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What Are the Ground Rules?

President-elect Joe Biden waves as he arrives The Queen theater for a meeting with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., Friday, N... President-elect Joe Biden waves as he arrives The Queen theater for a meeting with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., Friday, Nov. 20, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) MORE LESS
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January 21, 2021 1:08 p.m.

The Biden White House and the Democratic Senate face numerous substantive decisions in the coming days and months. But certain decisions, more procedural than policy, will set the tone and ground rules today and in the months and years ahead. They are critical. And they will have a profound impact on the breadth and success of policy-making over the next two and four years.

You’ll be familiar with these ground rules decisions in concept even if the particulars are technical and occluded in administrative and parliamentary jargon. In short, will resurgent Democrats use their lawful powers to enact their policy agenda or get wrong-footed and derailed by bad faith arguments from Republicans about norms, fairness, unity and the like? Will they be gamed into chasing Republican buy-in, the possibility of which will always be snatched away after it has served its purpose of forcing Democrats to fritter away time they need to deliver on election promises?

This was the great failure of Barack Obama’s presidency, one he fully grasped only late in his second term and after Republicans had used it to wrest away control of Congress and the Courts.

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