Not just Trump – Congress also gives Biden a golden State of the Union opportunity

Biden’s address to Congress allows him to channel his inner Harry Truman and lambast the chaotic Republican House, Eric Garcia writes

Thursday 07 March 2024 21:13 GMT
President Joe Biden finds himself in the same position in 2024 that Harry Truman did in 1948.
President Joe Biden finds himself in the same position in 2024 that Harry Truman did in 1948. (Getty )

A senator-turned-vice president-turned-president down in the polls against a prominent New Yorker as he is hamstrung by right-wing Congress captive to extremists. Israel on the brink and an emboldened Russia.

While the circumstances parallel President Joe Biden’s situation as he gets ready to return to Capitol Hill for his State of the Union, it also describes Harry Truman as he ran for president in 1948. Similar to Biden’s support of Ukraine against Vladimir Putin’s aggression, Truman had to deal with Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union after the Second World War. In 1948, Truman became the first head of state to recognise the state of Israel upon its declaration of independence — but it soon went to war with its Arab neighbors.

At the time, most people thought that Truman would lose to New York governor Thomas Dewey, hence the famous image of the Missourian holding a newspaper that says “Dewey Defeats Truman”. A big part of Truman’s ability to win that year was his bashing of the “do-nothing Congress,” which at the time Republicans controlled.

Biden has mostly focused, understandably, on former president Donald Trump, especially given that he will now certainly be the Republican nominee. But if anything, the “do-nothing Congress” of Truman’s day seems productive when compared to the chaos that is the current US House of Representatives. Last year, Congress passed fewer laws than it has in decades.

Most notably, the House spent its first few days voting fifteen times to make Kevin McCarthy speaker. It again ground to a halt in October when Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz led a revolt of eight Republicans and most Democrats to eject McCarthy from the speakership. That led to 22 days without a speaker, where Republicans cycled through three nominees before they finally settled on Mike Johnson.

Then came the bizarre Republican refusal to support Ukraine at all. And the months of bipartisan deliberation in the Senate about a deal to exchange restrictions to immigration and border security at the US-Mexico border in exchange for aid to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan, before GOP members blew up the bill entirely.

Congress has lurched to each funding deadline by barely passing a continuing resolution to keep the government open. Indeed, the House finally passed six spending bills — for a fiscal year that began in October — on Wednesday only because all but two Democrats voted for it and a slim majority of Republicans. Whether the House can pass the next six bills is another question.

Even Republicans agree that everything has descended into chaos. Florida man Gaetz, the man who broke the House of Representatives, said last year before his revolt that “the only thing the 118th Congress is known for at this point is electing Kevin McCarthy speaker and underwriting Biden’s debt.” Chip Roy, the goateed and perpetually yelling Republican from Texas, complained on the floor last year that “I want my Republican colleagues to give me one thing — one — that I can go campaign on and say we did.” This, of course ignores the fact that Gaetz and Roy are the ones who often prevent Congress from getting anything done.

Plenty of the “grown-up” Republicans — such as Patrick McHenry, who served as the interim speaker in October; Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Kay Granger; and Energy and Commerce Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers — have decided they would rather leave the House than deal with another round of hearings where Marjorie Taylor Greene shows nude photos of the president’s son.

All of this gives Biden the perfect foil. Seated behind him will be Johnson, the only thing everyone in the GOP Conference could agree on, and now the extremists are even coming for him. Similarly, Biden’s buddy of many years, Mitch McConnell, is stepping aside from Senate leadership soon, for someone who will inevitably be more of a MAGA acolyte than he is.

Biden has a chance to denounce the shenanigans of the Mojo Dojo Casa House of Representatives, call out its dysfunction and compare it to when Democrats controlled both chambers. Back then, they passed legislation on everything from climate change to semiconductor manufacturing to curbing gun violence to infrastructure. He’s already called out the Republican morass, as was the case when he visited the US-Mexico border last week, but this gives him a bigger microphone.

He also has the chance to say there are opportunities to work with Republicans, such on a tax bill the House passed that includes plenty of goodies for businesses and an expanded child tax credit. While Truman used saltier language than Biden likes, this Congress has given him plenty of items to deem as “malarkey.”

In 1948, Truman’s supporters said, “Give ‘em hell, Harry,” and Truman famously responded, “I don't give them hell. I just tell the truth about them, and they think it's hell.” Biden has the opportunity to give Johnson, McConnell, Greene, Boebert and anyone else hell by revealing the truth about them and their House of Representatives tonight.

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