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Analysis: Data suggests Biden or Trump may struggle with Congress in second term

John T. Bennett and Ryan Kelly, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON — No matter who wins their expected rematch, President Joe Biden and Donald Trump should not expect much from Congress during a second term as far as legislation goes.

CQ Roll Call data suggests both Biden and Trump would struggle to shepherd bills through both chambers, and especially the House. Despite that history, lawmakers from both parties expressed optimism that no matter which candidate is sworn in on Jan. 20, 2025, Congress would be able to work with him on meaningful legislation.

A presidential election rematch between the 45th and 46th chief executives would likely deliver more than a bitterly contested race — it would ensure a second-term chief executive takes office next January. CQ Roll Call Vote Studies data tracking the support presidents get on legislation showed most recent two-term commanders in chief — Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — all were less successful in their second four years than during their first terms.

The last four second-term presidents were, on average, 30 percent less successful on House votes. George W. Bush was 41.4% less successful with House members during his second term, followed by Obama at 38.1%. Clinton and Reagan came in at 20.6% and 20.1% less successful, respectively.

When it came to working with senators on legislation, Reagan, Clinton, the younger Bush and Obama were, on average, 14.9% less successful in their last four years. Some had more wins than others, with Obama seeing a 9.1% decline, while George W. Bush was 10.4% less successful. Reagan and Clinton fared worse with the Senate, with the Republican seeing a 20.5% success decline and the Democrat a drop of 19.9%.

One caveat about the data is Trump had shown himself to be less interested in pushing legislation through Congress. In fact, during the years he had a GOP-run House and Senate, he weighed in on the fewest number of bills since Dwight D. Eisenhower, the first chief executive covered by CQ Roll Call Vote Studies. But Trump did have a few legislative accomplishments, including a tax overhaul he signed into law that he still sometimes boasts about during his campaign events.

 

Although Democratic and Republican lawmakers acknowledged that second-term presidents have typically become lame ducks when it comes to dealing with Congress, they said the trend cannot continue because of the number of challenges facing the United States.

Rep. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., cited “fundamental issues impacting the country” and pointed to “the border crisis, and the affordability crisis, the crime in major cities across this country, and we have a housing crisis.”

“And then you factor in, obviously, the fact that we are in a very precarious position around the globe. I mean, this is probably the most precarious position since World War II,” he added. “So, you know, it’s the urgency to act. … I think the question is: Do you have leadership capable of doing it?”

Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, in office since 2011, contended, albeit for different reasons, that Biden or Trump could be uniquely suited to break the historical trend and work effectively with Congress.

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