President Joe Biden was a senator for 36 years. He has seen horse-trading. He has seen comity with segregationists. He has seen deadlock and filibusters. He has seen bipartisanship. He has seen Newt Gingrich’s power grab. He has seen Mitch McConnell’s obstructionism.
He knows how the Senate and the House work.
One of the things he learned is that nothing happens quickly in the Senate, particularly when the margin is as close as it is now. But there are ways. Those ways are not played out in the public eye. They involve quiet talks and promises, agreement and respect. Some of these things may even be feigned. But feigning respect, for example, is itself a way of showing respect.
None of these tactics was useful in an administration devoted to one man’s whims. The old ways decayed even before that, under Gingrich’s and his successors’ scorched-earth politics. Reporters who grew up since Gingrich do not recognize that other tactics exist. They do not recognize that relationships are built and doubts sowed behind the scenes. They are accustomed to tantrums and sudden shows of power. They do not have the tools to describe the wide array of tactics Biden brings with him.
Ulrike Franke wrote a piece about younger German policy analysts that overlaps with what I’m describing. It’s not just German.
I think we are beginning to see results of Biden’s tactics. It’s early, but there is a premium on being the first to point things out.
Thirty-five House Republicans voted to form a commission to investigate the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
Every time there’s a defining vote, including both impeachments, Trump keeps losing a greater number of Republicans in each new episode. A math-minded person could chart it! 1 yes (Romney in Impeachment #1; next time ten House members+7 Senators; now 35 House members.
Paul Ryan, former Republican Speaker of the House, is holding a fundraiser for Adam Kinzinger, one of the 35.
That is how to move the Senate too. A few at a time. As one senator moves (Mitt Romney), it becomes easier for others.
On the Democratic side we have Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. It’s hard to say what Sinema is about, but Manchin has been a Democratic senator in a red state since 2010. Before that, he was in West Virginia state government for 28 years. He knows what Biden knows. John Stoehr puts forth an analysis of Manchin’s actions that is similar to what I’m saying here.
Manchin speaks of bipartisanship and has co-authored a letter with Republican Lisa Murkowski urging the Senate to pass a voting rights act that should be able to pass the Supreme Court that struck down the earlier version of that act. It is not the full-throated voting rights acts that the House has put forward. It may well be shot down by Senate Republicans.
But having put it forward in a bipartisan way gives Manchin ammunition to say, later, well the Republicans aren’t going to cooperate, so I sadly will have to vote with my Democratic colleagues to remove the filibuster, which has been so badly misused.
Biden is redefining bipartisanship to mean the will of the people; he cites polls that indicate his actions are approved by as much as 75% of the American people. That necessarily includes some Trump voters. If Manchin’s bipartisan approach in the Senate fails, that strengthens Biden’s all-America approach and perhaps gives Manchin an opening to vote against the filibuster.
With those 35 Republicans, the House passed a bill for a 1/6 Commission. The Senate is now contemplating it. You can be sure discussions are taking place behind the scenes. Chuck Schumer will bring it to the floor when he has the votes or when it is clear he can pin it on the Republicans. Which would strengthen a Manchin vote against the filibuster.
It’s early, and we are seeing small indicators. Things can still go bad. It’s easy to wish for decisive action and demand that Democrats move without Republicans. But splitting the Republicans will make it easier to get important legislation passed and may even help to break the Republican Party sufficiently that it has to reform.
Cross-posted to Balloon Juice