Biden survives midterm elections, though his agenda’s fate is unclear

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference on the sidelines of the G20 summit meeting, Monday, Nov. 14, 2022, in Bali, Indonesia. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) Alex Brandon/AP

Biden survives midterm elections, though his agenda’s fate is unclear

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President Joe Biden enters the second half of his term having dodged the red wave, but his agenda still faces an uncertain future.

The midterm election results fell short of the unambiguous rebuke Biden appeared likely to face, with Democrats retaining the Senate and the House still up for grabs almost a week later.

But Biden, who struggled to move legislation with narrow Democratic majorities despite his 36 years in the Senate, may not have an easier time for the remainder of his term.

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The Senate will either remain split 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking ties for Democrats, or there will be a 51-49 Democratic majority.

Biden will be able to fill executive and judicial branch vacancies, including Supreme Court seats, without any Republican votes as long as he receives unanimous or near-unanimous Democratic support. In a 51-49 Senate, Harris could break ties in which Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) votes with every Republican.

Yet Republicans still appear to be on the cusp of a House majority, though lingering uncertainty, and a likely Democratic minority that will exceed 200 seats, makes it difficult for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to celebrate as he prepares a run for speaker.

If these numbers hold, Republicans will still have the votes in the Senate to block most legislation by filibuster. Without the House, Democrats will not be able to avoid this by using the reconciliation process.

That means that despite beating the odds, Biden and the Democrats’ agenda may be dead until after the 2024 presidential election.

While federal spending is most affected by this apparent split, it will also lead to stalemates on other issues, such as abortion.

If Democrats maintained their congressional majorities, Biden vowed the first bill he would send to Capitol Hill would codify Roe v. Wade. This campaign promise and the Supreme Court’s June decision to overturn Roe helped Democrats defy history in the election. Biden said he would sign the bill into law on or near Roe’s 50th anniversary in January.

When Biden was asked about this Monday, he appeared skeptical the votes to pass the Democrats’ sweeping abortion law were really there.

“I don’t think there’s enough votes to codify unless something happens unusual in the House,” Biden told reporters in Bali, Indonesia. “I think we’re going to get very close in the House. But I don’t — I think it’s going to be very close, but I don’t think we’re going to make it.”

Translation: The Democrats’ abortion legislation depends on a House majority, which is not impossible but increasingly looking unlikely.

Even if Democrats hold the House and pass the bill again, it will die in a Republican-led Senate filibuster. Manchin is also a no-vote, and he is up for reelection in 2024 in a state former President Donald Trump twice won by 40 points.

There’s a chance Biden could moderate his goals. Abortion is once again an example. There is a compromise bill that would leave intact many state-level abortion restrictions that could win the votes of Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and possibly Manchin.

“And so, there’s always enough people in the — on the other team, whether it’s Democrat or Republican, that the opposite party can make an appeal to and maybe pick them off to get the help,” Biden said the day after the election.

But in the same press conference, Biden also offered a long list of things he was not prepared to compromise on. Asked what he would change to reassure voters who see the country moving in the wrong direction, his answer was simple.

“Nothing because they’re just finding out what we’re doing,” Biden replied. “The more they know about what we’re doing, the more support there is.”

The elections may not have done much to further Biden’s domestic agenda, but they have emboldened him internationally and improved his prospects for winning the Democratic nomination should he seek a second term.

“What we saw was the strength and resilience of the American democracy, and we saw it in action,” Biden said in remarks ahead of the G-20 meeting. “And the American people proved once again that democracy is who we are.”

Biden also still faces a choice on whether to run for a second term. He has indicated he will talk it over with his family and announce a decision early next year.

Most indications are that if healthy, Biden will run again. He will turn 80 later this month and would be closer to 90 at the end of a second term.

Biden’s midterm election messaging against Republicans — MAGA extremism, threats to democracy, the risk of a national default over the debt ceiling — would work in a reelection campaign, especially if there is an existing GOP House majority.

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Democrats may have wanted generational change, with so much of their Washington leadership at or near their 80s, but the midterm election results will make it more difficult to move on from Biden.

The exit polls found most do not want Biden to run again. But by failing to punish Democratic majorities for his performance in office, voters may have made that outcome more likely.

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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