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Biden hopes to pass more bills in first 100 days

President Biden is seeking bipartisan support on issues like infrastructure, refugee admissions, immigration and ending the 20-year-old Afghanistan war as he nears completing 100 days in office. Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield joins to discuss his agenda and the political will to support it.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    President Joe Biden promised an ambitious agenda for his first 100 days in office.

    As that deadline approaches, he finds himself governing with thin majorities in congress while trying to get bipartisan support on issues like infrastructure, immigration, refugee caps and the end of America's 20 year war in Afghanistan.

    For more I spoke with Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield, who joined us from Santa Barbara.

    So, Jeff, Joe Biden is not a shrinking violet, I mean, these requests for $2 trillion for infrastructure, $2 trillion for COVID relief, these are huge asks. And he doesn't have a bullet proof majority in Congress.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Indeed, he has a paper thin majority in Congress. And that's what makes this so startling. You think of major social programs. They were initiated by presidents who had won landslide victories, FDR in 1932, LBJ in 1964.

    But I think there were a couple of explanations for this. First, the Biden people are very aware that Obama may have asked for too little in 2009, which did not prevent a slow, weak, politically damaging recovery. So they're asking for a lot.

    Second, the infrastructure plan is very popular, according to the public opinion polls, among even Republicans. And really interestingly, when people learn that Biden wants to pay for it with tax increases on corporations, the support goes up.

    The third thing is, the Democratic Party, as we know, has moved substantially to the left. So there's pressure on Biden to be big.

    And last, and I think we have to remember this especially, the Biden people know that history says they're going to lose those majorities in Congress in the midterms. And if they want to get big stuff done, they've got to do it in these first two years.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Big stuff, including withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, this is something that Donald Trump also wanted. Now, Joe Biden says that he would like them out before the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Is this a political change?

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    I think it's a broad political change. You might have expected in other eras for the Republicans to come down very hard on a Democrat looking to fold our tents and pull out. But Donald Trump, he ran on an America first, more or less, isolationist plan. He talked about ending forever wars and his plan was to get troops out by May 1. So to some extent, Republicans are boxed in.

    But more important, Biden's always been a skeptic about Afghanistan. When he was vice president, he was telling Obama, don't let the generals jam you. And that skepticism, to be blunt, has been very amply rewarded. The whole idea of, all right, we're going to implant a stable governing democracy just isn't happening. You had Secretary of State Blinken today saying, well, al-Qaida has been degraded. They're not a threat anymore. But that was true a couple of months after the 2001 invasion, the hubris of a Western country saying we are going to impose our version of a strong government on a culture utterly alien to that whole idea. And so I think that kind of humility of which George W. Bush talked about in his campaign and then did in practice, both parties, I think, have gotten a substantial dose of humility from that $2 trillion expenditure in Afghanistan over 20 years.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What happens to some of the Afghans that were working with U.S. troops and others who are trying to claim asylum and refugee status in the United States? The refugee status kind of came back in the news this week. And it was Biden making a statement, then getting a lot of pushback from his own party and then pivoting.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    It's very important to remember that the refugee controversy is not about the surge of unaccompanied minors to the border, at least not formally. These are refugees who have already been cleared for entry into the United States. And what Donald Trump did was to put the quota on their admissions to a historic low. And Biden had promised in the campaign to quadruple that quota from 15- to 60,000.

    What I do think, it's pretty clear is that the crisis at the border, and the White House is finally calling it a crisis with all those unaccompanied minors, made them very wary of yet another program to bring more people in. But as you say, the pushback was enormous. The number two Democrat in the Senate, Dick Durbin, was very critical of Biden. And that's why I think this morning Jake Sullivan, Biden's national security adviser, went on TV to say, no, we're going to raise the quota. But what it does point to, to go back to our earlier conversation, is that to the Democratic Party, the progressive base is fully prepared to hold Biden's feet to the fire when they think he is turning his back on what he appears to have promised them.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Jeff Greenfield joining us from Santa Barbara today. Thanks so much.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Thanks for having me.

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