House Progressives: Screw it. Let's have Biden do everything by executive order

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

You can almost smell the sense of panic setting in among the various progressive alliances in the House these days. With the midterms fast approaching, they haven’t managed to send much of anything to Joe Biden’s desk aside from the COVID relief bills, a couple of stopgap spending measures, and some routine housekeeping. All of the Democrats’ big-ticket, sweeping social reform and climate agenda items have been hopelessly stalled, with prospects for success before November looking slim at best. That’s why this week’s developments during meetings of the House Black, Asian, and Progressive caucuses should have been predictable. Democratic leaders from these groups took their case directly to Biden, asking him to forget about the legislative process and just start firing off even more executive orders so they can have something – anything – to show to their base as some sort of a “win.” (Associated Press)

Top Democrats are pleading for President Joe Biden to act alone on some of the party’s core legislative priorities, viewing executive action as their best hope of delivering on their promises and energizing liberal voters they worry are going to sit out the elections in November.

In areas like voting rights, police reform and immigration where Democratic bills have been thwarted by GOP opposition in the Senate, the leaders of the influential Black and Asian American caucuses made their requests directly to Biden during a recent meeting at the White House, urging him to issue executive orders that could push their proposals forward without votes in the House and Senate.

The pleas come at a particularly desperate moment for House Democrats, who are heading into a difficult midterm election season where the loss of only a handful of seats will end their majority.

I particularly enjoyed the explanation offered by Progressive Caucus chair Pramila Jayapal. She said, “I don’t want anyone to think that we believe that executive action is better than legislation. But certainly, there are a lot of areas where if we don’t get legislation, the administration can take action to help move us more quickly towards the goals that we’re working on.”

Yes, she wouldn’t want anyone to think that, would she? Perish the thought. But if you can’t rack up a win when trying to play by the rules, a little dirty pool will have to suffice, right?

Of course, when you look at the agenda items they were talking about, this plan probably has a lower likelihood of success than pushing through widely unpopular legislation. The fact is that Joe Biden has been firing off executive orders in record numbers since literally the first half-hour after he was sworn in. And his track record of success taking that route hasn’t been anything to write home about. Many of his executive orders have wound up being put on hold in the courts. These include some policy areas where you might make a plausible argument that executive action would be appropriate, such as vaccine mandates and changes to border control policy.

Jayapal is talking about the Democrats’ so-called “voting rights” bills, gun control, and other liberal wishlist items. If the courts shut down a vaccine mandate, do you really think they’re going to allow Biden to rewrite the voting laws for the entire country via the “pen and phone” route? Good luck with that. The effort would be shut down almost instantly and remain locked up in the courts until long after Biden returns to private life, assuming the Supremes didn’t laugh it out of the courtroom immediately.

All of this whining about not being able to jam their progressive agenda through is rather embarrassing to watch. Someone needs to remind Congresswoman Jayapal that her party currently controls both chambers of Congress and the White House. In theory, they should be able to pass almost anything they wish to. It’s not the Republicans stopping them. It’s the fact that they can’t stop fighting among themselves long enough to hold a vote.

But hey, if Joe Biden wants to attempt to launch into another round of doomed executive orders, that’s his prerogative. The rest of us can just sit back, munch some popcorn, and enjoy the show.

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