Joe Biden became President on Jan. 20 stressing unity and bipartisanship. Razor wire ringed the Capitol, and tens of thousands of soldiers stood sentry, the result of insurrectionists storming the building two weeks earlier.
Delivering his inaugural address to a small, socially distanced crowd, the new President warned that divisions threatened the fabric of democracy.
“Today, on this January day, my whole soul is in this: Bringing America together,” he said. “Uniting our people. And uniting our nation. I ask every American to join me in this cause.”
Over the following 100 days, Biden continued that message of unity, repeatedly stressing that bipartisanship is essential to repairing the breach.
But unity has been elusive. Democrats and Republicans blame each other, and the biggest piece of legislation Biden championed – a $1.9 trillion stimulus to ease the effects of the pandemic – passed with no Republican support.
Biden, a longtime U.S. Senator who has spoken wistfully of that chamber’s bygone comity, has even opened the door to reforming – if not ending — the filibuster, a Senate tradition he once defended. “It’s being abused in a gigantic way,” he said on March 25.
That same day, barely two months into his term, the new President pondered whether it was even possible to muster the political consensus necessary for America to compete against China.
“I predict to you, your children or grandchildren are going to be doing their doctoral thesis on the issue of who succeeded: autocracy or democracy? Because that is what is at stake, not just with China, look around the world,” said Biden.
Biden has repeatedly invited lawmakers of both parties to the White House. And in a break from his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, the Democrat has sought to turn down the political heat — and remain on message.
While Trump was freewheeling and often pugnacious in his comments, in person and online, Biden sticks to a script – a surprise, perhaps, given that Biden was known for being so unconstrained he once called himself a “gaffe machine.”
Biden communicates through speeches and by responding to a few reporters’ questions after public events. He’s given just one formal news conference. There are no presidential tweets in the middle of the night. Biden even avoided commenting on his predecessor’s second impeachment trial, which overshadowed his presidency for a time in February.
“I'm tired of talking about Donald Trump; don't want to talk about him anymore,” Biden said on Feb. 16.
Avoiding controversy appears to have helped Biden’s popularity, which remains north of 50 percent. Biden often cites polls that show his agenda has the support of some Republican voters, including his now-passed COVID relief bill and his recent push for a sweeping $2 trillion infrastructure overhaul — but GOP resistance to his agenda on Capitol Hill is solid.
Democrats have a narrow majority in Congress, and after watching time-consuming negotiations with Republicans go nowhere during the Obama administration, Biden and fellow Democrats appear unwilling to engage in drawn-out talks again.
Many Democrats accuse the GOP of using obstruction as a political strategy, of trying to deny the new President any measurable policy victory. Republicans call Biden’s plans, including his infrastructure proposal, wasteful, or too liberal – and insist the President’s calls for bipartisanship are insincere.
On his infrastructure plan, the president has said he is "prepared to compromise" with Republicans, has also said he will not back down in calling for a large proposal.
“Debate is welcome, compromise is inevitable, changes are certain,” the president said earlier this month, adding that his administration "will be meeting with Republicans and Democrats to hear from everyone, and we will be listening, we will be open to ideas and good-faith negotiations.”
“But here's what we won't be open to: we won't be open to doing nothing,” he added. “Inaction is simply not an option.”
A hundred days days after Biden took office, the passions may have cooled in Washington, but the divisions remain.