMERICA’S “CLOSEST FRIENDS”
In his speech at the State Department, Biden also boasted that during the first two weeks of his presidency, “I’ve spoken with the leaders of many of our closest friends — Canada, Mexico, the UK, Germany, France, NATO, Japan, South Korea, Australia — to [begin] reforming the habits of cooperation and rebuilding the muscle of democratic alliances that have atrophied over the past few years of neglect and, I would argue, abuse [by the Trump administration].” Most notable, however, was the absence of any mention of direct contact between Biden and the government of Israel, America’s staunchest democratic ally in the Middle East.
As of this writing, Biden has still not spoken to Israeli Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu, nor has his administration discussed with Israel’s leaders how he intends to move forward with his intention to rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal without threatening Israel’s national security and survival.
In his 2,500-word speech on America’s new foreign policy priorities, President Biden chose to devote just 62 words to discuss the multiple challenges to America’s leadership in the world from China — and even then, only as a side remark. After boasting that the day before he had “made it clear to President Putin, in a manner very different from my predecessor, that the days of the United States rolling over in the face of Russia’s aggressive actions — interfering with our elections, cyberattacks, poisoning its citizens — are over,” Biden declared.
“And,” he added, “we’ll also take on directly the challenges posed by our prosperity, security, and democratic values by our most serious competitor, China. We’ll confront China’s economic abuses; counter its aggressive, coercive action; to push back on China’s attack on human rights, intellectual property, and global governance. But we are ready to work with Beijing when it’s in America’s interest to do so.”
IGNORING THE IRANIAN THREAT
In his speech, Biden mentioned Iran’s threat to peace in the Middle East only once, in reference to its role as a supplier of weapons for terrorist groups in the region which have attacked Saudi Arabia and its critical oil facilities. “Saudi Arabia faces missile attacks, UAV strikes, and other threats from Iranian-supplied forces in multiple countries,” the president said. “We’re going to continue to support and help Saudi Arabia defend its sovereignty and its territorial integrity and its people.”
But at the same time, Biden said that “we are ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arms sales” to Saudi Arabia and its Sunni Arab coalition partners fighting the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.
Among Biden’s long list of current foreign policy concerns — which included the recent military coup in Burma, the safety of refugees around the world, as well as the protection of women’s rights — the continuing threats to Israel’s security did not rate mention of the Jewish State by name in his speech, not even once.
In a subsequent broadcast interview, Biden was asked whether he would be willing to lift US oil export and economic sanctions on Iran before it stopped the enrichment of uranium and other serious violations of the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal, as Iranian leaders have demanded. Fortunately, Biden said he would not raise the US sanctions on Iran until after it comes back into full compliance with the 2015 agreement.
SECRETARY OF STATE’S REASSURANCES
Meanwhile, in a Monday interview with CNN, Secretary of State Antony Blinken denied that the Biden administration was snubbing Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu. Blinken also confirmed that the Biden administration would continue to maintain its embassy in Yerushalayim, and officially recognizes the city as Israel’s capital.
Blinken also praised the Abraham Accords signed between Israel and several Arab states as a positive development for peace in the region. However, he emphasized that the Abraham Accords were no substitute for a negotiated two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the creation of an independent Palestinian state. The secretary of state did acknowledge that there is little prospect of renewed negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians in the near future. But in the meantime, he said, the US is determined to prevent any changes on the ground that might stand in the way of a future negotiated Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement and the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank
With regard to the Trump administration’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, Blinken acknowledged that under current circumstances, with President Assad in power in Syria and Iranian-backed militias threatening Israel’s northern border, Israel’s continued control over the Golan Heights is a practical and security necessity. However, he suggested that if the situation in Syria were to improve, the US attitude towards Israel’s right to retain the Golan Heights might change.
A WARNING ABOUT IRAN FROM IDF’S GENERAL
Despite such assurances, Israeli security officials appear to be nervous about the future of the military and security alliance with the US that was so vastly strengthened during Trump’s four years as president. In her weekly column, published elsewhere in this edition of Yated, veteran Israeli security columnist Caroline Glick notes that “Israel’s options for blocking Iran from becoming a nuclear power are diminishing.”
Glick cites a public order issued last month by IDF Chief of Staff General Aviv Kochavi to his commanders to prepare plans for a preemptive attack on Iran’s nuclear installations. It was prompted, according to Glick, by obvious signs that Iran is moving full speed toward the development of nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them, in total disregard for the restrictions in the 2015 nuclear deal. This includes the test firing last week of a ballistic missile with sufficient range to launch a nuclear warhead at Great Britain; the use of sixth generation centrifuges in the underground Fordo complex to enrich uranium to 20% concentration, just one step away from bomb-grade material; and the stockpiling of huge quantities of “yellowcake” uranium ore for the production of more nuclear weapons.
