June 2, 2023

Biden’s muse

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 28 January 2021WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUNDToday’s Events in Historical PerspectiveAmerica’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932Br’er Biden’s museBy Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift          WASHINGTON – Who is President Joe Biden’s muse? An apparition perhaps. President Lyndon Johnson would not be the first name that comes to mind. LBJ was a larger-than-life, backslapping country boy from Texas, known for his arm-twisting, vulgarity, and earthy crudeness. But images can be deceiving.          Biden is gregarious but gentlemanly, and like LBJ, he is a product of the Senate, having spent 36 years steeped in the mores and customs of that body. Like his muse, he has knowledge that informs him every step of the legislative process. Like his muse, he knows where the bodies are buried.          What we do not yet know is whether Biden has LBJ’s toughness to steer legislation through a divided Senate, and whether he has the stomach to exact revenge and inflict damage on those who defy him the way LBJ did. Yet, after the last four heavy-handed years, revenge and damage are more likely to be the subtle rather than the overt tactics of choice.           So, Biden’s starkly different style may be just that. The substance – if the muse theory is correct – will be the same as he channels his inner LBJ but to bend the Senate to his will.          Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., whom House Speaker Nancy Pelosi describes as “the grim reaper” is poised to continue the same obstructionist games he played during the Obama-Biden administration. Democrats will never get over their fury at McConnell holding a Supreme Court seat vacant for 15 months rather than give President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, a hearing.          One thing we know for sure about McConnell, he’s always scheming to retain power, so it is significant that he backed down in his first skirmish with Democrats, tabling an unreasonable demand that they pledge to keep the filibuster with its 60-vote threshold in place for the next two years. Not noted for backing off, was McConnell’s about-face spurred by reasoning or pressure from Democratic senators like Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.? Perhaps. Or did the subtle version of LBJ in the form of President Biden play a role?          On the surface, Biden’s relationship with McConnell is off to a genial start. The new president said his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan is “very much a moving target,” and that he welcomes the opportunity to explain and defend its various elements although the White House has simultaneously insisted he has no plans to break up the ambitious package.          Although Republicans balk at sending federal funds to states and cities they consider Democratic strongholds they will find it hard to vote against a package that includes $1,400 checks for eligible Americans and money to “operationalize” the distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine. If they do, Biden has a backup plan, a budget process called “reconciliation” to pass legislation that cannot be filibustered. This is not a threat. It is a fact. There are 50 Democratic votes plus several Republican votes standing at the ready. And Vice President Harris wields the tie-breaking vote if those few Republicans opt-out. LBJ might have said, “Do it or else,” whereas Biden says, “Don’t make me do it.” The rhetoric is different; the tactic is identical.          Joel Chandler Harris’ Br’er Rabbit pleaded: "Roast me! Hang me! Do whatever you please, only please, Br’er Fox, please don't throw me into the briar patch,” which, of course, is precisely what Br’er Rabbit wanted. Now, LBJ sounded more like Br’er Rabbit than Br’er Biden does, but on substance they are one.          Now, Republicans are attempting to reverse the roles. The majority of Republican senators are not going to vote to convict Trump in the upcoming impeachment trial even though a conviction would prevent him from running once again for the presidency, an outcome most of those senators – especially those with presidential ambitions – would welcome though they dare not say so for fear of losing the Trump base of supporters.          Enter Democratic Senator Tim Kaine with a 14th Amendment-based proposal to censure Trump also with the proviso that he could never hold federal office again. Unlike the trial that requires a two-thirds majority vote to convict, censure passes on a simple majority. So, Republicans, by opposing both the trial and the censure are putting the onus on the Democrats to throw them into the briar patch. It is not likely Br’er Biden will fall for it.          Douglas Cohn’s latest books are World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers) and The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency.          Twitter:  @douglas_cohn          © 2020 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.          Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.          END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND


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