Former Vice-President Joe Biden is set to become the 46th President of the United States of America. Biden’s victory marks the tenth occasion in American history that a former Vice-President has ascended to the President.

Meanwhile, California Senator Kamala Harris will become the first female Vice-President in American History, and potentially, the first female President if Biden decides not to run for re-election in 2024.

The victory of the Biden-Harris ticket marks the first time in nearly 30 years that a sitting President of the United States has been limited to one term in office. Biden’s victory will mark a significant policy shift from that of outgoing President Donald Trump and will have important impacts for the longstanding Australia-US relationship.

Nexus presents its analysis of President Biden’s potential policy agenda, with a focus on the impact of Biden’s Presidency on the Australia-US Relationship.

BIDEN BACKGROUND:

Former Vice President Joe Biden joined the crowded Democratic presidential field on April 25, declaring his candidacy for president nearly two years after his term as Vice-President ended. Biden entered as a likely front-runner in some of the early nominating contests to take on President Donald Trump.

After winning the Democratic Nomination, Biden announced in early August that Senator Kamala Harris, Democratic Senator for California, would join him on the Democratic ticket as his vice-presidential nominee, after pledging to choose a woman for the role in March. Harris was long considered to be a front-runner in the search, despite some heated moments during the Democratic primaries. Biden credited his late son’s close relationship with the senator in helping him make his decision.

Prior to becoming Vice President under former President Barack Obama, Biden served in the U.S. Senate for 37 years, serving on two key committees as both ranking member and chairman: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee. Since leaving the White House, Biden and his wife launched the Biden Cancer Initiative to invest in efforts for cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis, research and care.

POLICY IMPACT: CLIMATE & TRADE

The policy agenda of a Biden Administration will mark a distinct shift from the policy agenda of President Trump and will have a major impact on the Australia-US relationship, particularly with respect to China, Trade, Technology and Climate Change.

President-Elect Biden is expected to place a significant amount of political capital on addressing climate change, calling it one of the four crises facing the United States during his campaign. The President-Elect has proposed the United States to achieve a carbon-free power sector by 2035 and a $2 trillion investment over his first four years in office in green energy and infrastructure to combat the threat of climate change.

The size of any Biden Administration climate change policy agenda will depend on who controls US Senate, which is still up for grabs but largely expected to be retained by a slim Republican Majority. If Democrats fail to win the Senate, the new administration’s ability to move on climate will be limited to executive orders and regulations. However, the ability to insert climate change considerations into security and trade policy lies more squarely in the purview of the executive branch, with tremendous scope for rulemaking and regulations with implications for Australia. The new administration could conceivably regulate international investments in energy-producing or carbon-emitting industries and firms, mandated carbon offsets, or instituted preferred supplier rules or emissions-based duties or tariffs.

This is a key consideration of potential trade agreements, particularly in future trade negotiations on American’s potential ascension to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).  While the Trump administration withdrew from the CPTPP, President-Elect Biden supported the deal during the Obama administration. Biden stated in a Democratic primary debate last year that he would insist on renegotiating “pieces” of the pact.

POLICY IMPACT: CHINA & TECHNOLOGY

Regarding Australia’s relationship with China, President-Elect Biden indicated during his campaign that he will hold a “Summit for Democracy” to reach new commitments to fight corruption and authoritarianism and advance human rights. That would include pressing technology companies to make pledges to “ensure their algorithms and platforms are not empowering the surveillance state, facilitating repression in China and elsewhere.” This means that selective decoupling with China is especially likely to concentrate on critical infrastructure and defence-related industries and research.

While the Biden Administration is not expected to be as outwardly antagonistic towards China, it is expected that the new administration will put greater emphasis on values and human rights, and an increased push for coordinating technological and economic policies between the United States and its allies like Australia. Further, such policies are unlikely to be blocked by Congress in the event either party takes that Senate, as there is now a bipartisan consensus in Washington that China is a major strategic rival to the United States.

Reforms to big tech will not only be restricted to foreign policy concerns, but also domestic political concerns as-well. The crackdown on the powers of Big Tech companies is likely to be embraced by the Biden administration, with Biden a known critic of the unrestrained growth of companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter. The President-Elect has been a strong advocate for reform to the present regulatory framework that has allowed the Big Tech companies in recent years to extend their economic and social reach.

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