The truth is precisely the opposite. In a way that has eluded many observers, the handling of the covid relief bill by President Biden and Democrats has actually shown genuine efforts at bipartisanship and cross-party cooperation.
Another way to put this: We’re seeing the kind of qualified effort at bipartisanship that we should want and expect in such a polarized, crisis-ridden age.
While Biden was mocked during the 2020 campaign for insisting he could work with Republicans, he has followed through on his promise to try. Even if the end result is unlikely to be bipartisan support for the relief bill — it already passed the House with zero Republican votes, and it might not get any in the Senate — that doesn’t mean efforts at bipartisanship haven’t been in evidence.
Our point is not that seeking (or achieving) bipartisanship for its own sake is a good unto itself. It’s that, given the realities of today’s GOP and the scale of the challenges the country faces, the right way to strive for bipartisanship is to seek input from Republicans — in good faith — while not letting the quest for bipartisanship set the agenda.
Let’s review what we’ve seen.
First, Biden has repeatedly expressed openness to listen to Republicans about this bill. He invited GOP moderates to the White House to talk about it. In the end, he didn’t accept their proposal to scale back stimulus checks — but he did move in their direction. And he’s holding more bipartisan meetings on issues such as infrastructure and cancer research.
Some Republicans, of course, say that’s not good enough. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) predicts that 50 Republicans will vote no on the relief package, because Democrats were so “partisan” about it.
But Cruz will never vote for anything Biden wants, no matter what it contains. So the administration is concentrating on Republicans who might at least consider voting for the relief proposal or other future bills.
And those Republicans admit that there has been outreach to them. “I’ve had four calls from the president since my reelection,” Sen. Susan Collins of Maine told the Atlantic.
Meanwhile, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) told The Post that she, too, has been targeted by White House outreach:
Murkowski said she is taking every opportunity — whether it’s sit-downs with nominees who need her support, or conversations with White House officials about the coronavirus relief package — to press Alaska issues.
Biden is also looking beyond Congress, to where Republicans might see it in their interest to cooperate with some of his initiatives:
In his first five weeks in office, Biden is spending as much time — if not more — courting Republican governors as he is wooing the senators he needs to pass legislation.
Governors, of course, have different imperatives than members of Congress do and might lend support for initiatives that might channel resources to their states that they can tout as accomplishments themselves.
In an age when GOP senators and representatives are under intense pressure to maintain unity against Biden’s agenda — and fear the wrath of the right-wing media — reaching out to GOP governors is the sort of bipartisanship that might work.
All this suggests a formula on future important bills:
- Reach out to reasonable members of the other party and invite them to discuss the bill
- Take their ideas seriously, but don’t be limited by them
- Court Republicans outside Washington who might support you on the bill
- Hope you can get some Republicans to vote for it, but be prepared to pass it without them
- Make sure it benefits all Americans regardless of where they live or which party they support
We can pine for the days when old Senate bulls from both parties hashed out the details of legislation over cigars and whiskey, but those days are gone. Instead, in this intensely partisan atmosphere, we’re seeing what bipartisanship should look like.
This might work politically as well.
A new poll conducted by the Democratic firm Hart Research for the Center for American Progress finds that large majorities of U.S. voters see acting on popular policies as unifying:
Which of the following do you think should be more important for the President and Congress when it comes to unity and trying to unify the country?Pushing for policies and solutions that are supported by large majorities of Americans: 64Pushing for policies and solutions that both Democratic and Republican elected officials in Congress can agree to: 36
The Biden rescue package actually is supported by large majorities. So pushing for such solutions (as opposed to seeking bipartisanship for its own sake) will likely be seen widely as unifying in and of itself.
The poll, which CAP shared with us and and will be circulated among congressional Democrats, also found:
Which of the following do you think is more important?Passing a plan that is large enough to do what is necessary to finally put the coronavirus crisis behind us: 68Passing a plan [that is] bipartisan and has the support of both Republicans and Democrats: 32
To be fair, polls often show support for public officials generally working with the opposition. But it might be that when offered a choice between seeking generic bipartisanship and effecting a specific desired outcome — in this case, government acting ambitiously to defeat the pandemic — large majorities favor the latter.
After all, at a time like this, bills that fail to meet the needs of the moment — because the president sought support from the opposition — won’t be awarded credit from the public as an act of bipartisan statesmanship. It’ll be seen as failure.