Joe Biden won the 2020 Presidential Election and will be inaugurated on January 20th. The hard part comes after that when he and his administration must begin attempting to enact their agenda. Biden’s plans include rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, putting the US economy on a path to carbon-neutrality by 2050, raising the corporate tax rate, imposing stricter gun laws, and establishing a public healthcare option, among many, many other goals. Some of these action items can be accomplished by executive order, meaning the President can enact them unilaterally, while others require legislation that must go through Congress.
The authority of a President to enact their agenda once in office rests on something known as a Presidential Mandate: the idea that by virtue of winning a majority, or plurality, of votes, a President should be allowed to govern as a representative of the people. However, people often debate the strength of a newly-elected President’s mandate and question whether it is based on their margin of victory in the election. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that the words “Presidential Mandate” do not appear in the US Constitution and it is largely used as a rhetorical concept to discuss the power a leader possesses.
As Joe Biden takes office and begins to work on fulfilling the promises he made during his campaign, you may hear members of Congress and the media discussing the extent of his power to do certain things. Biden won the electoral college by a margin of 306 to 232 and the popular vote by a margin of over 7 million votes. But, is that enough to say that his mandate to govern is “decisive”? Because the presidential mandate is merely an idea, not a legal authority granted to a leader, there is no magic number or percentage of votes that grants him the right to enact his agenda.
Likewise, a mandate to govern is not a green light to act without scrutiny or question. Not everyone who voted for Joe Biden agrees with every policy on his agenda, but he still represents those people, along with all Americans. For example, many on the progressive wing of the Democratic Party believe that Biden’s policies on healthcare and the environment do not go far enough to address the problems. On the other hand, Biden was also supported by The Lincoln Project, a group founded by anti-Trump Republicans.
It’s important to remember that the right of citizens to make their voices heard is enshrined in the US Constitution while the right of a President to enact a certain agenda is not. The power of a leader in a democratic society flows through the trust and support of the people. So, pay attention to policies coming out of the new administration and ask yourself: is Joe Biden living up to the promises he made on the campaign trail? Do you agree with the agenda he is advocating for? Don’t hesitate to call, email, and write to your members of congress who are responsible for representing your interests in government.