Biden Needs to Take Back the Center

He’s outsourcing his presidency to ideological factions that don’t have his best interests in mind – or have broad popular support.

Whatever the outcome of the legislative wrangling over various government funding and budget bills this week, it should be crystal clear to the White House now that they need to take a much firmer hand in determining the course of Biden’s presidency.

In his inaugural address, Biden promised to work to unify the country and achieve common goals that would advance the interests of the entire nation, joining with people across the spectrum to rebuild America’s economy and put it on firmer ground for the future. Sadly, outside of the languishing infrastructure bill, there is no real success on this front. 

This is not entirely his fault. Republicans clearly don’t want to participate in Biden’s agenda—a hard reality he must confront. They offered no votes on the American Rescue Plan and a slew of GOP governors are actively undermining his coronavirus mitigation and vaccination efforts amidst a surge in Delta cases. Perhaps Biden’s desire for political bipartisanship in Congress was naïve from the start. But at a minimum he could make some strong statements in defense of his bipartisan infrastructure bill as House progressives threaten to tank the entire thing if they don’t get their way. 

More importantly, Biden is being whiplashed by his own party—from hard left progressives in the House to rogue moderates in the Senate—who seem to care more about their own priorities and images even as they claim to be representing his interests and agenda. 

Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan was designed and pitched as a series of nationalist steps to invest in American businesses, infrastructure, and clean energy production; increase economic security for all families; and put the U.S. in a stronger position in the economic fight against China.

Yet, this original vision is nowhere to be seen as we reach the final negotiations around the various pieces. Instead, a center-left yet still centrist view of national greatness has devolved into an ideological fight between warring factions of his own party with the left saying it’s all or nothing and some moderates inexplicably trying to remove the most popular elements of the entire agenda—things like prescription drug negotiations, tax increases on the wealthiest, and the expansion of Medicare. 

Who knows if or how exactly any of this will be resolved?

But for America’s success and the political position of the majority party, Biden and Democrats must avoid a government shutdown and debt default; get the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed; and then pass a “strong” and popular compromise reconciliation bill to shore up America’s families within a few weeks after it is all finalized. 

In the meantime, the political brains at the White House would be wise to evaluate recent developments with a clear-eyed view of their own interests. They need to take a much stronger role in defining exactly what Biden’s presidency is about: a pragmatic set of steps to put America on firmer economic grounds and advance consensus values that can help defuse the toxic partisan politics that undermine our collective success. 

Biden needs to take back the center.