Changes expected from a new president

6 major changes expected from a new president and Congress

February 9, 2021

Q&A

With Democrats controlling the presidency as well as both houses of Congress, what can we expect from the new administration? Political science professor Daniel Palazzolo is an expert in the area of bipartisanship in times of intense political polarization. He weighed in on the most significant changes expected in the first 100 days of the Biden administration.

Style and tone

Donald Trump was a disrupter, an outsider, and a populist. Thus he sought to “drain the swamp,” disparaged the media, claimed to speak for and defend the people against the establishment, and focused the presidency on himself. As American political analyst Yuval Levin has put it, Trump’s presidency focused a great deal on performance. As a longtime U.S. senator and former vice president, Joe Biden is rooted in political institutions. He is an insider and will be more inward focused than public facing. Biden’s approach to policy making will be more deferential to science and expertise. He will also have a more respectful view of mainstream media and more collegial relationships with reporters.

A new makeup

Biden’s administration is more diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, and gender. In addition to Kamala Harris, the first Black woman and person of Indian descent to serve as vice president, the most notable appointments include retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, the first Black secretary of Defense, and Janet Yellin, the first woman to serve as secretary of Treasury. Pete Buttigieg, as secretary of Transportation, will be the first openly gay cabinet member.

The exigent pressure of the moment may overtake the deliberate and politically delicate demands of bipartisanship.
headshot of Daniel Palazzolo
Daniel Palazzolo

Professor of Political Science, Associate Dean

New policy priorities

Biden signed a relatively large number of executive orders in the first week of his presidency. They are mainly focused on progressive policy change in the areas such as climate change, racial equity, treating and preventing the spread of COVID, immigration, gender identity, food assistance, health care, unemployment protections, and economic relief.  

A desire for bipartisanship

Biden has announced that he prefers a more bipartisan approach to dealing with Congress, though it is not clear if this approach will prevail. While Biden has a history of working with several Republican senators, including Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, several factors may limit his capacity to forge bipartisan coalitions. For one, the exigent pressure of the moment may overtake the deliberate and politically delicate demands of bipartisanship. Biden has expressed the necessity to move quickly to pass legislation that provides economic assistance and a COVID-relief package, leaving precious little time to work our partisan differences. More importantly, the Democrats have a majority of House seats and the capacity to break ties on roll call votes in the Senate. Thus, it is more politically feasible for Biden to work out differences among Democrats than to involve Republicans. The quickest way to pass a major bill would be through a special procedure called budget reconciliation. Since Senate floor debate for reconciliation bills is limited to 20 hours, Democrats can avoid a filibuster and pass the bill with a simple majority.

Election protection

Biden is also likely to try to begin to restore confidence in American electoral institutions and the electoral process, most likely through words rather than deeds. One of the first bills Democrats introduced in the current Congress seeks to establish national standards for elections, and Biden is likely to support this move. But the bill is strongly opposed by Senate Republicans. Thus, unless the Senate changes the rules that essentially require 60 votes to pass legislation, election reform is unlikely. Instead, Biden is likely to speak to the broader issues of protecting voting rights and promoting democracy.  

New worldview

Globally, Biden will likely seek to rebuild or improve alliances with traditional U.S. allies. He appointed Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who has expressed a strong interest in restoring global alliances, and taking a broad view of security challenges, including climate change and global health issues. On his first day in office, Bliken said: “The world is watching us intently right now. They want to know if we can heal our nation. They want to see whether we will lead with the power of our example … and if we will put a premium on diplomacy with our allies and partners to meet the great challenges of our time.”