Speaking before a crowd of car-bound supporters Friday, Joe Biden told them and the nation that the results of the presidential election amounted to a mandate—”a mandate for action on COVID and the economy and climate change and systemic racism.”
The president-elect has already moved on this claimed mandate, launching a transition website, vetting candidates for his cabinet, and announcing Monday a task force to combat the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In the coming days and weeks, he and his team will lay the groundwork for the expansive agenda outlined during the campaign—one that would make Biden, in the words of surrogate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), the “most progressive president since FDR.”
But Biden’s grandiose vision is likely to run up against electoral reality. After a series of losses last Tuesday, Democrats hold a razor-thin margin in the House, while control of the Senate will likely be decided by two runoffs in Georgia, where Democrats face an uphill battle for their last hope of claiming the upper chamber. Plans such as a public health care option or a $2-trillion climate package may not survive House blue dogs, never mind a reinstalled Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.).
That leaves the pivotal first hundred days of a Biden administration up in the air. The new president, a Senate veteran, may find a way to collaborate with McConnell, though that will likely mean paring down his agenda and keeping arch-progressives like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) out of his cabinet. Or Biden could, like Democratic predecessor Barack Obama, rule by executive order alone, undoing President Donald Trump’s immigration enforcement regime wholesale and implementing a swath of climate change rules without the assent of Congress.
Here’s a closer look at what to expect in the opening days of the Biden administration.