June 20, 2021

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Did Joe Biden (already) blow his chance at bipartisanship?

4 min read

The central question — in both the near- and long-term — around the bill is a simple one, with lots of potential answers: Was it worth it?

The answer to that question can be looked at in a few different ways, and could well change as Biden’s term wears on. The truth is we are standing very close to the picture right now, making it tough to take a few steps back and see what it all looks like a month, a year or 10 years from now.

But Charlie Cook, a nonpartisan political analyst, believes that it’s already apparent that even though Biden got the vast majority of what he wanted in the stimulus package, the net effect on his presidency will be negative.

“Biden may have, in the early moments of his term, crippled his ability to do grand bargains.

“When the histories of the Biden presidency are written, there’s a fair chance that this will be looked upon as a serious error of judgement—one that may plague this administration for a good while.”

His argument goes like this: Biden ran and won as a candidate of unity, someone deeply (and actually) committed to restoring bipartisanship in Washington. This stimulus package was the first big opportunity for Biden to put the money where his mouth was (literally). Aside from meeting with a few GOP senators on February 1, Cook argues, Biden nor his team did any serious legwork to make the legislation more friendly for Republicans. And now, because such a massive spending bill was passed with only Democratic votes, Cook argues that the well has been poisoned in perpetuity for Biden to get Republicans to work with him.

It is absolutely true that Biden ran as a candidate who could bring Americans together following the increasingly divisive presidency of Donald Trump. Even during the darkest days of his struggles in the Democratic primary, Biden made the case that the only way the country could heal was to understand that we had a lot more in common that our politics (and our politicians) wanted us to believe.

Biden hit that theme hard in his inaugural address. Here’s just one example:

“To overcome these challenges — to restore the soul and to secure the future of America — requires more than words. It requires that most elusive of things in a democracy: Unity. Unity.”

And there’s no question that Republicans in the House and Senate believe that Biden’s actions on the Covid-19 stimulus bill were not in keeping with those words of bipartisanship.

“Instead of working together to fight COVID-19, Democrats decided to exploit the crisis by jamming through unrelated liberal policies they couldn’t pass honestly,” tweeted Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Kentucky) following the Senate vote. “A colossal missed opportunity for the American people.”
It’s worth noting here that West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin (D) has argued that although no Republican ultimately voted for the American Rescue Act, it doesn’t mean Biden didn’t involve them in the spirit of bipartisanship. Here’s Manchin on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday:

“We had an awful lot of input from Republican friends all through this process. A lot of the changes that we made that were basically brought into this process, came by working with my Republican and Democrat colleagues together. There were about 20 of us that worked continuously, so they had tremendous amount of input, they just couldn’t get there at the end. And President Biden encouraged them to be involved, all the way through. He spoke to them all the way up to the end.”

At the root of this question is this: Are Republicans in the House and Senate acting in good faith when they claim they are willing to be bargained with? Or are they simply holding out that football — only to snatch it away if Biden (or any other Democrat) runs up to kick it?
That’s the view of liberal Democrats, who point to McConnell’s statement in Barack Obama’s first term (“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president”) and the way the GOP acted in the last four years under Trump.
“If Republicans have suddenly begun to deeply value and prioritize bipartisanship in Washington, they can start by supporting $2k checks and retroactive unemployment for people,” sarcastically tweeted New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in late January. “Then it will be bipartisan.”
There are others — most notably Manchin — who have argued that finding ways to work with Republicans is not just possible but necessary. “I think we have a golden opportunity to bring the country back together and for us to work in the middle,” Manchin said in late 2020, adding: “It behooves everybody to start working together. If they don’t, it doesn’t take many of us to say, ‘Guys, we’ve given all of you a chance. We haven’t done our job for the last 10 years, and we’re going to start.'”

Interestingly, even Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the most prominent liberal in the chamber, nodded toward the possibility of bipartisanship — but just not on the Covid-19 stimulus bill.

“We all want bipartisanship and I think you’re gonna see more of it as we move down the pike,” Sanders said on ABC in late January. “We all look forward to working with Republicans. But right now, this country faces an unprecedented set of crises.”

Cook argues that such a scenario is implausible, in that the damage has been done to Biden’s promise of bipartisanship by the way the American Rescue Plan was handled. Is he right? And, if he is, was passing a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill worth it anyway?

2021-03-10 14:26:00

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