The latest demonstration of the extraordinary power the 6-3 conservative majority on the court could wield over Democratic presidents for years took place with Republicans already laying plans to eviscerate Biden’s White House next year.
Certain they will capture the House at least in November’s midterm elections, some GOP lawmakers are raising the possibility of impeaching Biden, and planning withering investigations against top administration officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci. The President’s son, Hunter Biden, could find himself called to testify before Congress, in what would be an agonizing moment for his father and evidence the GOP would use its possible majorities as an unfiltered tool of revenge for Trump.
Conservative Supreme Court checks Biden’s pandemic plans
The question of the power of the relative branches of the US government is as old as the republic itself. The court essentially found that Congress hadn’t given the Occupational Safety and Health Administration the authority to regulate public health in such a sweeping manner. White Houses often face court rebukes on executive power. Yet the case cannot be divorced from its political context. It was brought by Republican-run states that have spent the past year seeking to disable Biden’s attempt to fight the virus. Multiple possible presidential hopefuls, including Govs. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas, have led the battle, clearly with their own political futures in mind.
The decision on mandates was also handed down by the most politicized Supreme Court in modern memory. The conservative majority is the project of a decades-long ideological quest on the right. There’s nothing un-American about using elections and democratic majorities to change the balance of the court. But the final leap to that goal showed the kind of relentless and even illegitimate application of power and indifference to the principles of democracy with which Republicans have become synonymous.
Republicans are more ruthless than Democrats
McConnell’s moves might be ruthless and against the spirit of democracy. But so far, Democratic leaders haven’t come close to showing the same merciless capacity to maximize their power in order to enshrine long-held goals. In fact, they can’t even get their own side on board. Both the voting rights push and Biden’s massive climate change and social spending bill have been thwarted by the two moderates — Sinema and Manchin.
Manchin has provoked fury among Democrats because in a 50-50 Senate they cannot move major legislation without his vote. But his position can also be partially explained by the strength of conservatism. If it weren’t for the West Virginian, the party wouldn’t have a Senate majority since it fell short of its targets in congressional elections in 2020, with candidates who ran behind Biden in their races. And but for Manchin’s 2018 victory in a state that Trump had won overwhelmingly two years earlier and has again since, they’d be in even more trouble. Manchin hasn’t said whether he will seek reelection. But clearly, the West Virginian’s political choices now are being conditioned by the possibility he may have to run in 2024 in a state that rejected the Biden presidency — and possibly with Trump heading the Republican ticket.
A glimpse of a grim political future
The difficulties that the Biden administration encountered in subverting Republican power, despite controlling Congress and the White House, are only a tepid preview of what life could be like after the midterm elections.
If Republicans win the House and the Senate in November, Biden will be isolated in the White House, and under siege from a constant churn of investigations and attacks by Republican majorities. All White Houses should expect congressional scrutiny. But top GOP leaders are not even hiding their intention to scorch the political earth for a possible Trump presidential campaign in 2024.
One of the key questions for a future Republican majority would be whether pro-Trump extremists would be so radical that they would give Biden a foil and Democrats a chance to run against rampant extremism in 2024.
History suggests overreaching is likely. But in the longer term, Republicans may have such a grip on the mechanics of electoral power that Democrats might find it difficult to exploit such transgressions. And the conservative cast of the Supreme Court ensures that future Democratic majorities and White Houses will find wielding power effectively a constant battle.