Voters have foreclosed one option for a Biden presidency: the liberal steamroller. Two remain open. Biden could try to govern the way Obama and Trump did after they lost control of the House: by relying on executive action. Both presidents felt able to secure only a fraction of their agenda that way, though, and the courts limited them further. Biden will surely push forward with some unilateral action, too, and especially will rescind Trump orders. He’ll restore Obama-era rules on immigration and Planned Parenthood funding, for example. But he must know that executive action is not a formula for a successful presidency.
The alternative would be to make bipartisan deals. When Biden has talked about his past involvement in such deals, a lot of progressives rolled their eyes at the old man’s nostalgia. But he may know something they don’t: McConnell isn’t actually opposed to deal-making, provided it’s of the right type.
There were two kinds of bipartisan cooperation during the Obama years, when Biden was vice president. In one, Democrats picked off a few Republicans to eke out a majority. McConnell did his best to block that kind of deal, which he believed put a patina of bipartisanship on essentially Democratic legislation. The other kind of bipartisanship involved legislation that had widespread Republican support. Sometimes that was because Republicans had favored similar legislation for years: Trade deals passed under Obama with more Republican than Democratic votes.