President Joe Biden repeated the word “unity” in some form about a dozen times in his inaugural address on Wednesday, calling on the nation to step up in the face of the Capitol siege, a raging pandemic and other pressing challenges.
As a Senate staffer when then-Sen. Biden was handed the gavel of the powerful foreign relations committee in 2007, Dr. Matt Wells saw the veteran politician’s fondness for reaching across the aisle.
In the current political climate, that reputation has Biden facing critics from both sides: fellow Democrats who don’t want the president to take a bipartisan approach to his agenda and Republicans who chafe at the calls for unity after four years of resistance against former President Donald Trump.
“I’m curious to see how Republicans react to his what I think [are] genuine efforts at bipartisanship,” said Wells, BKT assistant professor political science at Wabash College. “How far will they go to meet him when so many of them are still tied to voting bases that are supportive of Donald Trump?”
There was a seamless transition, Wells said, when Biden took over as foreign relations chair from Indiana Republican Dick Lugar.
Both Senate stalwarts operated as co-chairs, drawing on their working relationship in the pre-social media era of Congress. Wells, who worked for a former California Democratic senator who sat on the committee, isn’t sure how far the political harmony extended on the panel.
“Their goals as leaders of the committee wasn’t to put forward a single voice, single point-of-view,” Wells said of Biden and Lugar. “I don’t think either of them believed that their side, their party had the best answers or the only answers.”
“There was a sense that smart people who cared about the country could move the country forward,” he added.
The Indiana Democratic Party called Biden’s inauguration the start of a new era and said Vice President Kamala Harris would shine in her new role.
“There will be many days ahead where we must as a nation fight the demons of our past, and the Indiana Democratic Party will call for accountability along the way,” chairman John Zody said in a statement. “Those battles are for tomorrow, because today we must celebrate this moment where a majority of Americans collectively exhale knowing there’s a competent, compassionate, patriotic leader sitting in the Oval Office again.”
The Indiana Republican Party praised former Vice President Mike Pence, who once served as governor, and his wife, Karen, for their service.
“As Vice President, Mike Pence displayed honor, courage and a steadfast commitment to our constitution,” chairman Kyle Hupfer said in a statement. “We look forward to having the Pence family back in Indiana!”
After touching down in hometown Columbus after attending Biden’s inauguration, Pence announced he and his family will move back to Indiana this summer.