Op-Ed: Adam Schiff: Biden has his work cut out for him

Adam B. Schiff
·5 min read
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 03: Health worker Hannah Kwon explains to a individual in car, on how to use oral swabs at a drive-thru COVID-19 test site established by Councilman Herb Wesson in collaboration with Kheir Clinic at his district office on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020 in Los Angeles, CA. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Biden's first challenge will be addressing the pandemic, which is currently claiming nearly a thousand lives a day in the United States. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Under unprecedented circumstances, and amid the worst pandemic in a century, Americans voted in record numbers and delivered a clear result: On Jan. 20, 2021, Joe Biden will become the 46th president of the United States.

Biden will take office with a mandate to address a range of urgent issues. He will need to quickly work to bring the pandemic that is ravaging our nation under control, and restore the country’s struggling economy, ensuring shared prosperity and growth. He will have to ensure that every American has affordable healthcare, confront systemic racism and attack climate change. And he will have to contend with the damage from Donald Trump’s presidency, which is vast and only likely to grow over the next two months.

No one is better suited to these tasks than Joe Biden. His decency, calm and strength will be the antidote that Americans need after four years of division, misinformation and chaos.

Biden has made it clear that while he ran as a Democratic candidate, he’ll govern as an American president. This is something Trump never understood. Representing all Americans is essential for all presidents, but it will be all the more important as we confront the raging pandemic. And no matter how the runoff elections in January turn out, and which party may control the Senate, we must all do our part to facilitate the national healing.

The first priority must be quickly gaining control of the pandemic, getting relief to workers, families and small businesses and getting the U.S. economy back on track. Currently, the virus is infecting more than 100,000 Americans every day and killing about a thousand. We must provide more testing and contact tracing and continue to seek new treatments. And we must provide a clear and science-based message to Americans about the importance of masks, social distancing and more.

In order to fight the virus and the economic destruction it wrought, we will need to get long-overdue assistance to states and cities on the front lines of the pandemic, accelerate the production of protective gear for hospitals and essential workers, and ensure the states are prepared to rapidly deploy a vaccine when one has been thoroughly vetted and approved.

None of this should be partisan. We must all acknowledge that there cannot be a full economic recovery until we get the virus under control. There is no choice to be made between fighting the pandemic and improving the economy. They go hand in hand.

As president, Biden will have some new challenges to face, too. The Supreme Court is about to hear a request by Trump to strike down the Affordable Care Act, immediately putting at risk access to healthcare for 20 million Americans and jeopardizing the care of hundreds of millions more with preexisting conditions. This would be bad policy during the best of times, and it would move the country in the worst possible direction during a public health crisis like this one. We must urge our Republican colleagues to reconsider — they have never put forward an alternate health plan, and to eliminate the one we have without something better would be unconscionable.

And while these are the most urgent priorities, we cannot turn the page on the painful chapter of Trump’s presidency without taking meaningful action to address the damage he did to the norms of our democracy, and to our democratic institutions. Even now, having lost the presidential race, Trump seems determined to pull down the house around him on the way out, making spurious claims of fraud and all but rejecting a peaceful transition of power. We will have significant work to do to restore the health of our democracy, let alone our standing around the world.

With a Democratic president, Republican interest in oversight and checks and balances will hopefully be resuscitated. The House should prioritize passing legislation to protect our democracy, including a bill I introduced to expedite enforcement of congressional subpoenas, protect the independence of the Justice Department, safeguard whistleblowers and inspectors general, stiffen penalties under the Hatch Act, and provide for effective enforcement of the emoluments clause. Passing these reforms should not be a political win for either party, but a victory for our democracy and Constitution — and an opening for Republicans to return from the wilderness of anti-democratic Trumpism.

Although the nation has rejected another four years of Donald Trump, many of the forces that propelled his rise will remain long after he is gone, including a globalized economy, automation that has cost millions their jobs and a social media environment in which lies and hate travel far faster than truth or love.

In his first inaugural address, Lincoln said, and I’m confident Biden would agree, that “we are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.”

It will take all of us working together to address the challenges facing the country. And if we don’t set aside the personal attacks, the scourge of xenophobic populism will continue to plague us. America is a resilient nation, and we have overcome much greater difficulties in the past. We will do so again.

Adam B. Schiff, a Democrat, is chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and represents California’s 28th Congressional District.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.