A big challenge for Biden is already in view

Early Returns

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We got a pretty good indication this week of how President-elect Joe Biden is going to try to reconcile his two big campaign promises: A return to normal politics — including a commitment to represent the entire nation, and not just those who supported him — and a solidly liberal policy agenda. 

Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris made a brief appearance on Tuesday, with each giving short speeches, as the latest Obamacare lawsuit was heard by the Supreme Court. Their comments were … I guess I'll go with "uninspired." But when taking questions from the press as president-elect, Biden was relaxed, smiling and able to dismiss Trump's refusal to acknowledge the election results as inconsequential. Whether treating such extremism as a trivial distraction will be a viable public-relations strategy going forward is hard to say. But for now, Biden's politics-as-normal seems like a good contrast to Trump's bluster.

Also on Tuesday, Biden rolled out a series of transition teams, which will prepare for the policy and personnel decisions needed to begin governing across executive-branch departments and agencies. These teams got mostly positive reviews from Democratic policy wonks, but were also solidly on the liberal side. One advantage the president-elect has at the moment is that Republicans are pretending that there is no Biden transition, and so they aren't attacking the names on these lists as they normally would. But logical inconsistencies don't always prevent partisan attacks, and Biden shouldn't expect the distractions to last.

Reconciling what's sure to be a liberal agenda with Biden's promise to represent the entire nation will be a challenge. It's not impossible; after all, such a synthesis was central to Barack Obama's presidency, and he was at least moderately successful in pursuing both goals. But Obama had large Democratic majorities in Congress to work with in his first two years, and Biden will not. Perhaps that means fewer partisan policy gains, which would cause tension among Democrats. Perhaps it means that policy progress will come mainly without congressional action, which could make it even more vulnerable to public opinion. Surely, Biden would like to see bipartisanship succeed — but that remains unlikely in most policy areas, and it's hard to see what leverage he'll have.

At any rate, good policy is usually good politics, and from what we've seen so far there's a decent chance Biden's administration will have quality people and a sensible policy process. So that, at least, is a good start.

1. Julia Azari at Mischiefs of Faction looks at Trump's presidency in historical perspective.

2. Daniel J. Galvin, Daniel Schlozman and Sam Rosenfeld at the Monkey Cage on the Democrats and party-building.

3. Maggie Koerth on the Pfizer Inc. vaccine.

4. Nate Cohn on 2020 polling.

5. My Bloomberg Opinion colleague Noah Smith on Biden and trade policy.

6. And Alyssa Rosenberg on Douglas Emhoff.

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