Identifying And Addressing Major Issues
By Robert O Blake
The counting of votes is continuing in the States of Georgia and Arizona, where Joe Biden is ahead in both; and in North Carolina where Donald Trump is ahead. If the current leads hold up (as they are expected to), Biden will win the Electoral College, 306 – 232, with exactly the margin by which Trump won in 2016.
A few things to note in this situation are that, Trump is continuing to refuse conceding. As his hold over the Republican Party is remaining strong, many Republican leaders are standing with him. He is falsely claiming that he won the election, and that the election was stolen because of a massive fraud. So far, however, there is no evidence of that and his legal team has lost all 10 of its challenges so far.
A second important matter to note is that Biden’s coattails were not as strong as expected. The conventional wisdom had been that in the States that he carried, the Democrats would also win key Senate and House races: That turned out not to be true.
The Democrats lost seats in the House but will still have the majority. The Senate control will be decided by 2 run-off elections on 5 January 2021 in Georgia. If Democrats win both, a difficult task, Democrats would re-capture control of the Senate. As they already control the House, that would make it much easier for Biden to get a more progressive programme through the Congress.
As regards challenges, the daunting challenges Biden is facing are, the increasingly serious COVID-19 crisis in the USA; the need to get the economy back on track; and the most contentious transition since Hoover in 1930s.
The fact that so many Republicans are supporting Trump’s effort to challenge the election results, points to a deeper issue – that Trumpism is not going away and he is likely to continue to be a divisive force and will undermine Biden’s healing efforts. He might even run again in 2024.
Thus, there will be a need to have some bipartisanship in the Congress to help get at least the more moderate parts of Biden’s agenda through. If Democrats can win at least one of the Georgia Senate run-offs, Biden can hopefully cultivate Republican Senate moderates like Susan Collins, Mitt Romney and Lisa Murkowski, to get key parts of his agenda passed.
The deeper issues are there as well. How does Biden go beyond rhetorical outreach to the 48% of Americans, who voted for Trump, despite all his faults? US leaders and various institutions in the US must do a better job of giving hope to all those, who feel left behind by globalisation and automation, and ignored by the leaders, which is a very big task.
The good news is that Biden has a lot of very competent, experienced people on his team and he is likely to include Republican moderates like John Kasich in his Cabinet.
It is difficult to predict Cabinet and other appointments since many capable and experienced Democrats and Republicans have supported Biden. For example, as Secretary of State, he could appoint his chief foreign policy aide, Anthony Blinken, who was a Deputy Secretary of State and a remarkable person, or another former Deputy Secretary Bill Burns, who was a career diplomat, thus, would be a good choice, or Biden could go for someone like Senator Chris Coons, who is very close to him or even Pete Buttigieg. Therefore, it will be a big chess puzzle.
On the agenda of Joe Biden, the first task will be domestic: COVID-19 and economic recovery will be the first major priorities; addressing COVID-19 without further harming the economy will be a tough needle to thread.
Nonetheless, the President-elect can be expected to take some early foreign policy steps, such as rejoining Paris Climate Accord, and probably rejoining the WHO as well.
Early outreach to key Allies and friends of the US can be expected, to reaffirm the importance of USA’s Alliances and strategic partnerships with countries like India, and Biden’s intention to work together with them on issues such as Climate Change, Iran, and China.
Regarding South Asia in general, there should be comfort, given Biden’s long experience and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ Indian descent. The Biden Administration can be expected to, reaffirm the importance of the US strategic partnership with India and of institutions such as the Quad; reconsider Trump’s decision to accelerate the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, to restore a conditions-based approach.
Biden will exercise caution to begin with, of what they say and do on trade. He will want to take steps first, to improve competitiveness (Research and Development, infrastructure) before considering whether to rejoin CPTPP for example, as such a decision would face a very divided Congress.
Much has been said about what is likely to be a greater focus on human rights and democracy, while it will be a greater factor under Biden than under Trump, it is not expected to be an overriding factor.
On China, there was little difference between what Trump and Biden said during the campaign about China, both condemned Beijing’s authoritarianism, its trade practices, and its policies in the South China Sea. The main difference is that Biden promised to address these challenges by working with the Allies. He is likely to tone down the rhetoric and also likely to be open to working with China on at least some issues, like Climate Change.
It has to be remembered that transitions are long, and this one may be even longer, if Trump continues to obstruct the process.
The new team must be named and confirmed.
(Ambassador Robert O. Blake was the first Asst. Secretary of State to be confirmed under the Obama administration and that was in late May 2009.)