The reality of the looming Iranian nuclear threat was confirmed by Secretary of State Blinken. He stated on CNN that Iran is now capable of a “break out” to produce nuclear weapons within a period of just four months, compared to a full year when Iran was still abiding by the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal.
It is not clear whether the target audience for General Kochavi’s worrying order was the leadership of the Iranian regime, Biden and his White House foreign policymakers, Israel’s Sunni Arab allies in the de facto alliance against Iran — or possibly all three. But it is clear that any uncertainty about the Biden administration’s commitment to Israel and its policy towards the Iranian nuclear threat could have potentially disastrous consequences for all concerned.
CONSTITUTIONAL LIMITS ON EXECUTIVE ORDERS
While the US Constitution gives the president wide discretion in the conduct of foreign policy, even in that sphere, Biden’s powers are circumscribed by laws passed by Congress, such as the economic sanctions against Iran, or the need to secure ratification by the Senate of international treaties and the appointment of US ambassadors.
In domestic affairs, president’s authority is limited to enforcing the laws, rather than making them. That, according to the Constitution, is the sole province of Congress.
Executive orders and other presidential actions can’t create new laws. Their authority is constrained by the Constitution and existing statutes passed by Congress. Presidential orders can only direct the executive branch to do what is already within its power. Attempts by presidents to circumvent congressional authority by issuing executive orders are often subject to legal challenges in the courts and can easily be modified or overturned by the next president with another executive order.
Since 2001, presidents have issued almost 100 executive orders on issues such as the economy, immigration and health care. A majority of them have subsequently been revoked or amended.
A SIGN OF PRESIDENTIAL WEAKNESS
Executive orders are often issued by presidents when they realize they cannot get Congress to pass legislation needed to implement a desired public policy. For example, in 2012, President Obama faced a legislative impasse over conflicting partisan proposals for comprehensive immigration law reform.
Obama wanted to provide protection from deportation to undocumented adult immigrants who first entered the United States illegally as children, so he signed an executive order called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Trump rescinded it with another executive order in 2017, while at the same time, Obama’s original order was being challenged in federal court. In 2020, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Obama’s original DACA executive order and found defects in Trump’s subsequent order canceling the policy. That meant that the Obama order’s protection against deportation was allowed to continue through the end of Trump’s presidency.
President Biden has now reaffirmed his intention to allow the DACA “Dreamers” to remain in the US indefinitely, and will seek to create a pathway to citizenship for them and most of the other estimated 11 million illegal aliens now living in this country.
NO SUBSTITUTE FOR IMMIGRATION LAW REFORM
The last time this country’s immigration laws were updated was in 1986, during the Reagan administration, which made it illegal for employers to hire undocumented immigrants — but failed to put adequate measures in place to secure the southern border against unauthorized crossings.
In 2006, the next serious attempt to pass needed immigration law reforms on a bipartisan basis, which was endorsed by President George W. Bush, fell short in the Senate. As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama called for passage of a more liberal immigration bill, but once elected, Obama did not make it a high priority, and after Democrats lost majority control of Congress in the 2010 midterm election, the liberal proposal became moot.
In January 2019, Trump offered a compromise to congressional Democrats which would have expanded the DACA program and given its participants a pathway to citizenship in return for funding to complete construction of a security barrier along the southern border and other adjustments to US immigration policies. But Trump’s offer was rejected by Democrat leaders and it was soon withdrawn.
Now it is up to Biden and his fellow Democrats to reach a compromise with Republicans on immigration reform legislation and pass it in both houses of Congress and get it signed by Biden into law. Until that happens, the legal residency status of the more than 640,000 “Dreamers” registered with the DACA program will remain uncertain.
A HALT TO ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT DEPORTATION
Meanwhile, President Biden has signed executive orders and issued new guidance for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, under the Department of Homeland Security, to halt the deportation of all but the most violent and dangerous criminal illegal aliens.
According to interim instructions in an email sent by acting ICE Director Tae Johnson to senior ICE officials last week, ICE agents will no longer have the authority to deport illegal immigrants for “more minor” crimes such as driving under the influence of alcohol, lesser drug-based and financial crimes, or simple assault. Instead, ICE agents are being instructed to focus on deporting only illegal immigrants who pose a clear national security threat, as well as recent border crossers and people just released from jail after committing a violent felony.
ICE agents seeking to arrest illegal criminal aliens who do not meet these criteria must apply for prior approval from the Tae’s office in DC, justifying the deportation and explaining how the it “constitutes an appropriate allocation of limited resources.”
