The moves come after Biden launched his administration without Republicans in his Cabinet and started by issuing dozens of executive actions, a clip far more rapid than any of his recent predecessors.
Taken together, the moves are energizing Democrats eager for the party to flex its political muscle. But the tougher approach could also jeopardize one of Biden’s chief goals: achieving more bipartisanship in a capital that has been gripped by polarization.
Many Democrats are concluding that Republicans are unlikely to work with them and that waiting for them to do so would be a mistake. Biden seems to be heeding that argument to some degree.
“I have zero tolerance for delay and no interest in diminishing the rescue plan,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), referring to Biden’s $1.9 trillion covid-19 relief package. “We need to use all of the tools and techniques that promote fast, fair, decisive action. We’re in a unique historical crisis.”
The two parties will still have numerous opportunities to work together, of course, on issues like infrastructure and foreign policy. But Biden, despite his longtime emphasis on bipartisanship as a principal campaign theme, is signaling that once he has asserted his willingness to work with the GOP, he will not delay his initiatives in hopes that will happen.
As early as next week, Democrats could move toward a fast-track budget process that will allow the covid relief package to pass without Republican votes.
“I support passing covid relief with support from Republicans — if we can get it,” Biden said Friday. “But the covid relief has to pass. There’s no ifs, ands or buts.”
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, in her first appearance with Biden since being sworn in, also urged quickly passing Biden’s proposal, which has met significant Republican resistance. “The price of doing nothing is much higher than the price of doing something and doing something big,” Yellen said.
Biden has started reaching out to a handful Republicans in his first days in office, speaking last week with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) shortly after Portman announced he was not seeking reelection. The senator’s office would not say what was discussed, but Portman has since expressed reservations about both the cost of Biden’s proposal and the potential that Democrats would move unilaterally.
“We should be working together in a bipartisan way, like we did in the previous five covid-19 packages,” Portman said in a statement to The Post. “Taking a go-it-alone approach sets the wrong tone right off the bat and will no doubt hurt this administration for months and years to come.”
Biden also called Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) last week to discuss a variety of issues, including his covid relief package, according to her Senate office.
“The relationship I have with Joe Biden is closer than the relationship I had with President Obama or with President Trump,” Collins told NECN. “The fact he called me twice since the election is a very good sign, and we had an extremely friendly conversation.”
Collins said she expressed concerns to Biden about the scope of his relief package and urged him to lower the cost to win Republican votes. She also said Republicans would support more funding for testing and vaccine production, along with aid to cities and states.
Many Democrats say they worry about repeating the mistakes they made last time they controlled the White House and Congress, when their top priorities languished as President Barack Obama and other Democratic leaders sought bipartisan compromises.
In the end, the Affordable Care Act and a major stimulus package endured weeks or months of pummeling as the two sides talked, yet they ultimately attracted little GOP support even after being scaled back. Immigration and climate bills, meanwhile, failed to pass at all.
“We must not repeat the mistakes of 2008 to 2009, when Congress was too timid and constrained in its response to the global financial crisis,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday on the Senate floor.
Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), who was a House member in 2009, recalled spearheading passage of a climate bill there, then watching it die in the Senate.
“It’s not ancient history — 2009 is the analogue,” Markey said. “We then waited for senate bipartisanship to break out. It never happened. And I don’t think it will happen this time.”
Republicans, however, contend that despite paying lip service to bipartisanship, Biden and the Democrats are not even trying and have made few offers to adopt GOP proposals.
Speaking of the Democrats’ energy policy, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said recently on the Senate floor that Biden had decided to “give in to the far left and put ideological concerns before kitchen-table ones.”
On covid relief, Democrats are poised to move the Biden package through the Senate using the budget reconciliation process, allowing them to pass it with a simple majority rather than the 60 votes usually required.
Democrats have frequently pointed out that Republicans could still vote for a relief package that relies on the reconciliation process, But going down that pathway would mean far less Republican support, if any, would be required for passage.
The Democrats’ new assertiveness is in part a culmination of weeks of anxiety that the impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump would consume much of the start of Biden’s administration.
With Republicans now indicating they are almost certain to acquit Trump, some Democrats are looking for other avenues to hold him accountable. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), for example, has proposed moving to censure him in the hopes that more Republicans would vote for that option.
Most Democrats still favor moving ahead with a trial, but they stress it will be swift and not nearly as complex as past impeachment proceedings.
“It’s a trial that should last a matter of days not weeks,” Blumenthal, a former federal prosecutor, said. “There’s no need to over-try cases. Sometimes, in fact, it’s a disadvantage. And this one should be very matter of fact, straightforward, open-and-shut.”
The last two impeachment trials lasted weeks and became all-consuming.
In 1999, Bill Clinton’s trial lasted five weeks. In 2020, Trump’s first impeachment trial concluded after three weeks. In both cases, the president was acquitted and no other Senate business was conducted during that time.
The White House has sought to avoid the topic of how the trial should unfold, even though it could have significant implications for Biden’s agenda. At almost every briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki has sidestepped the issue of Biden’s preference on the matter.
“He’s going to leave the mechanics, the timing and the specifics of how Congress moves forward on impeachment to them,” Psaki said one day.
“We’ll leave that to them,” she said the next.
“He is no longer in the Senate,” she said another day. “And he will leave it up to members of the Senate, Democrats and Republicans, to determine how they will hold the former president accountable.”
Biden, in a brief interview with CNN, said last week that the trial “had to happen” but that he doubted there would be enough Republican votes to convict Trump. The day after his comments, 45 Republicans cast a vote questioning the constitutionality of trying a former president, a strong indication that Trump for the second time will avoid conviction.
For now, Democrats are increasingly embracing the idea of pushing ahead on various fronts unilaterally if necessary.
“We have to have a trial of Donald Trump, and we also have to go big to respond to the crises that Donald Trump has left behind,” Markey said. “History requires it. It’s 1918 for the health-care crisis. It’s 1933 for the economic crisis. And it’s 1868 for the impeachment trial of Donald Trump for his incitement of an insurrection against the country.”