By Jules Witcover
President Joe Biden, eager to “go big” from the start of his administration, is taking a page from the playbook of Franklin D. Roosevelt in his effective assault on the Great Depression.
But his plans to throw trillions of dollars into the effort is being challenged by Republican obstruction, and not only because of the opposition party’s supposed distaste for deficit spending.
The Grand Old Party clearly recognizes the appeal to voters of what it would call free lunch on a grand scale of social welfare programs for poor and middle-class working families. And it can be argued that this grandiose spree is ill-timed, as the huge coronavirus pandemic tightens its grip on roughly half of the American public that resists protective vaccination.
But Biden is determined to seize his long-sought opportunity to “build back better” a national economy and politics that were shattered in Donald Trump’s inept four-year romp in the Oval Office.
So the new president has set himself and the country on a hugely ambitious course to vaccinate not only the whole American population but also a sizable bite of vulnerable people abroad. Biden has pressed the nation’s pharmaceutical industry to develop and produce an immense quantity of certified effective vaccines in record time, and is overseeing their distribution.
All this has occurred in the face of Republican opposition not only to the Biden policy but also to the Democratic Party’s effort to determine the origins and composition of the forces that committed the January 6 insurrection against the U.S. Capitol, wherein defending police were seriously injured and democracy itself was under attack.
Shortly after the Capitol insurrection, leading members of the both parties in the House and Senate agreed that a bipartisan outside commission should be created to investigate the attack, much like the 9/11 commission that investigated the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. However, Republicans in the Senate subsequently changed their minds and killed the effort with a filibuster.
In late June, House Democrats, under the leadership of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, created a select committee, which began hearings this week on the Capitol attack. Pelosi offered Republicans five slots on the committee of their own choosing. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy pointedly attempted to throw a monkey wrench into the inquiry by including two prominent representatives who had supported Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Pelosi rejected the two as ill suited to serve on an impartial body.
To maintain the select committee’s bipartisan character, Pelosi named Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, recently ousted from the House GOP leadership for denouncing Trump, and later added Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, another Trump critic.
McCarthy, predictably, promptly withdrew all five GOP names and said he would hold his own inquiry, setting up two rival committees of questionable impartiality, and likely enabling Trump to continue his transparent “Big Lie” that the 2020 election had been stolen from him.
McCarthy thus again aligned the House GOP with the defeated former president, obliging the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower and Reagan to continue besmirching itself by sheltering this unprincipled serial liar. It does so at the cost of the party’s long-held reputation as an honorable defender of conservatism in our now shaky two-party system.
Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at juleswitcovercomcast.net.