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Biden tackling guns, COVID and global warming urgently because there is no time to waste

Feb 17,2021 - Last updated at Feb 17,2021

US President Joe Biden has called on Congress to adopt gun reform laws, issuing a fresh challenge to mainly right-wing Republicans, who champion gun owners and the gun lobby. He has called for a ban on sales of assault weapons and magazines with multiple bullets and for eliminating immunity from prosecution for gun manufacturers "who knowingly put weapons of war on our streets".

Although his statement was on the third anniversary of a school shooting in Florida that left 17 people dead, it added to the list of challenges to Republicans who continue to support Donald Trump. These challenges are mounting: Biden has not only said no to guns, but also no to COVID, and no to global warming.

As a practical politician rather than a progressive dreamer, he knows that he has the backing of the majority of the electorate on these key issues. Fifty-seven per cent of adults support gun controls while only 34 per cent prefer gun laws to remain as they are. In a January opinion poll, 90 per cent of respondents said the coronavirus is not under control or only somewhat controlled and demand to see the plague tackled seriously. Two-thirds of US citizens are concerned over climate change. This figure rose during the Trump administration which reversed or scaled back environmental regulations.

Biden has to transform popular backing into Congressional legislation and to do this quickly in order to secure results. CNN reports that some Democrats are "more confident" now than any time in decades that gun reforms could be enacted. To secure this end, Biden will need backing from Republican senators. He may be encouraged by the fact that seven supported Trump's conviction in the Senate impeachment trial. For gun safety measures he will need 60 senators to vote in favour, including 10 Republicans as the Senate is split 50-50.

Democrats intend to deal with this issue once Biden's cabinet has been confirmed and his proposed $1.9 trillion coronavirus package is adopted in coming weeks. Biden has already rejoined the Paris agreement on climate change from which Trump withdrew. Biden plans to invest $1.7 trillion over four years to reduce destructive emissions by upgrading 4 million buildings to improve energy efficiency and invest in public transport, electric vehicles and green technologies. His aim is to reach zero carbon emissions in 30 years.

Biden is tackling these issues urgently because he knows there is no time to waste. The US is awash with guns and crowded with mentally disturbed and disaffected people prepared to use them against strangers, school children and family members. To maintain credibility with a majority of citizens, Washington has to come up with solutions to curb gun violence before there is another horrific mass shooting.

With COVID producing new variants constantly, Biden has to curb its spread through lockdowns, masking and testing and tracing, produce protective gear for medics, and vaccinate millions of people to create "hurd immunity". At the same time, Biden has to provide for people who have lost jobs during the pandemic and for businesses which are failing due to COVID.

Unseasonable weather episodes, extreme cold, drought, heavy rains, and increasingly frequent hurricanes — are forcing a reluctant US to, finally, deal with climate change. As the world's second largest polluter, US participation in efforts to reduce global warming is essential if the campaign to stem it is to succeed.

Biden is also acting promptly because he and fellow Democrats face 2022 mid-term national polls in which the entire membership of the House of Representatives and one-third of Senators are up for election. There is currently a slim Democratic majority in the House as well as the evenly split Senate where the vote of Vice President Kamala Harris breaks a tie. This can give Biden an edge while he seeks to secure his legislative programme. He must secure progress if he is to retain or improve on the Democrats' precarious position.

To gain seats in both houses, Biden must break the hold Trump has over Republican voters. The best way to achieve this end is, first and foremost, to curb and contain COVID and free the economy from its deadly, destructive grip. If Biden succeeds in this effort, he could win the confidence of the public and encourage voters to back Democrats. This will give him the opportunity to press forward with climate change and gun control.

Having served as vice president in the Obama administration, Biden is well aware that too much time and effort was spent trying to promote bipartisanship in order to lure Republicans into providing more funding for recovery from the 2008-2009 economic recession and the Affordable Care Act which provides low income citizens with health insurance. Consequently, Biden has given Republicans notice that Democrats will go ahead with his COVID relief package, gun controls and climate change policies without their backing.

As these three issues are seen as priorities by Democrats, he should unite his party and attract the support of independents and Republicans who oppose Trump's take over of their party.

The Republican party faces defections at all levels. Following the Trump-inspired attack on legislators in the Capitol on January 6, some voters abandoned the party and wealthy party donors warned about defections. Moderate Republicans have formed a group within the party which opposes Trump and will promote Democrats if he continues to dominate its leadership. Ahead of last November's elections, anti-Trump Republicans formed the Lincoln Project, a dissident political action committee to promote Biden's candidacy and battle Trump after the election but this organisation appears to be faltering.

However, the majority of Republicans stand by Trump. The refusal of 43 Republican senators to convict Trump in his impeachment trial shows that the party's lawmakers are either afraid of him or understand they cannot challenge his dominance. Trump supporters in a number of states seek to establish a breakaway Patriot Party although he has hesitated to agree as he could lose the backing of traditional Republicans rooted in the party. They give it balance and credibility which his white supremacy, evangelical Christian and reactionary base does not, at least not in the long run.

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