“I have this strange notion, we are a democracy ... if you can’t get the votes … you can’t [legislate] by executive order unless you’re a dictator. We’re a democracy. We need consensus.”
Those are the words of Joe Biden. And, no, this isn't a matter of unearthing a clip from the 1980s or '90s in an attempt to play a game of gotcha on some antiquated flip-flop. That's Democratic nominee Biden, less than three weeks before the 2020 presidential election, talking to ABC News' George StephanopoulosGeorge Robert StephanopoulosAlec Baldwin turns over cell phone in 'Rust' probe How a nice-guy South Dakota senator fell into a Trump storm GOP senator says he would 'take a hard look' at another Trump run MORE about the dangers of governing like a dictator.
.@JoeBiden in October: “I have this strange notion, we are a democracy … if you can’t get the votes … you can’t [legislate] by executive order unless you’re a dictator. We’re a democracy. We need consensus." pic.twitter.com/7UotJCXSm3— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) January 26, 2021
In President BidenJoe BidenMacro grid will keep the lights on Pelosi suggests filibuster supporters 'dishonor' MLK's legacy on voting rights Sanders calls out Manchin, Sinema ahead of filibuster showdown MORE's first week alone, he has signed 37 executive orders and actions as of Thursday. That's 33 more than the guy he indirectly referred to as a dictator, in the form of predecessor Donald TrumpDonald TrumpSanders calls out Manchin, Sinema ahead of filibuster showdown Laura Ingraham 'not saying' if she'd support Trump in 2024 The Hill's 12:30 Report: Djokovic may not compete in French Open over vaccine requirement MORE. It's 32 more than his old boss, Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBarack Obama wishes a happy 58th birthday to 'best friend' Michelle Voting rights is a constitutional right: Failure is not an option Florida looms large in Republican 2024 primary MORE, and 37 more than George W. Bush, who signed zero in his first week as president.
“With unity we can go do great things, important things,” Biden said during his inaugural address. “Unity is the path forward. We must meet this moment as the United States of America. We’ve never failed in America when we’ve acted together.”
"Without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury. No progress, only exhausting outrage. No nation, only a state of chaos. This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge, and unity is the path forward," he also said, in a speech lauded by those on both sides of the political aisle.
Even the New York Times editorial board is calling on the president to pump the brakes on governing exclusively by executive fiat.
"Ease Up on the Executive Actions, Joe," reads the Thursday headline. "President Biden is right to not let his agenda be held hostage, but legislating through Congress is a better path."
But Biden's deeds, with more than three dozen executive orders and actions, simply have run in direct contrast with his words of unity and compromise. That's a nice way of saying that, at least so far, everything the president promised regarding working with the other side has been utter nonsense — particularly when considering that his party controls the House of Representatives and the Senate.
If history is any indication, most executive orders derive from a president's thirst to bypass Congress. And on Day 1 of the new administration, as a specific microcosm that underscores this point best, the Biden team – in a rush to satisfy the thirst of the party's left-of-left flank – decided to shut down expansion of the XL Keystone pipeline and the 11,000 full-time and temporary jobs that went with it.
He did this during a pandemic. With jobs already at a premium.
Multiple unions that endorsed Biden, including the Teamsters, expressed their dismay with the unilateral decision by the president.
"The Teamsters strongly oppose yesterday’s decision, and we would urge the administration to reconsider it," said Teamsters head Jim Hoffa upon hearing the news.
In a related story, Russia and Venezuela will benefit nicely from a Keystone-less U.S. in filling the energy void, while China will be quite pleased that the U.S. rejoined the Beijing-friendly Paris climate accord, which was among the 37 executive orders and actions signed.
Biden hasn't been asked any direct questions by the press on the job-killing Keystone order, of course. That's what happens when the leader of the free world requires a staffer to call on a predetermined list of invariably friendly reporters, compiled by his team, instead of calling on reporters himself.
How friendly? Here's a "question" around the topic of unity posed to him on Tuesday. "Given that unity is such a key part of your message and your promise, can you talk and reflect a little bit more about what is unity when you see it and as you define it?" asked Washington Post White House correspondent Annie Linskey, one of the six reporters permitted to question the new president in his first press conference.
Note: Whenever anyone in power is asked to reflect or define anything, it's an exercise of offering up not just a softball but a beachball to the person on the receiving end to knock it out of the park.
"Unity also is trying to reflect what the majority of the American people – Democrat, Republican, independent – think is within the fulcrum of what needs to be done to make their lives and the lives of Americans better," Biden answered.
Ultimately, most executive orders stem from a president’s desire to bypass Congress. Biden's actions are the opposite of someone who preaches compromise, something a majority of the Democrats, Republicans and independents ultimately want but likely won't get with this administration.
In a Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll taken after Trump took office in 2017, "91 percent of Americans said they want the two parties to compromise on their principles to get things done," according to Mark PennMark PennMajority oppose overturning Roe v. Wade: poll More voters would pick Trump over Biden if election were held today: poll New poll shows challenges for Democrats ahead of 2022 MORE, a former senior strategist for President Clinton and later for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats see victory in a voting rights defeat Left laughs off floated changes to 2024 ticket A year into his presidency, Biden is polling at an all-time low MORE. Penn helped design the poll.
President Biden's actions show he isn't terribly interested in what more than 9-in-10 Americans still undoubtedly want.
"You can’t [legislate] by executive order unless you’re a dictator," the 2020 version of Joe Biden said three months ago. That guy should say hello to 2021 Biden sometime and ask what exactly has changed since his pre-election remarks.
Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill.