Obama's insights on Merkel, Putin and other leaders in his new book

Former President Barack Obama's memoir on a window display at the Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn on November 17, 2020 in New York City.

This was adapted from the November 18 edition of CNN's Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Click here to read past editions and subscribe.

(CNN)How's Joe Biden supposed to get anything done?

Even when the President-elect shakes off Donald Trump's sulking shadow next year, he will face a harrowing political environment. By his January inauguration, the current explosion in Covid-19 infections will have left a trail of death and sickness in a nation worn down by nearly a year of pandemic-induced deprivations. And unless Democrats win two Georgia run-off elections, Biden will face a Republican-majority Senate led by Sen. Mitch McConnell, who is as immovable as the marble blocks of Washington's memorials.
Democrats have been shocked to see their majority shrink in the House of Representatives, meaning Speaker Nancy Pelosi will not always get her way. Progressive dreams that Biden would enjoy a Franklin Roosevelt-style first 100 days of radical social legislation are dead. Remember talk of packing the Supreme Court, the Green New Deal and new state-run health care? Forget that. The delicate new balance on Capitol Hill means the next two years will likely unfold as a war of attrition, with both parties maneuvering ahead of mid-term congressional elections that are usually cruel to first-term presidents.
    But it is not all bleak for Biden. Though he will take office during America's darkest hour for decades, the prospect of several Covid-19 vaccines could begin to restore light to American life by mid-2021. A bright summer and an economic rebound may lend his presidency significant momentum. And Washington's divides — which mirror a nation at war with itself — have offered clarity: Biden won the Democratic nomination and the White House because he is not a radical and is driven by instincts to unify rather than divide. A president who can bridge differences and broker modest bipartisan wins — for instance in helping workers who lost jobs in the pandemic — might win widespread approval.
    The last four presidencies pulsated with impeachments, partisan fury, terror attacks, wars, economic crises, whiplash change and historic firsts. Long buried passions and prejudices are burning thanks to Trump's inflammatory term. Even before the pandemic, America was exhausted by an incessant fight between factions with vastly different visions of the country it should be.
    A quiet presidency that does little more than restore a semblance of normality isn't what Biden has in mind. But a time-out from history sounds pretty good right now.

    'A complete ass'

    On the same day that Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz grilled Big Tech on permissible speech online, he capped a dispute over masks in the Senate with a blistering tweet, calling Ohio Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown as "a complete ass" for asking another senator to wear a mask while addressing the chamber. Cruz will get away with it on Twitter, but the obscure Senate Rule 19 does prohibit a senator from impugning another while on the floor.

    At last some gossip