Jules Witcover, syndicated columnist
WASHINGTON — No other Senate business is supposed to take place during the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump. But that’s not stopping President Joe Biden from playing off it with a series of executive orders rolling back some of his predecessor’s most egregious decisions and policies.
For example, Biden’s order nullifying Trump’s notorious policy of separating immigrant children from their parents on arrival from Mexico is a vivid reminder of what happened over the last four years. It requires a heavy dose of the empathy for which the new president is known and celebrated among his followers.
Likewise, Biden’s swift issuance of another executive order halting further construction of Trump’s new wall on the Mexican border notified his fellow Americans that another hugely wasteful physical barrier was not going to be continued.
In these and other undoings of Trump’s personal preferences under the guise of “making America great again,” Biden has made clear that a new sheriff is in town who has more constructive ideas to pursue.
The impeachment trial starting next week will only remind voters of the public service Biden performed in offering them a sane path out of the nightmare Trump unleashed on them over the previous four years.
The requirement of a two-thirds majority to convict Trump seems to indicate that he will survive to run again if he so chooses. Nevertheless, Biden’s decision to fill the Senate hiatus on other business by announcing his avalanche of executive orders has enabled him to accentuate the positive.
The impeachment trial, meanwhile, is poised to remind Americans of Trump’s outrageous incitement of the insurrection at the Capitol a month ago.
Many observers conditioned by Biden’s track record of verbal gaffes may have underestimated his cleverness in unveiling his most appealing new policies, in contrast to the televised rehash of his predecessor’s ugliest moments and criminal acts.
Notably, Biden has opted not to pile on in the Trump trial, pointedly leaving to the Senate the task of calling the former president to account for his treasonous words and incitement to mass violence.
Biden rightly has chosen to address as his first order of business the critical relief needs of the millions of fellow Americans caught in the grasp of the COVID-19 pandemic and its fierce economic consequences.
He continues to give lip service to his preference for a bipartisan response to them, while adhering to his ability to go it alone absent Republican proposals acceptable to him.
In meeting with a group of GOP senators this week, Biden welcomed their input on the size of his $1.9 trillion package but told them, according to Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, that their counteroffer of $600 billion was much too small.
Biden also heard Republican concerns that stimulus checks to well-off recipients might be put into savings rather than being spent to revive the economy, along with GOP opposition to a longstanding Democratic call to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.
In all this, the president, while entertaining Republican input, has held to his belief that his original proposal could not be reduced if it is to meet the basic needs of Americans to feed and shelter their families.
With his slim majorities in the House and Senate, Biden seems hard-pressed to give up that advantage, even as he lauds and seeks the bipartisanship that has been his political calling card for so many years.
Does the Republican Party really want to play Scrooge in the currently dire economic, social and public-health crises, in its fealty to standard conservative opposition to deficit spending? Democrats ask of Trump’s impeachment that if his latest deeds don’t warrant it, what would?
The same question applies to Biden’s huge relief package. Sometimes principle needs to give way to reality and compassion, and if this isn’t the time. when would it be?
Editor’s note: Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at juleswitcovercomcast.net.
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