Now, eight years later, Biden and McConnell are entering a new phase in their 36-year relationship, and the Democratic left fears a repeat of the momentum of 2012. Once again, their party is using most of the levers of government. . They control the White House and the Senate, albeit by the narrowest possible margin. Unlike 2012, they also have a slim majority in the House. Nonetheless, they seem destined to bargain for half a loaf, at best, for anything that requires 60 votes in the Senate, the level necessary to defeat a filibuster.
That’s because between them and their agenda is McConnell, a recognized master of Senate procedures, famous for his ability to block presidential agendas.
Even as McConnell has seen some of his power dwindle – losing his Senate majority on Georgia’s clay fields, breaking with Donald Trump in the dying days of his presidency – he still finds himself a key figure in Washington’s. Biden.
He is the key to the new president’s ability to turn the page on the Trump years. After years of legislative stasis, Biden is betting big that the Senate can return to the bargaining body in which he and McConnell came of age. He hopes he and his 2012 negotiating partner can probe their shared history to locate a viable medium in hyperpolarized time.
It’s a special challenge for McConnell, who is already at odds with the Trumpian wing of the Republican Party after challenging Trump over Biden’s victory and even privately open to his impeachment. Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Tuesday called for a new Senate leader and said McConnell had revealed himself to be the “king of the establishment Republicans.”
Even if McConnell wanted to make deals with Biden, any compromise could further undermine his and his members’ position with the Republican base ahead of the 2022 midterm and the next presidential election. Several Republican senators eyeing their own races in 2024 are already signaling staunch opposition to Biden’s entire agenda.
Meanwhile, Biden’s allies insist strongly that finding common ground is possible and exactly what the American people want after the last decade of partisan warfare. Biden’s team are aware that many in their own party roll their eyes but claim this is just the latest example of the Democratic establishment underestimating Joe Biden.
“People said it was naive, you know, 18 or 19 months ago when he was showing up, he was criticized for that. But you know what? That’s one of the reasons he won, ”a senior White House adviser to Biden said. Other Biden allies say voters will punish Republicans in 2022 if they appear to be obstructionist in the midst of a crisis.
“A majority of senators have never sat in a functioning Senate,” said Delaware Senator Chris Coons, a close ally and friend of Biden. “This is the best chance the Senate will have in our lifetime to become more functional, because we have a new president who knows and respects the Senate.
But what constitutes a feature may be significantly less than Biden’s lofty campaign promises.
“There are many examples of things that just go beyond partisanship,” the senior adviser said. When asked about examples, the advisor spoke of second-tier issues such as infrastructure spending and high-speed internet access.
Jason Furman, who chaired President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers and is an occasional external advisor to Team Biden, lowered expectations. “I’m not sure they can accomplish great things together, [but] I think they can work together to keep the wheels on the bus, ”he said.
McConnell, Furman believes, could be a willing partner in the bases – getting budgets passed in a timely manner, not playing chicken with the debt ceiling and other additional and effective government measures.
The most skeptical of it all is Obama himself, no McConnell fan, and someone who got annoyed that his vice president might be able to accomplish things that he himself couldn’t.
“I like to read now how Joe Biden and Mitch have been friends for a long time,” the former president joked to the Atlantic shortly after the 2020 elections. “They have known each other for a long time.
Friends in Washington are not normal friends. While some outliers like Ted Kennedy or John McCain really relished their personal relationships across the aisle, the most enduring bond between longtime Senators is having belonged to such an exclusive club and respecting its unwritten rules. Among these institutionalists, outsiders just don’t get it, whether it’s a serious reformer like Obama or a compelling novice like Trump.
Biden, who joined the Senate in 1973, won his third term in the same year a former Senate member named Mitch McConnell won his first term.
Like Biden, who began his Senate career by surprising pundits with an upset and upset victory over two-term Republican Senator J. Caleb Boggs, McConnell surprised much of the political world by edging out two-term Democrat Walter ” Dee ”Huddleston in the 1984 Kentucky Senate race.
Despite being born nine months apart and sharing an interest in Senate history, the two were not initially close in the 24 years they have overlapped in the chamber, according to assistants. of the two men.
“They’re both good politicians, but they couldn’t be more different as politicians and that was from the start,” said Janet Mullins Grissom, who led McConnell’s race against Huddleston in 1984 and was was one of the first female Senate chiefs of staff when McConnell appointed her in 1985.
Biden was talkative, while McConnell was a man of few words. Biden had the grasp and smile of a salesman, while McConnell displayed the discipline of a tactician climb the leadership ladder. Biden was a people’s delight, while McConnell sometimes reveled in criticism, even decorating an entire wall of his office with negative newspaper designs on himself.
In high school and college, Biden was a popular kid, jock, and senior class president. McConnell was more of a nerd – he wore an “I Like Ike” button in his 5th grade school photo – but with a huge will to figure out how to win his peers in elections.
In front of a popular child to be his school President of the upper class, McConnell foiled it by courting the approval of other popular students. “I was ready to call for their vote using the only tool in my arsenal, the one thing teens want the most. Flattery, ”he wrote in his memoirs.
But there are also similarities.
Both have clan loyalties. Biden primarily targets his family members, like his sister Val, who ran his seven political campaigns before 2020. Later, his sons also joined his inner circle, along with longtime aides like Ted Kaufman and Mike. Donilon. .
McConnell considers his political team like family. “He’s got a band,” Mullins Grissom said. “It’s like the opposite of Donald Trump, but I think it speaks to the person, and he’s an incredibly, incredibly loyal person. Helpers say that for decades after leaving his office, they still call him “boss”. And while McConnell’s daughters appear to be liberals like their mother and shy away from his politics, his second wife, two-time GOP cabinet member Elaine Chao, is a Washington power broker and political partner as well as a romantic. .
“When I picked Elaine up to her apartment at Watergate I was wowed by her beauty and proud to have her on my arm that night,” McConnell wrote of their first date, a party hosted by Vice President George HW Bush. by the Ambassador of Saudi Arabia, Prince Bandar bin Sultan.