Senate Republicans are signaling they are open to cutting deals with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden if he wins the White House in November.
GOP senators — adding the caveat that they are supportive of President Trump — say there is room for agreement with a Biden administration, particularly on areas like trade or immigration, if they hold on to the Senate majority in November.
Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, noted that typically new administrations get a honeymoon period and a divided government could force compromises.
“There would be opportunities. … The one thing about having a divided government, it forces people to come together and some of the best and biggest accomplishments in our history have been accomplished during a time of divided government,” Thune said.
One GOP senator predicted that a Republican-controlled Senate could be beneficial to Biden because it would give him a buffer from progressives in his party who, if Democrats controlled both chambers, would likely try to drive him to the left.
“So he’s not constantly fighting ‘Why can’t we go one step further?’ on all the stuff they’ll want to do. The best thing that could happen to Joe Biden would be if there was a Republican Senate,” the senator said.
The pledge to work with Biden comes as he’s led Trump in a steady stream of recent polls by an average of 6.2 percentage points, according to RealClearPolitics. The battle for the Senate remains a toss-up, according to political handicappers, keeping open the prospect of a divided government in 2021.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he would be willing to try to help Biden cut legislative deals, though he questioned if Democrats, who are expected to keep control of the House, would go along.
“It’s hard to project what the attitudes would be in the House, but I would try to help him,” Graham said.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who would chair the Senate Judiciary Committee if Republicans hold on to the majority, pointed to energy, agriculture and trade as areas where he thought the two parties could reach agreements. Grassley served for decades with Biden in the Senate, including both working on the Judiciary Committee.
“I would imagine on the next farm bill,” Grassley said. “I imagine that Biden will pursue a U.K. free trade agreement, maybe some other free trade agreements. … If he’s for TPA [trade promotion authority] we could surely work together on that.”
Biden, who left the Senate in 2009 to be former President Obama’s vice president, has deep ties with some members of the Republican caucus, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).
He’s played up his knowledge of the Senate as an advantage that could help him work with GOP senators to break the years of gridlock that have largely bogged down the ability to move major pieces of legislation through the chamber.
“I think you’re going to see the world change with Trump gone,” Biden said during an interview earlier this year with NBC’s “Today,” adding that he thought he would be able to work with “at least some” Republicans.
Spokespeople for Biden’s campaign didn’t respond to a question about if there had been any conversations with GOP senators, or their staffs, about areas where they could work together in the event that Republicans keep control of the Senate or a narrow Democratic Senate majority doesn’t nuke the 60-vote legislative filibuster.
Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, noted that some senators like Thune and Grassley have a track record of crafting bipartisan deals. But he appeared skeptical that McConnell would be willing to work with a Biden administration.
“He’s the problem. You know when he announced ‘one-term Obama’ right off the bat, he was pretty clear he would do nothing to help. … He’s had a scorched-earth approach for a long time,” Durbin said, referring to McConnell’s remarks in 2010 about ensuring Obama was a one-term president.
Biden, during his time in the Senate, was part of crafting major deals such as the Violence Against Women Act and has a deep knowledge of the chamber, including chairing both the influential Judiciary and Foreign Relations committees. As Obama’s vice president he also helped negotiate fiscal deals with McConnell and then-Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.).
But since then, the Senate has become increasingly partisan and mired in gridlock. And more than half of current senators joined the chamber since Biden left it to become vice president, giving him a potentially uphill battle to win over new GOP allies who don’t have a previous relationship with him.
Progressives have warned that a GOP-controlled Senate would be a death knell for their priorities on health care, climate change and election reforms that are at the top of Democrats’ to-do list if they back control of the Senate and the White House. Democrats last had a unified government in 2010, when they lost control of the House in a Tea Party wave to Republicans.
And some Republicans are equally skeptical that a Democratic-controlled House would let Biden cut the sort of deals Republicans could agree to.
“Based on what he’s committed to right now, I think it’s going to be very difficult,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) about the prospect of Republicans working with Biden if he wins.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said that Biden himself likely wouldn’t be the roadblock to cutting deals with Republicans but rather “his Cabinet compromised of Treasury Secretary [Elizabeth] Warren and the influences of AOC [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] and Bernie Sanders.”
Pressed if Biden’s relationships with some GOP senators would make it easier to cut deals, Cornyn added: “I would like to think that, I would like to believe that, but I don’t see any evidence of that now.”
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