It’s a nice thought.
Unfortunately, a single man stands in the way of this fantasy. And it’s not the guy in the White House. It’s the current Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — to whom Senate custom gives nearly unilateral power to block most initiatives from ever getting a vote, compromises or efforts toward common ground be damned. Over and over, McConnell has already exercised this power.
It’s true that today, as when President Trump was elected four years ago, Democrats and Republicans already agree on oodles of issues. Or at least the exhausted middle majority of Americans, and the middle chunk legislators, do. Or most Democrats, plus some peeled-off Republicans. Or vice versa.
You get the idea. There are indeed obvious solutions to be had, and clinched by the middle 50 votes within the Senate, if only lawmakers had the courage to cooperate.
For instance, lawmakers could finally pass a permanent legislative fix for the Obama-era Deferred Action for Early Childhood Arrivals program, which provides partial protections to unauthorized immigrants brought here as children. Large majorities of voters in both parties support these immigrants, known as “dreamers,” and a bipartisan agreement giving them a path to citizenship almost materialized two years ago. (Until Trump blew up the efforts, of course.)
Resolving other immigration issues remains thorny. But making life better for dreamers is low-hanging, bipartisan fruit.
Or there are pocketbook issues important to American families.
In an interview Sunday, Republican Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah) spoke about his desire to work with the president-elect and Democrats on an expansion of the child tax credit. Romney already co-sponsors, alongside Democratic Sen. Michael F. Bennet (Colo.), a bill to make this credit fully refundable and thus available to the poorest households. Other Republicans and conservatives have supported variants of the idea, partly because it can help “traditional” families, with one nonworking parent (usually mom); and nearly every sitting Democratic senator co-sponsors related legislation.
Again, an easy win-win. Expanding a similar tax break that rewards work (the Earned Income Tax Credit) likewise has a demonstrated record of appeal among both parties.
Other opportunities for bipartisan kumbaya moments include: more funding for community health centers (which help the poor everywhere, but particularly in rural, redder states). Or paid parental leave (which both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have endorsed, albeit with different funding mechanisms). Or covid-19 aid to small businesses.
Or most any effort to rebuild international relationships that have been shredded over the past four years, to much hand-wringing from members of both parties.
Voters seem to like the idea of divided government on the premise that it incentivizes such shared victories. This is part of the pitch Republicans are making about the two U.S. Senate seats in Georgia facing runoff elections, which will decide which party ultimately controls the upper chamber next year: If Republicans hold the seats, the GOP argues, they can not only check Democrats’ most radical impulses but also deliver the moderate outcomes, forced through mutually beneficial cooperation, that voters crave.
But if past is prologue, such promised cooperation is likely to be a con. At least if McConnell continues running the show, as he almost certainly would if those Georgia seats remain Republican.
Recall that back in the day, Barack Obama also ran on a platform of healing our divides and bringing political harmony to a polarized Washington. Republicans, led by McConnell, refuted this promise simply by obstructing nearly every Obama initiative on offer, regardless of public support. This forced Obama to implement his agenda through executive action wherever possible, which led to GOP accusations of executive-branch “tyranny.” (Those same Republicans, somehow, stayed mum when Trump exercised even more executive power, including when his party controlled both houses of Congress.)
Any opportunities for finding common ground — and for Biden to prove his political healing powers — will be blocked if McConnell again prevents such legislation from even getting a vote. Which he is likely to do, at least if he still believes his top priority is to make a Democratic occupant of the White House a “one-term president.” His support Thursday for Trump to continue fighting the election results doesn’t bode well.