On November 3, against the backdrop of historic levels of participation, the American public elected Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to the United States presidency for the 2021–2024 term. Although the election result is still being contested (Trump is calling for further scrutiny and announcing legal action against the result), the outcome is all but guaranteed in favor of a new administration from January 2021. Since it was not the result expected according to the polls (a majority in the Senate, an increase in representation in the House of Representatives and the presidency), the conclusion of the elections foresees a possible regime change in a considerable number of key points in the areas of political management, the economy and US foreign affairs. A partial return to multilateralism is therefore expected. However, its mandate will be marked by great difficulties in implementing this change of vision, given that Republicans have not only maintained their majority in the Senate but have also increased their participation in the House of Representatives.

These are some of the priorities that I believe will be fought over in the years to come: recovery and resilience (including protection against COVID-19 and improving capacity for growth), the provision of health care and changes in foreign policy and the international agenda. However, these will face enormous challenges from within and outside the Biden administration itself.

If it had sufficient support, the new administration would rapidly boost emergency provisions to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic while striving to regain coordination between the federal government and states in order to reduce uncertainty and lack of information, basically with much more evidence and with strong mitigation and recovery measures (regarding subsidies and expanding medical reserve stocks, for example). The new president may commit to enacting additional recovery measures to protect incomes and access to health care in exchange for stricter controls on the use of funds, something that was not done under the CARES Act.

Biden could also take advantage of the economic recession to implement large-scale projects to increase physical (infrastructure) and human (re-skilling) capital. This would probably include investments in infrastructure linked to the Green New Deal agenda (renewables, emissions reduction technologies, etc.), as well as timely training programs. Both issues have the added benefit of being able to revitalize the economy in the most depressed industrial areas (known as the Rust Belt). The provision of health care and health insurance, including the protection of the Affordable Care Act, would be taken up in a spirit more along the lines of Obama’s legacy, seeking to expand reach in both the numbers of people and medical coverage.

A Biden administration with enough muscle in Congress would try to increase tax progressivity and the tax burden, reversing some of Trump’s tax cuts and deductions (especially for large fortunes and corporations). These deductions are particularly relevant to the Democrats while they contemplate higher local taxes to finance many popular public services.

Internationally, Biden would reinstate the United States’ commitment to the international community, rejoining many of the international agreements that Trump rejected, such as the nuclear deal with Iran and the West Bank settlement deal in Israel, as well as the Paris agreement. He would get back to a more significant role in the WTO and in the intermediation of international agreements, including those related to the promotion of international investment. He would probably try to engage in more trade agreements, including multilateral agreements, which he deems to be fair for the United States. He would consider the reintroduction of human rights and welfare requirements in the workplace in the aforementioned agreements.

This possible agenda faces dangers both inside and outside the Democratic ranks because it does not have guaranteed backing in the House and in the Senate. Any plan would face tough opposition from the Republicans, especially in the Senate, where 60 votes are needed to get past the now-famous filibuster. While legal mechanisms can be found to overcome these obstacles, they will also have to face a conservative Supreme Court (with Judge Amy Coney Barrett) that puts Democratic intentions at greater risk. In short, the international community has celebrated this change, but it will not be a bed of roses despite having a number of external factors in its favor, such as the accelerating vaccine development.