Frustrated ICE officials say that the policy changes in Tae’s email eliminate agents’ discretion and reduces their ability to arrest and deport criminal illegal aliens. “They’ve abolished ICE without abolishing ICE,” one distraught agency official told a Washington Post reporter. “The pendulum swing is so extreme. It literally feels like we’ve gone from the ability to fully enforce our immigration laws to now being told to enforce nothing.”
Tae’s new guidance followed a temporary injunction by a federal judge in Texas against a January 20 memo issued by Biden’s Department of Homeland Security, which would have suspended all deportations for the next 100 days. Ken Paxton, the attorney general of Texas, filed the lawsuit, and has now asked the presiding US District Judge, Drew Tipton, a Trump appointee, to throw out the memo entirely as a “total abdication of [the DHS] responsibility” to enforce federal immigration law.
Two former Trump administration ICE directors submitted affidavits to the court supporting the lawsuit. Tom Homan said that the ordered deportation pause in the January 20 memo would be “disastrous.” Ronald Vitiello wrote that forcing ICE agents to seek clearance to arrest immigrants will “dramatically reduce enforcement. [Requiring the] clearing [of] enforcement actions in Washington, DC, [sends a message] that [ICE] agents do not have the trust and confidence of their leadership at ICE HQ or DHS and possibly higher in the chain of command.”
BIDEN’S TRANSITION TEAM DID ITS HOMEWORK
The Trump administration struggled with federal courts over the legality of some of its early executive orders, particularly the one which banned visitors from seven countries with Muslim majority populations which have suffered from rampant Islamic terrorism. In many cases, the problem was the lack of adequate review of the language of the orders by legal and policy experts before they were issued. The Biden transition team apparently learned the appropriate lesson from the errors made by Trump’s team.
Phillip Cooper, a professor of government at Portland State University, said that Biden’s team came in well-prepared, with the legal groundwork for their executive orders already carefully researched. As a result, Biden’s executive orders may not be as far-reaching as progressive advocates would like, but they may be more durable.
Cooper explained that Biden’s team “didn’t want to just undo [what Trump had done] — they wanted to put back in place what had been there before [during the Obama administration] or pick up what had been there before and build on it.
“If you look at the. . . language of the orders and what they’re actually calling for by the agencies. [it] seem[s] to be very measured,” Cooper said. “Although they are in very controversial topics in some cases, you’re not seeing anything in there that’s substantively all that dramatic.”
Andy Rudalevige, a professor of government at Bowdoin College, said, “a lot of what these [Biden] orders consist of are plans to make plans. . . There’s a lot of reviewing, reporting, sort of an urging to rev up that [policy-making] process, but it’s not a substitute for the process itself.”
The number of executive orders issued by any president is a measure of his inability to get Congress to pass the legislation needed to permanently implement his policies. Biden campaigned for president on a promise to voters to make the federal government work again, suggesting that he would cultivate a more cordial working relationship with congressional Republicans. The reality of Biden’s inability or unwillingness to negotiate in good faith with congressional Republicans on the Covid bill may become a problem for the moderates who had voted for him based upon the expectation that he was serious about encouraging a spirit of bipartisan cooperation in Washington, DC.
WILL VOTERS PUSH BACK AT BIDEN’S BROKEN PROMISE?
Conservative commentator Victor Davis Hanson suggests that if President Biden and the Democrats are seen by the American people as promoting an extreme ideological agenda, it could trigger a counterreaction by voters in future elections, which has happened before.
For example, Hanson cites “the Bush-Clinton-Obama continuum of 24 years cemented the bipartisan fusion administrative state. Trump and his ‘Make America Great Again’ agenda were its pushback.”
Hanson suggests that “Biden is intent on provoking just such a pushback by his record number of early and often radical executive orders. . . On almost every issue. . . Biden is touting positions that likely do not earn 50 percent public support. . .
“When Biden made a Faustian bargain with his party’s hard-left wing of Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to win the election, he took on the commitment to absorb some of their agenda and to appoint their ideologues. But he also soon became either unwilling or unable to stand up to them. . .
“Had Biden continued his moderate campaign veneer, the current left-wing radicalism might not have prompted a counterreaction. Instead, Biden is now unapologetically leading the most radical left-wing movement in the nation’s history.
“Experts assured voters that Biden would work on a bipartisan consensus and bring back ‘normality.’ He would ‘unite’ the country. That will not happen. How ironic that Biden will not just be pushed and pressured by the radicals whom he brought to power, but he may be leading them forward to cement an even harder-left legacy.”
Hanson warns Biden and his progressive Democrat supporters that their extremism has “alienated and insulted the American people, and will reap the whirlwind in [the] 2022 [midterm elections].”
Time will tell.