For the first time in a century, the U.S. House of Representatives failed Tuesday to elect a Speaker on the first ballot—adjourning with a divided Republican Party unable to unite around Representative Kevin McCarthy as the leader of its new majority. It’s a chaotic start to a new era of divided government in America, two years into the presidency of Joe Biden. At his inauguration in 2021, Biden pledged “to restore the soul and to secure the future of America,” after Donald Trump’s tenure ended with his supporters rioting at the U.S. Capitol as the former president continued to claim that Biden had stolen the 2020 election. Since taking office, Biden has won legislation for pandemic-relief funding, infrastructure improvements, limited gun-safety measures, and support for U.S. manufacturing; but—with a Republican Party shaped by Trump back in power—how transformative has it all been?

Bill Scher is an American journalist who contributes to The Washington Monthly, RealClearPolitics, and Politico Magazine. In Scher’s view, Biden’s legislative successes haven’t been as transformative as Barack Obama’s reforms of America’s health-care and financial sectors, and most Americans probably don’t recognize the tangible effects of most of his policies, which plausibly helps explain his low approval ratings. But two years from now, Scher thinks, the president will have a story to tell voters about how he’s made government function; and it’s a story that could sound all the more compelling if, meanwhile—as early appearances suggest—the fractious Republican conference in the U.S. House of Representatives devolves into chronic dysfunction.

Graham Vyse: In thinking through what’s really changed in American political life during the Biden administration, it seems the baseline for that question is what really changed during the Trump administration. It was certainly a dramatic period culturally, but how much do you think it actually transformed public policy in the U.S.?

Bill Scher: The truth is, Trump’s administration wasn’t very effective at changing public policy. He didn’t have many legislative accomplishments, or really prioritize them, and the courts struck down much of what he tried to do through executive actions. At the same time, Trump certainly set in motion the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, which ended the nationwide right to abortion in America, as a result of his appointments to the Court. And those appointments may have more significant policy implications in the future.

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