Insights@Meridian: Preparing for a Biden White House

On December 4th, Meridian hosted a virtual Insights@Meridian held in collaboration with international law firm Squire Patton Boggs. The program featured Hon. John Boehner, 53rd Speaker of the House of Representatives; Hon. Joe Crowley, Congressman NY-14, 1999-2019; and Hon. Rodney E. Slater, Secretary of Transportation, 1997-2001.Through a moderated conversation and Q&A with Toni G. Verstandig, Founder of Prospect Global, LLC, the speakers highlighted opportunities for bipartisan cooperation and renewed global engagement as the U.S. transitions to a Biden Administration.

Below are some of the top takeaways from the conversation.

The Meridian 5:

  1. CABINET SELECTION AND VETTING PROCESS. Historically, the cabinet nomination and confirmation process begins with discussions before the election, followed by an intense vetting process of candidates that requires official acknowledgement after the results of the election. While the process had been ongoing through unofficial political channels, the Trump Administration officially authorized the Biden transition on November 23rd, which is expected to expedite the vetting process. Secretary Slater underscored that the Biden Administration is prioritizing a diverse and highly capable team whose experiences leave them well-equipped to set an example of thoughtful representative democracy for the world.
  2. COLLABORATION DURING THE TRANSITON. Each speaker stressed that the transition process requires engaging with every stakeholder, including American allies overseas, members across the aisle, and leaders of the private sector. Secretary Slater emphasized that President-elect Biden has the opportunity to build broad support by considering someone from the opposite party or from state or local government for certain appointments, like the Secretary of Transportation, where the position could be given to candidates like Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, or Phil Washington, CEO of L.A. Metro. Additionally, Speaker Boehner has confidence that the new administration will be able to find opportunities to work with the 117th Congress, expecting that the Republican Party should by and large respect President-elect Biden’s Cabinet picks.​​​​​​
  3. EXPECTED COOPERATION IN A DIVIDED SYSTEM. Even under the prospect of a divided government,Speaker Boehner explained that “the founders built this tension into the system” and there will be a push to pass legislation in the 117th Before inauguration day, Congress intends to focus on essential legislation, which will likely come in the form of funding the government and COVID-19 relief as well as the National Defense Authorization Act. Afterwards, Speaker Boehner expects President-elect Biden to reach out to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, assuming a Republican Senate, to find common ground on extended COVID-19 relief and a big infrastructure bill.
  4. LEADING WITH INFRASTRUCTURE AT THE FOREFRONT. Secretary Slater stressed that President-elect Biden’s “Build Back Better” economic recovery plan starts with addressing COVID-19 and pivots towards building more comprehensive infrastructure. Outside of moving towards a potential second rail revolution, President-elect Biden intends to focus on building the fourth industrial revolution economy by diverting funds towards automation and 5G. This includes investments in Middle America to expand broadband access in preparation for a surge in telework and telemedicine. These investments will also work to mitigate the unemployment associated with technological advancement.
  5. PRIORITIZING U.S. TRADE AND PARTNERSHIPS IN ASIA-PACIFIC AND AFRICA. While Speaker Boehner and Congressman Crowley recognized that trade promotion authority may be too big of an ask from a new Congress in 2021, they agreed that the country is heading in the direction of negotiating multilateral agreements, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Congressman Crowley noted that the newly-signed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) was a huge free trade win in the Pacific for China. This necessitates the U.S. advancing trade agreements to re-establish relationships in the region along with European allies. Secretary Slater agreed that the voices aligned with the incoming Biden Administration, like Amb. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, nominated for U.S. Ambassador to the UN, and Adewale Adeyemo, picked to be Deputy Treasury Secretary, would also help build upon an established commitment to trade and private investment in Africa.

Bonus: “THE AMERICAN PEOPLE REJECTED PRESIDENT TRUMP, BUT NOT REPUBLICANISM.” Congressman Crowley highlighted that the Republican Party overwhelmingly won key state legislatures despite President-elect Biden’s strong mandate from the people, giving the Republican Party an advantage in the reappointment and redistricting process for the House of Representatives. Looking forward, it is difficult to predict whether the Democratic Party will lose more seats during the midterm election, which historically happens to the party of the sitting president, because of this shift in power dynamics. Congressman Crowley tied this pushback to conservatism with the pandemic, predicting that the President-elect Biden’s response to this national security threat would determine his party’s standing in 2022.

For more global public policy perspectives from our colleagues at Squire Patton Boggs, please check out their Capital Thinking blog today.

Insights@Meridian  is designed to provide ambassadors and other senior diplomats with an intimate opportunity to hear directly from Administration leaders, members of Congress, policymakers and business visionaries on vital policy issues of the day.

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