As predecessor impeached, Biden tries to stay above the fray

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WASHINGTON – His fellow Democrats are red with rage after the assault on Capitol Hill, but President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has maintained a studied composure, staying largely removed from the hot debate that culminated with impeachment and retention on Wednesday President Trump’s focus on tackling a deadly pandemic, reviving a failing economy and lowering the political temperature.

Hours after the House vote to impeach Mr Trump for the second time, Mr Biden denounced what he called a violent attack on the Capitol and the “officials of this citadel of freedom.” He said a bipartisan group of lawmakers condemned the violence by following “the Constitution and their conscience.”

But he also pledged to ensure that Americans “stand together as a nation” when he becomes president next week, showing the deliberate approach to politics that has become hallmark of his march towards democracy. White House.

“This nation also remains in the grip of a deadly virus and a growing economy,” he said in a statement. “I hope the Senate leadership will find a way to fulfill their constitutional responsibilities for impeachment while also working on other pressing matters of this nation.

Rather than take the lead in his party’s efforts to hold Mr. Trump accountable, Mr. Biden has sent President Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats back to the House and Senate. He has spent the past week polishing policy proposals and introducing new people while delivering a carefully calibrated and flawless message. “What Congress decides to do is they decide,” he said of the impeachment two days after the attacks.

Mr Biden’s focus on the challenge of government ahead is based on the belief that the nation is in a devastating crisis and that requires it to prioritize the health of Americans amid one more pandemic in addition to devastating and restoring the prosperity that evaporated in its wake. But it also highlights the contrast between his cautious, centrist approach to politics and the bubbling anger of many elected Democrats and voters at Mr. Trump’s assaults on Democratic standards and their desire to punish him for it.

The president-elect has made it clear that he intends to work to repair the breach in American political culture after Mr. Trump’s tumultuous four years in office.

“Too many of our fellow Americans have suffered for too long over the past year to delay this urgent work,” he said in the statement. “I have often said that there is nothing we cannot do if we do it together. And it has never been more essential for us to stand together as a nation as it is today.

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But at the same time he will pursue a Democratic agenda in a heavily divided Congress, forcing him into a balancing act that will certainly be particularly precarious in the first few weeks of his administration as the Senate again pleads Mr. Trump’s behavior and weighs in. condemn it.

“I think he looks calm,” said Stuart Stevens, a Republican strategist who helped lead Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in 2012 and has become an open critic of Mr. Trump. “Part of this moment is a return to normal. Having a balanced president who doesn’t rage on Twitter and tries to win every news cycle – that’s a hallmark of the Biden people. They were very patient.

As a candidate, Mr. Biden adopted a strategy that deliberately kept him above the fray, refusing to be drawn at every turn into the chaotic maelstrom of Mr. Trump’s presidency.

But what worked to win him the Democratic nomination and the White House may wear out when he is sworn in next Wednesday on Capitol Hill amid extraordinary security, the potential for further political turmoil and pent-up demand from his own party. for legislative victories.

Once in office, Mr Biden will likely find it nearly impossible to keep issues like impeachment at bay, especially with the spectacle of a Senate trial dominating media coverage and slowing his efforts to secure confirmation of his candidates. Robert Gibbs, who served as President Barack Obama’s first press secretary, recalled how the White House struggled to maintain campaign messaging discipline in the early days of administration in 2009.

“Wait a minute, you can decide what you want to comment on,” Mr. Gibbs said. “The next minute you not only don’t decide, you’re responsible for everything.”

The risk for Mr Biden is that a determined effort to stay focused on getting back to normal will come to be seen as detached from a moment that doesn’t feel right at all.

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Ms Pelosi on Wednesday called Mr Trump a “clear and present danger to the country” and a handful of Republicans warned of “grave danger” from the incumbent president and insisted that “we can’t wait another moment ”. to remove him from office.

In contrast, in the week since Trump supporters stormed Capitol Hill, Biden introduced members of his cabinet, called for a minimum wage hike, pledged to support small companies and pledged to act against the pandemic. Yet although he made clear his disdain and reiterated his belief that the current president was unfit for office – and tore Republicans like Texas Senator Ted Cruz for their role in promoting allegations groundless in widespread electoral fraud – Mr Biden has avoided questions of whether Mr Trump should be impeached and convicted.

On Wednesday, even as lawmakers debated whether to make Mr. Trump the first president to be impeached twice, Mr. Biden’s transition team sent out summaries of meetings involving some of his cabinet candidates, including a ‘listening session’ on environmental justice issues and a ‘virtual roundtable’ on education for people with disabilities.

Relatives of the president-elect say Mr Biden was horrified by the scene on Capitol Hill. But he’s trapped between competing priorities: holding Mr. Trump responsible for inciting violence against the occupants of a building he’s worked in for decades, and quickly moving his agenda to Congress. already deeply divided.

Mr. Biden’s candidacy was at the heart of the actions that led to Mr. Trump’s first impeachment. Mr. Trump has sought to pressure Ukraine to help undermine Mr. Biden through a series of complicated events related to the work being done in that country by Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter.

Yet when Democrats announced their intention to impeach Mr. Trump for the first time in late September 2019, Mr. Biden was slow to embrace a process that many of his fellow Democrats saw as long overdue. It wasn’t until two weeks after Ms Pelosi initiated proceedings against Mr Trump that Mr Biden explicitly endorsed them.

This approach was in part a campaign strategy, designed specifically to counter the all-consuming tactics of Mr. Trump. But it was also a reflection of Mr. Biden’s temperament and his broader political instincts.

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As a creature of the Senate for over 30 years, many of them in an era of relative bipartisan courtesy on Capitol Hill, Mr. Biden was a merchant who boasted of working with Republicans, honored Senate traditions, and was less inclined than many of his colleagues to surf partisan passions. As a young senator in 1974, Mr. Biden was even wary of the impeachment of President Richard M. Nixon.

“I don’t know what’s on his mind, but I suspect that due to the position of his body over the past decades, he would have mixed feelings” about the impeachment being held, said the representing James E. Clyburn, House Democrat. whip and a close advisor to Mr. Biden. “He’s an institutionalist.

Mr Clyburn said the president-elect did not want to be distracted from the challenges the country would face as soon as he took over from Mr Trump in the Oval Office.

“He would love to continue to get the country back on track, and with that I agree,” said Mr. Clyburn, who voted to impeach Mr. Trump on Wednesday. He said Mr. Biden understood how “blatant” Mr. Trump’s behavior was and that he was “looking for a level of comfort” that balanced punishing the president with turning the page on the Trump era.

Mr. Obama, too, faced some tough decisions when he took office in 2009 about how much time and energy to devote to pursuing the recent past and holding those in charge of the George administration to account. W. Bush.

In April of that year, Mr. Obama approved the public release of the Bush White House memos authorizing the use of torture against suspected terrorists. But in a lengthy Solomonic statement, Obama called for “reflection, not retribution” on a topic some Democrats have called for war crimes prosecutions.

But the likelihood of Washington being consumed by a Senate trial in the early days of Mr. Biden’s administration will make the tension between holding his predecessor accountable and focusing on the country’s other pressing challenges particularly acute.

“To the extent that the Senate is consumed by the first,” said David Axelrod, chief political adviser to Mr. Obama in 2009, “he may fear that it will be more difficult to advance his own appointments and agenda.”

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