Editor’s note: This column is adapted from remarks the author made on leadership at this week’s St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs.
What we know so far about President Joe Biden’s leadership in the White House is that despite his talks of healing and unifying a divided nation, he has actually done quite the opposite. One month into his presidency and he has set a record for the number of signed executive orders — 28 of them, nearly double that of the last Democrat president, Barack Obama, who bragged in 2014 about using them to sidestep Congress; “I’ve got a pen to take executive actions where Congress won’t, and I’ve got a telephone to rally folks around the country on this mission.”
President Biden’s use of the budget reconciliation process, which only requires 51 votes rather than going through “regular order” needing 60, is something even senators of his own party like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema have rejected. Never mind the rebuffing of 10 of his former senate GOP colleagues who visited the White House earlier this month in hopes of paring down the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill. To many, President Biden squandered a great opportunity to show Americans that in his first 100 days in office he achieved a major bipartisan legislative victory, especially since his predecessor, President Donald Trump passed bipartisan COVID-19 relief legislation not once, but twice.
When asked, “What will President Biden’s leadership style look like,” my first inclination is to compare him to the last president — of either party — who also spent decades in the Senate, Lyndon Baines Johnson. Neither came from a Kennedy-like political dynasty. LBJ grew up in what was once dubbed the “Appalachia region” of Texas Hill country and Biden was just a “scrappy kid from Scranton.” Yet they rose to be among the youngest in our nation’s history to serve in Congress, both at the age 30 and their careers culminated in becoming U.S. presidents. But that’s where the parallels end.
LBJ became a force and a bully, ramming legislation through and earning the title “Master of the Senate.” Joe Biden, on the other hand, after 36 years in the Senate had virtually no significant accomplishments to mention and a paper-thin legislative record. He was placed on the Obama ticket, likely because of his 11 years as the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Perhaps the greatest foreign policy blunder of the Obama-Biden Administration was joining the Iran nuclear deal that sent billions in pallets of cash back to the mullahs, but clearly there were plenty of other blunders as even Bob Gates, secretary of Defense in the Obama-Biden administration said, “Joe Biden was wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”
The leadership style President Biden has exhibited thus far is reflective of President Obama, with the same arrogant take-it-or-leave-it approach on the COVID stimulus bill, and the executive rule by fiat that is reminiscent of Obama’s tactics to pass the deeply unpopular Affordable Care Act. Its 2010 passage ended up costing significant Democratic losses and ended their control of the House just two years later. Nearly half of all state legislatures flipped from Democrat to Republican during his eight years in office and the Democrats didn’t reclaim the House again until six years later in 2018.
Leadership means many things to people, but perhaps most importantly it means being able to stand up to your core constituencies in the face of adversity. It means working with the other side of the aisle. It even means admitting your predecessors’ successes.
President Biden’s leadership skills are facing perhaps their greatest challenge now, when a core Democrat constituency, the teachers’ union, are stopping too many children from getting an in-person education, although at least in Florida every child who wants to attend school in person can. It’s hard to imagine any former president who would not side with the education and socialization needs of our nation’s children. What a huge lost opportunity and an already indelible stain on Joe Biden’s presidency. This is the time to demonstrate strength in leading, even if it means bucking your party and core constituencies for things that may be politically untenable to them.
Fewer executive orders and doing the hard job of passing bipartisan legislation would serve us well and would actually help to unify our nation.
Amanda Makki was a 2020 Republican candidate in Florida’s 13th congressional district. She is a lawyer who worked in Congress for a decade as a health care policy adviser and at the Pentagon just weeks after 9/11. She is a native Farsi speaker and lives in St. Petersburg.