EDITORIAL: Biden, GOP on different trajectories

York Dispatch Editorial Board
President Joe Biden, flanked by Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi addresses a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/TNS)

Viewers tuning in to President Joe Biden’s recent address to a joint session of Congress were rewarded with a number of vivid political images, from historical to hysterical.

The former included the evening’s focal point: Biden at the House rostrum with the vice president and House speaker — fellow Democrats — seated behind him. For the first time in history, as Biden was quick to highlight, those two seats were occupied by women.

But if Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi represented a more progressive chapter in American politics, pages from a less-inspiring playbook were being thumbed elsewhere on the House floor.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, for example, did his best to appear to be falling asleep, a pretext to a later Twitter message criticizing Biden’s address as “boring.” The second-term Republican also slammed the president’s remarks as “radical,” evidently identifying an entirely new political movement: boring radicalism.

Among Republican House members, meanwhile, first-term Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert made a show of loudly pulling out a thermal space blanket during the address. A spokesperson said the distraction was intended to bring attention to immigration issues at the southern U.S. border — as if that were the responsibility of a four-month veteran of the House attending a presidential address. 

While these events coincided with Biden’s 100th day in office, they will continue to reverberate throughout his administration because they encapsulate where the two political parties stand: Democrat Biden and his administration outlining an ambitious and consequential list of policy initiatives; Republican foes engaged in outlandish, performative acts of attention seeking.

And make no mistake, the presidential agenda is substantial: continuation of the successful COVID-19 vaccination program, building on initial job growth (which has already surpassed the previous administration’s employment performance), a sweeping infrastructure bill, new efforts to curtail police and gun violence, and doing more about immigration than waving a Mylar blanket at it.

Congressional Republicans, for their part, have all but given up even the pretext of governing. Remember their platform from last year’s GOP convention? You don’t, and there’s a good reason: They never adopted one. The party simply pledged fealty to then-President Donald Trump. 

Little has changed since then, as is demonstrated by the party’s single-minded assault on its own members — like soon-to-be-ex No. 3 House Republican Leader Liz Cheney — who refuse to play along with Trump’s lies about the 2020 election.

Giving the GOP response to Biden’s address, meanwhile, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott spent plenty of time criticizing the president’s priorities but little outlining a GOP to-do list, aside from generalizations about “expanding opportunity and empowering working families.” 

Scott also complained Biden has abandoned his campaign pledge to seek political unity — which is a hoot given Republicans’ record on bipartisanship (see: Obama, Barack). Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has since obliterated this talking point by declaring of his party, “100% of our focus is on stopping this new administration.”

Let McConnell stonewall. Let Cruz fill the idiocy vacuum left on Twitter after its ban of Trump. Let freshman House members like Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene waste the tax dollars that pay their salaries by making a mockery of their offices. Let the GOP define itself by distraction and obstruction.

And let Biden and his team get on with the serious work of governing the nation. 

The divide between the two parties was illustrated starkly by the images that came out of Biden’s first congressional address. As that divide grows — serious solution-building on one side; obstacles and social media silliness on the other — Americans will have a clear choice regarding which side to support. 

A clear choice and an increasingly easy one.