If Biden Wins, What Comes Next?

With just three weeks remaining before Election Day, a presidential race that has seemed chaotic and intense has been relatively stable from a polling perspective. For many months, former Vice President Joe Biden has maintained a consistent and comfortable lead over President Trump in national and state-level polling, with that lead widening in the last two weeks. As of today, FiveThirtyEight simulations give Biden an 86% chance of winning the presidency.

Additionally, FiveThirtyEight gives Democrats a 69% chance of winning the Senate majority, with incumbent Republicans at risk in Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and North Carolina, and even in normally reliably Republican states like South Carolina, Iowa, Montana, Alaska, and two seats in Georgia. Forecasts suggest Democrats are highly likely to maintain or even expand their majority in the House of Representatives.

These outcomes are far from certain. October surprises happen, voters change their minds, news events shift, polls can be wrong, and the possibility of a contested election dragging on for weeks in the courts is extremely real. However, for individuals and groups advocating before the federal government, it is not too early to consider what a change in presidential administration and/or Congressional majority could mean for the national policymaking agenda and your ability to get results.


The lame duck period and first 100 days of a Biden Administration will likely be dominated by urgent efforts to mitigate the health and economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, prevent a government shutdown, and possibly protect access to health care.

  • Coronavirus emergency relief

Since Spring, House Democrats have sought to enact a coronavirus emergency relief package, including funding for testing , tracing, and treatment; direct assistance to individuals; enhanced unemployment benefits; help for small businesses; targeted bailouts of hard-hit industries; help for schools to re-open safely; state, tribal, territorial, and local assistance; housing aid; and food security. Reaching and enacting such a deal before the election appears unlikely due to total incoherence from the White House during negotiations, combined with widespread opposition to an agreement framework among the Senate Republican majority.

Expect this to remain unfinished through the election and possibly end of the year, and to become the first bill passed by a newly sworn-in Democratic Congress in January.

  • Appropriations

The continuing resolution funding the government will expire during the lame duck period on December 11th. To avoid a government shutdown, Congress must enact either another continuing resolution or full-year FY21 appropriations for every discretionary federal department, agency, and program. If Biden wins, it is hard to see a lame duck President Trump – spurned by voters; howling about fake news, the deep state, and vote fraud; and possibly pursuing legal action – will be inclined toward sober and substantive policymaking and signing into law a negotiated package of full-year appropriations bills. Many Democrats with eyes on impending unified control of government may also prefer punting into February to secure more wins on funding and policy.

Expect a good-faith effort toward completing the FY21 appropriations process by December 11th – particularly since it is a vehicle that could carry an emergency package responding to coronavirus – but the scale of the political obstacles suggest another continuing resolution into the new administration would be likely.

  • Affordable Care Act

Just after Election Day, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on a lawsuit seeking to overturn the Affordable Care Act. The chances of the law being wholly or partly overturned seem greater if Senate Republicans successfully confirm Amy Coney Barrett as a new justice cementing a 6-3 conservative majority. Depending on the scope of the decision, the consequences could be far-reaching and catastrophic. 21 million people insured through ACA exchanges or Medicaid expansion made possible through ACA could lose their coverage, 60 million Medicare beneficiaries might pay more for preventive care and prescription drugs, and all Americans could lose critical protections against discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, lifetime caps on expensive treatments, and much more.

A decision invalidating ACA in whole or in part – in the midst of a deadly pandemic – could throw the entire U.S. health care system into turmoil and affect ambitious plans like Medicare for All or a public insurance option. A decision invalidating ACA reached anytime in the winter or spring would require immediate action by Congress and the Administration to mitigate the consequences and place every other priority on the back burner.


Beyond these immediate and urgent priorities, the agenda pursued by a Biden Administration and Democratic House & Senate would be much different than the last four years. On many issues, a Biden Administration may be inclined toward moderation, incrementalism, and efforts at bipartisan compromise, whereas Congressional Democrats may be influenced more strongly by progressive voices agitating for systemic change. These internal dynamics – and the size of Democratic Congressional majorities – may also play a role in determining whether to eliminate the filibuster and even change the composition of federal courts.

Groups and organizations seeking to influence legislative and executive actions should be thinking now about developing champions, validators, and coalitions that can influence incoming appointees and new committee chairs. A public communications plan including earned media and paid advertisements can also pay dividends making key audiences aware of a policy problem and how to fix it.

Under unified Democratic control of the executive and legislative branches, expect a heavy emphasis on:

  • Environment: Building a green energy economy, reinstating limits on methane and other emissions that President Trump has rescinded, rejoining the Paris Agreement on climate;
  • Immigration: Protecting young DREAMers from the threat of deportation, establishing a pathway to citizenship, halting border wall construction, increasing annual limits of individuals seeking asylum;
  • Gun Violence: Establishing a new ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, repealing gun manufacturers’ immunity from civil liability, enacting universal background checks for gun purchases;
  • Justice Reform: Expanding use of consent decrees to address systemic police misconduct, ending qualified immunity, eliminating ‘mandatory minimums’ and racial disparities in criminal justice and sentencing; and
  • Foreign Affairs: Restoring relationships with international organizations like the World Health Organization and NATO allies, repealing the travel ban targeting Muslim-majority countries, restoring terms of the Iran nuclear agreement, repealing the Mexico City global gag rule.

It bears repeating that a blue wave in the 2020 election resulting in unified Democratic control of the executive and legislative branches is far from certain. However, with just three weeks remaining before Election Day (and 10 million having already voted), all advocates should consider how a new power dynamic could affect their interests, and make plans to adapt to what could be a very new world.

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