WASHINGTON - Democrat Joe Biden will take office as the next U.S. president of a country that is grappling with a deadly pandemic, a struggling economy and a deeply divided American public.
Biden, the former vice president and U.S. senator from Delaware, ran on promises to implement extensive yet pragmatic policies to expand affordable access to health care and education, increase the minimum wage and assistance for the working poor, and develop clean energy industries that would generate millions of new jobs.
His most immediate concern, however, will be addressing the surging coronavirus pandemic. On Monday he is scheduled to announce the formation of his own task force to advise the president-elect on ways to cope with a virus that has killed more than 236,000 people in the U.S. and infected more than 9.8 million, according to Johns Hopkins University.
“We can save a lot of lives in the months ahead,” he said during an address in Wilmington on Friday.
But analysts say Biden’s challenges are massive, and his success will hinge on finding ways to unite the country and find common ground with Republicans on Capitol Hill once President Donald Trump departs.
“The divisions are deep, said David Redlawsk, a professor of politics at the University of Delaware. “I have hope that we will move on a healing path over time. It will not happen quickly. It will not happen easily.”
Biden was projected as the winner of the U.S. presidency on Saturday, after gaining an insurmountable lead in Pennsylvania’s vote count, followed by another projected win in Nevada. He stands to be inaugurated Jan. 20.
Along with seeking ways to rein in a pandemic that has resulted in the daily COVID death count reaching 1,000 for the last four days, Biden also prioritized providing economic relief for the 20 million workers who have lost jobs during the pandemic that has severely crippled entire industries, especially impacting travel, theaters and restaurants.
But to pass his agenda, Biden will likely have to compromise with the opposition, in particular Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who just won a new six-year term.
“McConnell could dig his heels in and not allow many liberal choices, and he's going to have to negotiate for those,” said Shannon O'Brien, who teaches American politics at the University of Texas.
Biden may have won the presidency, but his Democratic party is likely to fall short of winning control of the Senate. Democrats will need to win two run-off elections in Republican-leaning Georgia in January to reach a 50-50 tie in the Senate — enabling Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to cast the tie-breaking vote to claim control of the chamber.
If Biden’s party does not win these key Senate seats, he will be the first newly elected president in more than 100 years whose party did not gain majority control in both houses of Congress.
And Republicans, while still in a minority in the House of Representatives, gained seats in the House in the Nov. 3 vote.
Biden, however, has a long history as a legislative dealmaker during his decades-long service as a senator and as President Barack Obama’s vice president. On a number of occasions during the Obama administration, Biden cut major budget deals with McConnell. That experience could help him overcome Washington gridlock.
“Joe Biden has a lot of longstanding relationships on Capitol Hill and he might be able to use that relational capital in order to build unlikely coalitions that we perhaps have not seen in the last four years,” said Jeff Bennett, a communications professor at Vanderbilt University.
Biden on Friday emphasized the need for bipartisan cooperation to work for the common good.
“We may be opponents, but we are not enemies,” Biden said in a speech.
President-elect Biden could also face challenges within his Democratic Party between fellow moderates and progressives seeking transformational programs such as a universal health care plan that would eliminate private health insurance and require trillions of dollars of additional taxes to pay for it.
After losing Democratic seats in the House of Representative and not making expected gains in the Senate, tensions have reportedly risen between progressives and moderates in Congress.
During a leaked Democratic caucus call, moderate Virginia Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger criticized progressive colleagues for embracing controversial positions that may have hurt election chances for Democrats running in conservative areas.
“No one should say 'defund the police' ever again,” Spanberger said, adding that "Nobody should be talking about socialism."
Facing a Republican-controlled Senate, analysts say, could help Biden unite the various Democratic factions to support more achievable, incremental change in a divisive political landscape.