Give the Senate some space, Biden said, according to an aide who was there. It can get to yes on its own.
This is the essential bet of the Biden presidency, at least in its beginnings. Biden still regards himself as a creature of the chamber where he served for 36 years.
The question is whether today’s Senate bears any resemblance to the place Biden left behind when he became Barack Obama’s vice president in 2009.
There have been decades of erosion in what used to be referred to by the old-fashioned word “comity.” The past four years in particular have seen a wreckage of what is left of its norms.
But Biden believes there is enough muscle memory left in the institution to actually get it working again.
There is plenty of reason to think, as the president acknowledged during his inaugural address, that bipartisan compromise is “a foolish fantasy” in the polarized environment in which we now live.
Many Democrats worry, with good reason, that unity is just another word for passivity, a prelude to surrender on their priorities at a moment when they once again control all the levers of government in Washington, albeit not with the healthy majorities that Obama enjoyed. They remember the time-consuming — and largely fruitless — efforts Obama made to win Republican support for his agenda and don’t want to see the pattern repeat under Biden.
Meanwhile, it is not exactly a surprise that Republicans, playing to the cable commentariat, are carping at even Biden’s most predictable moves.
When the president signed an executive order on Monday to fulfill a campaign promise and lift former president Donald Trump’s ban on transgender men and women serving in the military, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) tweeted: “Another ‘unifying’ move by the new administration?” Actually, it is. Biden’s position on the issue is supported by more than 7 in 10 Americans, according to Gallup.
But, so far, Biden’s instincts appear to be sound.
Granted, confirmation hearings for his Cabinet picks are moving more slowly than in past presidencies. None of them — not even his national security team — were approved by Inauguration Day, which was an abdication of the Senate’s responsibility.
But the pace is picking up and the proceedings themselves have thus far been surprisingly free of rancor.
Another good sign was the fact that the new majority leader, Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), and minority leader, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), having recently switched places as control of the chamber shifted to the Democrats, were able to strike a deal on the delicate issue of how to proceed with Trump’s impeachment trial.
Biden has also — wisely, in my view — refused to interject himself into the standoff between Schumer and McConnell over rules for organizing a 50-50 Senate, which have gotten stuck over McConnell’s demand that Democrats agree to preserve the filibuster.
There are good arguments to get rid of the de facto requirement that ordinary legislation have the support of 60 senators. It has already gone by the wayside with regard to presidential nominations, including appointments to the Supreme Court.
But not now. Schumer should preserve nuking the filibuster as an option down the line, against the possibility that McConnell and the Republicans will put up a wall of obstruction to everything Biden proposes.
Pressed on the issue during a briefing Friday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden, who is on record opposing efforts to get rid of the filibuster, “hasn’t changed” his position.
“I will say he’s conveyed in conversations with both now Leader Schumer and Senator McConnell that they need to have their conversations, of course, but he is eager to move his [$1.9-trillion covid-19] rescue plan forward,” Psaki added. “He is eager to get relief to the American public. He wants to work with both of them to do exactly that, and he wants it to be a bipartisan bill. So that is his objective.”
It was another way of saying that Biden is confident the two of them are going to figure out a solution. That is the way things work in the Senate. Or at least, the way they used to.
Back when the Senate was able to work at all.