What mandate? Biden's agenda faces a divided Congress

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FILE - In this Nov. 9, 2020, file photo President-elect Joe Biden speaks The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del. Biden says he wants to restore the soul of America. But first the president-elect will need to fix a broken Congress. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

WASHINGTONPresident-elect Joe Biden wants to “restore the soul of America.” First, he'll need to fix a broken and divided Congress.

Biden is rushing headlong into a legislative branch ground down by partisanship, name-calling and, now, a refusal by some to acknowledge his win over President Donald Trump.

Democratic allies, struggling to regroup after their own election losses, harbor deep divisions between progressive and moderate voices. Republicans, rather than graciously congratulating the incoming president, are, intentionally or not, delegitimizing Biden’s presidency while catering to Trump's refusal to accept the election results.

At a time when the country needs a functioning government perhaps more than ever to confront the crises of COVID-19, a teetering economy and racial injustice, Washington is being challenged by the president-elect to do better than it has.

It’s going to be a hard opening.

"The country used to want gridlock because they saw gridlock as a way to protect them. Now the country’s actually hungry for action and progress,” said Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic strategist. "That’s a mandate to flip the switch.”

The idea of a Biden mandate, though, is relative, certainly embraced by Democrats who want to push ahead with his agenda. Emboldened Republicans, though, who didn’t lose a single House seat, but in fact expanded their ranks and brushed back many Senate Democratic challengers, see their own mandate to serve as a block on a Biden agenda.

California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House's Republican leader, said the election “was a mandate against socialism," stepping up the relentless GOP attacks, even though Biden is a centrist Democrat.