Why can’t Biden be the next LBJ or FDR? It comes down to math.

Any expectation that President Joe Biden will be the successor to LBJ and FDR is shattered by a hard, cold fact. His congressional majorities seem almost impossible to achieve.

“It is difficult to be truly transformative president when you have zero-point-zero additional votes in Congress and almost no extra votes for the House,” states Brad Sherman, a veteran Democratic Rep from California.

Why This

Was Written

The president has an ambitious domestic agenda and the smallest possible Democratic majority to push it through. Recently, it has been clear that this is not an easy task.

In today’s 50-50 Senate, the Democratic “majority” comes only with the vice president’s ability to break ties. In the House, it’s a mere 220-212.

Republicans are free from the responsibility of governing because they have no control over Washington. This reality can be seen in Congress’ urgent need to prevent a default on its national debt. After the mistakes made over the Pandemic, withdrawal from Afghanistan and Southern border, a default would mark the end of the Obama administration’s tenure. The president’s job approval sank below 50% in August, and it has stayed there since.

While Mr. Biden may not have the same first term as LBJ, Representative Sherman believes he can get a large portion of his domestic agenda through Congress. He says that Biden is both realistic and strategic in determining what he wants.

Washington

He is a senator, and a competent legislator. He rose to vice-presidential rank under a charismatic, younger president. He knew that he had limited time and could accomplish great things when he assumed the Oval Office by himself.

That president was Lyndon B. Johnson. He is a force in nature and has transformed from being a man to a legend over the past half-century since his departure. In key ways, President Joe Biden is following the LBJ path. Biden knows that time is limited and has set his sights high. He wants to implement a huge domestic agenda to continue the legacy of Presidents Johnson (and Franklin D. Roosevelt).

But any hope that President Biden will be the successor to LBJ and FDR is tempered by a hard, cold fact: His congressional majorities seem almost impossible.

Why This

Was Written

The president has an ambitious domestic agenda and the smallest possible Democratic majority to push it through. Recently, it has been clear that this is not an easy task.

” It’s difficult to be truly transformative president when there are zero-point-zero additional votes in both the Senate and the House,” states Brad Sherman, a veteran Democratic Rep from California. Look at Franklin Roosevelt’s record. Look what Lyndon Johnson had.”

In today’s 50-50 Senate, the Democratic “majority” comes only with the vice president’s ability to break ties. In the House, the Democratic majority is a mere 220-212, with three vacancies. By contrast, the authors of the Depression-era New Deal and 1960s Great Society programs were operating with wide Democratic majorities, giving party leaders a true mandate from voters – and a cushion that allowed some Democratic lawmakers to vote no.

Still, Representative Sherman, a member of the 96-member Congressional Progressive Caucus, predicts a Biden success – albeit using a slightly different metric: “If you’re going to weight transformational accomplishments by legislative majorities, he’s going to be off the charts.”

Such an outcome is far from certain. At the request of progressives, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi cancelled a promise vote on the popular $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill last Friday. They insist that the bill and the larger climate/social spending package must be moved in conjunction. Democrats are now forced to go back to the drawing boards to save the president’s agenda.

Looming deadlines

Democratic congressional leaders have moved their self-imposed deadline to Oct. 31, though Mr. Biden himself made clear last Friday that’s not hard and fast. His mantra is patience.

” It doesn’t really matter if it takes six minutes, six or six weeks,” the President stated. The trust between the progressives and the Democratic Party’s smaller, centrist bloc was shaken. He has been seen lately siding with the left, even though he is a former moderate. Biden held two video conference calls with members of the House from both sides and flew into Michigan on Tuesday to promote his “Build back Better” agenda. He appeared at a union training center in Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin’s district, which President Donald Trump narrowly won in 2020.

President Lyndon Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in Washington, Aug. 6, 1965. From left to right, the President is surrounded by Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Speaker John McCormack. Also, Democratic Rep Emanuel Celler from New York, his first daughter Luci Johnson and Republican Senator Everett Dirksen, Illinois.

Next year’s midterm elections loom large, as do gubernatorial races – including a close governor’s race in Virginia next month. Modern times are characterized by the fact that the president’s party loses almost all of its seats during his first midterm elections. Therefore, control over Congress is at stake. This urgency is only heightened by the need to show competence and achievement.

Some wonder if Mr. Biden is actually in a worse place than he thought. In January, Johns Hopkins University political scientist Yascha Mounk suggested in The Atlantic that Mr. Biden might have been better off if his party had not narrowly won control of the Senate, since then it would have been “much simpler for Biden to manage the expectations of the party’s activist wing.” Professor Mounk also posited that Senate control could make it less likely for Mr. Biden to win reelection.

Today’s Democrats have nominal control over Washington, which frees Republicans of the responsibility to govern. This reality can be seen in Congress’ urgent need to prevent a default on its national debt. If such a default occurs or comes close to causing credit damage to the country, this would only be the third crisis that the Biden administration will face after its missteps regarding the Pandemic, withdrawal of the U.S. from Afghanistan and Southern border. The president’s job approval sank below 50% in August, and has stayed there since.

The myth of LBJ’s persuasiveness

As for Mr. Biden’s ability to win over members of Congress to pass his agenda, the LBJ comparison again comes into play. The Johnson treatment is a myth. In which the larger than life Texan utilized sheer size, personality and intricate detail to get members on his side, the Johnson comparison has been disproven. Professor Edwards states that

“LBJ held a lot more power in the Senate than he did as president – for instance, the ability to alter senators’ minds. He said that he knew this well.

The effectiveness of the president’s speechifying and traveling to influence public opinion are also underrated.

“We should not expect the president to be changing a lot of minds, because they never do – including LBJ,” says Mr. Edwards, author of the book “On Deaf Ears: The Limits of the Bully Pulpit.” “They don’t change a lot of minds with the public and they don’t change a lot of minds with Congress.

The ability of presidents to influence opinion is more challenging in modern times due to the rise in partisan media and social media.

The fact that Mr. Johnson’s rise to power came after the 1963 assassination of President John Kennedy should also not be underestimated, says presidential historian Robert Dallek. He says that the country was in an already positive mood and ready for progress, both when it came to civil rights issues and health care.

“LBJ was in a way a united nation, that came together in anger over Kennedy’s death,” said Mr. Dallek. He is the author of two volumes on Johnson.

Stylistically, he says, Mr. Biden is no LBJ. According to Mr. Dallek, the current president is “much more cutthroat than Johnson was I’ve had Biden and found him to a pleasant man.” After meeting with House Democratic Caucus, Biden’s allies were optimistic last Friday.

Longtime Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a vice chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told reporters that the president was “magnificent,” “factually grounded,” and “ready to offer respect for all views.”

Representative Sherman, for his part, pushed back on the idea that Mr. Biden might be better off without slim control of both houses of Congress.

“It is easier to cross the divide between one side of the Democratic Party, and to address the division between the middle and Republican Party,” Sherman said to the Monitor as he left the Democratic caucus meeting in the basement of Capitol. Biden has a realistic view of what he wants and is focused on how to achieve it .”