Joe Biden says his administration will not be 'third Obama term', why is he distancing himself from ex-prez?
Biden might hope to reap the benefits of Obama's legacy but the political reality in a divided Democratic Party is stopping him from connecting with the former president
He was in the administration just four years ago, serving as No 2 to former President Barack Obama. Former vice president Joe Biden (2009-2017) is now all set to take charge of the same administration as the president. For several supporters of the Democratic Party, this is almost like the return of Obama, still the party’s most popular leader, to office and the beginning of his "third term".
However, Biden has categorically ruled out the idea, saying in his first sit-down interview since the November 3 election that his presidency would not be “a third Obama term”.
On Tuesday, November 24, the 78-year-old leader spoke with NBC News’s Lester Holt, in the wake of picking his administrative team that included many faces that had served in the Obama team. During the talks, Holt asked Biden: “What do you say to those who wonder if you’re trying to create a third Obama term?”
To that, the president-elect said clearly that his term should not be seen as a third term of Obama. “This is not a third Obama term. We face a totally different world than we faced in the Obama-Biden administration,” he said, adding that President Donald Trump has “changed the landscape”.
Biden further said that he wanted the country to be united. While the man is surely trying to project himself as the nation’s healer-in-chief after the tumultuous years of the Trump presidency, one should not ignore the fact that he also has to do a delicate balancing in his own fissure-ridden party which has otherwise not done that well in this year’s election.
The Democratic Party has seen a deep divide between the moderates and progressives and it has widened, especially after the disappointing show that the blue party produced in the congressional elections. Biden has chosen people who have government experience and are not seen as too controversial for his administrative team. Many of these names were confirmed in the times of Obama, some even in deputy positions who have been brought back to leading positions.
NBC News cited William Galston, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, who said that Biden felt the need to bridge the gaps in the Democratic Party as essential to winning the poll and thinks it is important if he wants to see a successful presidency.
“The president-elect understands that he has to continue this balancing act in constituting his presidency,” Galston was quoted as saying. “Biden is a unifier, and he's picked a team of fellow unifiers. These are not people who go out of their way to pick fights, especially with other Democrats.” Till now, Biden has given everyone — from the progressives to centrists in the party — something to cheer about.
For instance, while the choice of Kamala Harris as his running mate was not something that made the progressives happy initially, Biden picking John Kerry as a special envoy for climate change has pleased Sunrise Movement, a youth activist group, and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.
Progressives and Rahm Emmanuel
That Biden has tried to please the progressive wing of the part is also evident from the fact that he did not pick former Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel, who was also an aide in the Obama administration, for a Cabinet post — a move that would have irked progressive Democrats and hurt relationships with incoming lawmakers of color.
Last week, CNN reported that Emmanuel, a former White House chief of staff, was being considered for the secretary of transportation. The 61-year-old has been a known face in the corridors of power as he served as a White House senior adviser to former President Bill Clinton and a congressman from Illinois before serving in the Obama administration.
However, his controversial past, especially in the handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting incident of 2014, made many Democrats hesitant over his appointment. McDonald was a 17-year-old Black who was fatally shot by law enforcement officials as he walked away from cops.
Progressive lawmakers like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and representatives-elect Jamaal Bowman and Mondaire Jones blasted the idea of appointing Emmanuel for any role in the incoming Biden administration even if he was being considered for a lower role following the backlash.
Prominent left voices like Ocasio-Cortez and other members of the Squad like Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib also expressed reservations over Biden choosing Bruce Reed, his former chief of staff, to lead the Office of Management and Budget. They felt that Reed’s history of antipathy towards economic security programs makes him a poor choice for the same office.
Amid the tightrope-walking, Biden has also given enough hints that he will consider the progressives while running the administration. He kept all options open to include senior progressive senators like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders into his team if the need arises.
It may be recalled here that top Democrats like Obama and Hillary Clinton were against the idea of Sanders winning the presidential nomination, revealing the undercurrents in the party even while it was aiming to put an end to the Trump presidency.
Biden himself saw little backing from the progressive wings in the run-up to the election. It was after the party’s moderate wing decided to rally behind him that progressives like Sanders and Warren lost in the race for bagging the presidential nomination in the primaries.
Supporters of leaders like Sanders were yet not convinced about Biden becoming a successful president, which left the former vice president with no choice but to try to bridge the inner differences. It would be against his interest if he calls his term as Obama’s third, annoying a lot of progressives or those leaning left.