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President Joe Biden faces ‘grim’ prospects with new divided Congress


President Joe Biden speaks during his State of the Union address to a Joint Session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol on March 1. Experts expect he will have difficulty passing legislation with the upcoming Congress. File Photo by Saul Loeb/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/8288eff7fe12d29fe523f87b3c8d57cf/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>

President Joe Biden speaks during his State of the Union address to a Joint Session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol on March 1. Experts expect he will have difficulty passing legislation with the upcoming Congress. File Photo by Saul Loeb/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 3 (UPI) — As the 118th Congress takes power Tuesday, President Joe Biden will be faced with the toughest test of his presidency — trying to legislate in a divided government, one that is arguably as bitterly apart as it has ever been.

The House Republicans captured 222 seats in the midterm elections to take over the chamber, fewer than expected but enough to call the shots against 212 Democrats. One last seat will be decided in a special election in February in Virginia that is expected to be captured by Democrats.

In the Senate, it’s a different story, where thanks to John Fetterman’s victory in Pennsylvania, Democrats hold a slim 50-49 lead. Former Arizona Democrat Kyrsten Sinema declared herself an independent in December without committing to caucus with Democrats.

“Divided government is never easy,” Michael Traugott, research professor emeritus at the University of Michigan’s Center for Political Studies, told UPI. “In the last six to eight months, Congress was very successful in passing new legislation. I hope people didn’t take that as optimism for the future. I believe we’re in for a rough period.”

Add to that an upcoming presidential election where Biden appears to be preparing for a second run and former President Donald Trump for his third campaign with a faithful GOP following, and legislating may not be a top priority.

“The problem for Biden is that with a two-year window for the presidential campaign, the Republican majority in the House may have very little incentive to give him any victories,” Matthew Dickinson, a political science professor at Middlebury College said.

“You can expect an investigation into Hunter Biden and his laptop and so on. I think the prognosis here is grim for Biden’s legislative prospects going forward.”

Lindsey Cormack, associate professor of political science at Stevens Institute of Technology, said, though, even in the bloodbath sport of divided government, there may be some areas of compromise.

“Something around veterans’ policy may be a possibility,” Cormack said. “There is room for both parties to go there. There’s also room on the legalization of a set of new drugs. That’s a really interesting place that might get overlooked when we think about what’s not going to happen.”

Marijuana legislation, where Congress may be more eager to bridge the gap between the federal government and various state laws around its legalization may be another chance, she said. Cormack agreed, though, the House will plunge into a series of investigations that could bog them down.

House GOP has already floated numerous investigations they want to head into, with the most popular being Biden’s son Hunter Biden, connected with various topics on influence peddled and work outside of the United States.

The Republicans won’t stop there, with COVID-19 mismanagement, the withdrawal from Afghanistan, probing groups like Antifa and Black Lives Matter along with the FBI during the Trump era all on the GOP’s shortlist investigations.

The investigations could make Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a Trump loyalist, a big player in the House over the next two years.

“I think [Jordan and other leading investigations] will have a great deal of influence because of their committee assignments and their ability to control or influence the agenda,” Traugott said. “I don’t expect their influence to diminish within the party but they don’t have any serious likelihood of becoming a national figure outside of it.”

Dickinson said the investigations, though, will be less about resolution and more about scoring political points going into the 2024 election season.

“I just believe that the Republicans will think that these are going to be vote-getters,” Dickinson said. “With these types of investigations, you can legislate and investigate at the same time. I certainly think that the House wing is going to get into several investigations along those issues.”

Cormack said, though, investigations into Hunter Biden may look attractive to start because it attacks the president by proxy but could lose steam.

“I am not as hawkish on [Hunter Biden investigations],” she said. “I actually think there will not be a lot of traction there and it’ll not be something that people care so much about at the end of the day. You’re criticizing someone who’s not in power and doesn’t have control of any large segments of the economy. It doesn’t really make a lot of sense.”

She said Republicans could score more points by going after or even trying to impeach members of Biden’s cabinet, such as the Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas.

Before the Republicans in the House can do anything, they must pick a speaker. While Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., continues to be the odds-on favorite, far-right conservatives like Marjorie Taylor-Green, R-Ga., and Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., continue their efforts to push him to the right before committing.

“I think in the end, Kevin McCarthy will be the Speaker but they’re going to extract their pound of flesh before that happens.” Dickinson said. “They’re going to want some assurances that committee actions are going to be recognized that it’s not going to be top-down leadership being exercised by McCarthy.

“I think the Republicans will recognize that there is a self-interest for them to act as a team moving forward, looking into 2024.”

On the Democrat side, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., has large shoes to fill in replacing former two-time speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi proved to be a master in keeping various factions of the Democrats in check. Many believe that Jeffries will lean on Pelosi, who is still a member of the House, early to keep Democrats in line.

“Nancy Pelosi won’t be part of the leadership of the Democratic caucus, but I still think she will have a pretty substantial role,” Traugott said. “We don’t know very much about Hakeem Jeffries and his leadership style but Pelosi will be there to help.”

In the Senate, Sinema, I-Ariz., created a buzz when she left the Democratic Party and while saying she would not caucus with Republicans, gave her old party no assurances either.

“We don’t know exactly how this arrangement is going to work,” Traugott said. “The other independents Angus King (Maine) and Bernie Sanders (Vermont) reliably caucus with the Democrats. They are also very popular in their state. Sinema would have faced a primary challenge in 2024, My guess is that will probably now favor a Republican candidate if they are able to field a good candidate.”

Thanks to Fetterman’s win in Pennsylvania, Sinema’s vote is less important to Democrats, which could make her a senator without a home.

“Depending on what Joe Manchin does, the Democrats can hold the balance of power regardless,” Dickinson said. “If Sinema gets isolated and go in a different direction, she makes herself largely irrelevant here.”

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