“The whole room went silent,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., recalled as everyone listened to Biden denounce the insurrection and call for calm. The respectful manner in which the lawmakers listened to Biden during one of America’s darkest moments gave Klobuchar hope that the new president has an opportunity to guide the country past the tumultuous final stretch of Donald Trump’s presidency.
That’s quickly becoming one of Biden’s top tasks as he prepares to take office on Jan. 20. It’s an immensely complex challenge, requiring him to balance demands for accountability after Trump incited the riot against those who worry about further dividing the country. Any misstep could not only intensify the nation’s polarization, but threaten Biden’s ability to win quick congressional approval of his Cabinet picks and other priorities such as coronavirus response legislation. For now, Biden seems content to leave decisions about Trump’s fate to Congress.
“What the Congress decides to do is for them to decide,” Biden told reporters last week. “But I’m going to have to and they’re going to have to be ready to hit the ground running, because when Kamala (Harris) and I are sworn in, we’re going to be introducing, immediately, significant pieces of legislation that will deal with the virus, deal with the economy, and deal with economic growth.” Two Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania, have called on Trump to resign.
Absent that, House Democrats are moving quickly to introduce articles of impeachment on Monday and vote as soon as Tuesday. That would give an outlet for lawmakers to formally condemn Trump, but would delay a Senate trial until after Biden addresses other priorities during his first 100 days.
Biden essentially framed his presidential campaign as a response to Trump, pledging to “restore the soul” of America. He has said he decided to seek the White House after watching Trump say there were “very fine people on both sides” of a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Still, the insurrection sharpens the debate over how to break with the Trump era. Many Democrats say the best way for Biden to unify the nation and restore faith in government is to achieve tangible results on issues that matter to all Americans, including the pandemic and the economy.
“We need to get the vaccine out,” she said. “We need to get the economy back to where it was so that’s number one on his agenda number one on our agenda so you start with what’s number one on everyone’s agenda.” Steve Israel, a former New York Democratic congressman, said that in his experience in Congress, when lawmakers “sense that things are going too far, you want to take a few steps back.” “I think that there are a lot of Republicans now who are going to want to take a few steps back towards the middle,” he said.
But he also emphasised that if Biden hopes to move past Trump, he’ll need to move fast to show that bipartisan action is possible. “If President Biden tests the appetite of Republicans to try and get a quick and substantive win on a COVID relief package, or perhaps infrastructure investments, that will send a message to the entire country that bipartisanship and healing is possible,” he said.
Klobuchar will play a leading role into a bipartisan investigation into what went wrong at the Capitol, and said whatever her team finds, it will be up to the Justice Department to decide how to act. But the senator said the inauguration itself may offer the most important opportunity for Biden to set a forward-looking tone. “I can’t think of another year that the peaceful transition of power was more important than this one,” she said.