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If Elected, Joe Biden Should Be President for Five Minutes

We've taken the former vice president's boldest, newest idea and streamlined it for McKinsey-level efficiency.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

On Wednesday, Politico reported that former Vice President Joe Biden has suggested to aides that he intends to serve only one term if he wins the 2020 presidential election. “According to four people who regularly talk to Biden,” Politico’s Ryan Lizza wrote, “all of whom asked for anonymity to discuss internal campaign matters, it is virtually inconceivable that he will run for reelection in 2024, when he would be the first octogenarian president.” The idea is easy to understand from Biden’s perspective. The promise of a single term could, in theory, encourage some Democrats who would prefer a female, minority, and/or younger candidate to back him as the most electable choice against Trump, safe in the knowledge that he would soon be followed by a more compelling president and a more diverse administration.

“This makes Biden a good transition figure,” one of the anonymous advisers told Lizza. “I’d love to have an election this year for the next generation of leaders, but if I have to wait four years [in order to] get rid of Trump, I’m willing to do it.” In an attempt to bring clarity to Biden’s intentions this afternoon, Delaware Senator Chris Coons told reporters that Biden would be open to serving a second term, “if necessary.”

This was an odd statement. It seems likely that there will remain problems with American society for a Democratic president to solve at the end of a Biden term. Biden is evidently ambivalent about continuing to work on them beyond an initial four years in office. This makes sense if one understands the central project of the Joe Biden campaign to be making Joe Biden the president or, more charitably, denying Donald Trump a second term. This has been the clear focus of Biden’s bid from the beginning—defeating Trump is the objective he talks the most about and a major reason why so many Democrats, terrified by the possibility of Trump’s reelection, have chosen to back him despite a wide-open field of alternatives and the controversies that have beset his candidacy. It’s never noted by the press that Biden, on a promise-to-accomplishment basis, would be one of the most efficient presidents in American history. The very act of winning would fulfill the most solemn vow he has made to the American people.

Given this, it’s not clear why, as the unnamed adviser argued to Lizza, the Democratic Party should wait a full four years for the transition Biden reportedly envisions to take place. If Biden is indifferent about personally seeing any particular policy fight through beyond his first term, why—having safely defeated Trump and succeeded in the main purpose of his presidency the moment he is sworn in—shouldn’t he begin the handover he recognizes as necessary immediately? Why shouldn’t a new Democratic administration—diverse, young, and dynamic—replace him within two years, a year, a month, or a week of taking office? With the dreaded 2020 election finally in the rearview mirror, why shouldn’t Biden simply turn the reins over the very day he’s inaugurated?

If Politico’s report is true, Biden is correct to support giving the presidency to a new generation of Democrats as soon as possible after Trump has been ousted. This is why, if elected and sworn in as president at noon on January 20, 2021, Joe Biden should resign by no later than 12:05 p.m., transferring the presidency to whichever female, minority, and/or younger vice president he has chosen to succeed him. In those five minutes, Joe Biden will have fully accomplished the primary political goals preoccupying so many Democrats and media elites—kicking Trump out and ensuring a demographic transition in the White House. A truly historic presidency in about the time it takes to prepare a microwaved meal. His successor will have much to take on: an economy that has failed millions of Americans and enriched a lucky few, a party that will continue its assault on democratic values and the right to vote long after Trump leaves office, a climate crisis that threatens to destroy civilization as we know it, and so on. But we should take solace in the fact that Biden’s brief tenure would at least square away the concerns now defining the Democratic primary once and for all.