WASHINGTON – President Biden ran to the White House as an apostle of bipartisanship, but the fierce fight against the $ 1.9 trillion pandemic measure that swept through the Senate on Saturday made it clear that the differences between two warring parties were too broad to be met by Mr. Biden’s good intentions.
Not a single Republican in Congress voted for the bailout which now headed for final approval in the House and a signature from Mr Biden, as they angrily denounced the legislation and the way it was Assembly. Other prominent democratic measures to protect and expand voting rights, combat prejudice and police misconduct, etc., also attract very little Republican support.
A new president’s alleged honeymoon would typically provide a moment for lawmakers to come together, especially as the country enters its second year of a crushing health and economic crisis. Instead, the tense confrontation over the stimulus legislation has shown lawmakers to go their separate ways and prepare for more gruesome clashes to come.
Mr Biden, a six-term Senate veteran, had hailed his profound experience on Capitol Hill as one of his main arguments, telling voters he was the singular man capable of uniting the tumultuous Congress and even of come to terms with his former negotiating partner, Kentucky Republican and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
But Congressional Democrats, very familiar with Mr. McConnell’s tactics, had no such illusions. Now they fear voters will punish them harsher in the 2022 midterm elections for failing to use their power to pass sweeping political changes than for failing to work with Republicans and make bipartisan deals. .
Democrats in Congress want more than Republicans are willing to accept. Anticipating the coming Republican recalcitation, Democrats are increasingly uniting around the idea of weakening or destroying the filibuster to deny Republicans their best weapon to thwart the Democratic agenda. Democrats believe their control of the House, Senate and White House allows them to do whatever they can, not settle for less out of obligation to an outdated concept of bipartisanship that does not reflect the reality of polarized politics today.
“Looking at the behavior of the Republican Party here in Washington, it’s fair to conclude that it’s going to be very difficult, especially the way the leaders have positioned themselves, to get meaningful cooperation on this side of the aisle on the things that matter, ”said Rep. John Sarbanes, Democrat of Maryland.
But the internal Democratic disagreement that stalled passage of the stimulus bill for hours late on Friday night illustrated both the precariousness of the thinnest Democratic majority possible and the obstacles to eliminating the systematic obstruction, a step that can only happen if the now deeply opposed moderates agree to do so. so.
He also showed that even if the 60 vote threshold for breaking a filibuster were erased, there would be no guarantee Democrats could push their Senate priorities 50-50, since a separatist member can table a bill. entire law.
Republicans accused Democrats of dropping any pretext of bipartisanship to advance a far-left agenda and of blocking a liberal wishlist disguised as a coronavirus rescue bill, stuffed with hundreds of billions of superfluous dollars as the pandemic is starting to wane. They noted that when they were in charge of the Senate and President Donald J. Trump was in office, they were able to present a series of costly bills to alleviate coronaviruses being negotiated between the two sides.
“It is such a shame that at a time when a president took office suggesting he wanted to work with Republicans and create solutions in a bipartisan way and try to bring the country together and unify it, the first thing to do is a bill that is simply done with a one-party regime, ”said Senator John Thune of South Dakota, Republican No. 2.
At their private lunch recently, Republican senators received a card bearing a quote from Ron Klain, the White House chief of staff, calling the coronavirus bill “the most progressive national legislation in a generation,” a phrase that party strategists quickly began to use. in a video aim for the stimulus measure.
Biden’s Stimulus Plan
The comment was a point of pride for Liberal Democrats, but probably not the best argument for convincing Republicans.
“I don’t understand the approach taken by the White House. I really didn’t, ”said Senator Susan Collins of Maine, leader of a group of 10 Republicans who initially tried to strike a deal with the White House, but offered about a third of what Mr. Biden had proposed. “There is a compromise to be found here.”
Yet even though Mr. Biden welcomed Republicans to the White House and engaged them in a series of much nicer talks than anything during the Trump era, neither he nor the Democratic leaders in Congress made a real effort. to find common ground, after concluding. from the start, Republicans were far too reluctant to spend what was needed to tackle the crisis.
Democrats feared that if they did not act quickly, the negotiations would drag on only to collapse and leave them nothing to show for their efforts to control the pandemic and support economic recovery. They wanted to go big and not wait.
“We will not be – we will not be – timid in the face of great challenges,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, New York Democrat and majority leader. “We are not going to delay when urgent action is required.”
Although Mr McConnell lost on the legislative front, he managed to hold Republicans together as some were eager to strike a deal. He learned in 2009, when President Barack Obama took office at the start of the Great Recession, that by keeping his Republican forces united against Democrats, he could undermine a new popular Democratic president and paint any partisan legislative victory. , scoring political points. before the next election. The same playbook appears to be open for 2021.
As they maneuvered the relief measure through Congress using special budget procedures that protected him from a filibuster, Democrats also resurrected several major policy proposals from the last session that were going nowhere in the controlled Senate. by Republicans.
The most important of these was a sweeping franchise measure intended to offset efforts by Republicans in states across the country to impose new voting requirements and a police bill that seeks to ban tactics blamed on unnecessary deaths. House Republicans have opposed both en masse, and the prospects of winning the required minimum of 10 Republican votes in the Senate are grim.
In the coming weeks, House Democrats plan to pass more hard-line bills, including measures to bolster gun safety and protect union rights – two activities Republicans disliked. Democrats fully recognize that the measures will hit a Republican rock wall, but that’s the point.
By having Republicans declared against what Democrats see as largely popular measures, they hope to convey the idea that despite their party’s control over Congress and the White House, they cannot move forward on the big questions of the moment with the systematic obstruction. in place. They want voters to respond.
“We can’t magically make Republicans what the people are for,” said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, Democrat No. 2. “People are overwhelmingly supportive of order. of the day we pass, and democracy works, so if people want these bills passed, they will demand that we remove the filibuster or demand that some Republican senators who refuse to do what the people want to quit their functions.
Frustrated by their inability to halt the pandemic measure, Republicans lashed out at Democrats and the president.
“They are doing it because they can,” said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the top Republican on the Budget Committee, who said Mr Biden’s promises to promote unity sounded sounding. now vain. “It’s an opportunity to spend money on things unrelated to Covid because they have the power to do so.”
Democrats would agree – they’re using their massive influence to go way beyond what Republicans can support, and say they’re right to do so.
“Let’s face it,” Schumer told the Senate. “We have to get there. It would be so much better if we could do it in a bipartisan way, but we have to do it.
Nicolas fandos contribution to reports.