President Joe Biden has a lot on his plate. The pandemic continues to rage, with more than 4,200 people confirmed dead on the day Biden was inaugurated; 900,000 more people filed new unemployment claims last week; and the new White House will essentially have to resurrect the entire regulatory system from the grave that the Trump administration buried it in over the past four years.
Which is why it boggles the mind that Biden is so hyper-focused on unity as a message that he’s reportedly extending a hand to the GOP to water down its own COVID relief package, the single most important legislative priority the administration is going to be dealing with for the foreseeable future.
Here is a good, concise rundown of why this is a bad idea (a rundown that doubles as a convincing argument against trying to force-fit all of Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan into the same package) by The American Prospect‘s David Dayen:
Though everyone in the world knows this, Biden will start out seeking bipartisan support through regular order. Bipartisan support surely exists for the $2,000 checks, and maybe for vaccine funding. But a Christmas tree, Democratic-agenda-in-miniature bill is going to require reconciliation. That’s just reality. So Biden’s approach will guarantee a waste of—weeks? months?—in a futile attempt to find 10 Senate Republicans to agree to everything on the Democratic wish list. Didn’t we play this game already with the Affordable Care Act, with President Obama spending nearly a year chasing Republicans for nothing?
So far, though, Biden’s attempts at an olive branch have gone over about as well as the original American olive branch did. The GOP immediately started citing Biden’s “unity” rhetoric as a reason to oppose the smallest uses of his executive powers; in the most ridiculous version of this I’ve seen so far, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and Gov. Spencer Cox—two leaders of the GOP’s so-called “moderate” wing—wrote a letter to Biden saying that enlarging the legal boundaries of two national monuments back to their Obama-era size “will not solve the root of the problem and will only deepen divisions in this country.”
Elsewhere, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is threatening (for the second time) to filibuster the chamber’s organizing resolution—which, among other things, assigns senators sworn in this month to their committees—unless new Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer commits to not killing the filibuster. Yes, this is the same McConnell who killed the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees without a second thought.
And although the door isn’t officially slammed shut on Biden’s dream of a big bipartisan COVID relief bill, it looks like Romney and the other Republican moderates who were supposed to make up the GOP side of the new bipartisan Gang of 8 or 10 or 12 or whatever are opposed.
This shouldn’t be surprising. The Republican Party’s mission in 2021 is the same as it was the last time Biden was in the White House. It’s not to work together with Democrats for the benefit of the country, because, for the GOP, there is no thing as “the benefit of the country.” There’s only what benefits the right people, i.e. McConnell’s preferred yet demoralized country club base and the faux-populist reactionary grievance hogs they now desperately need in order to win elections. The GOP’s purpose is to wield every iota of power it has—even after an election in which it lost control of Congress and the presidency—to keep those people happy.
Compromise and deference to Congress are more than instinctual for Joe Biden; they’re in his bones. No one has ever been happier about spending 36 years of the prime of his life in the Senate. But given that obstruction is the GOP’s entire agenda, Biden can’t be both the guy who restored balance between the branches and someone who gets his agenda enacted. The two aren’t compatible anymore.
If Biden stands any chance of being a successful president, he has to rid himself of the notion that the GOP can be saved, or that it must be saved in order to have a well-functioning democracy. And if that’s seen as too “divisive,” too bad. McConnell gave Biden a ready-made response at least a decade ago: “You must be under the mistaken impression that I care.”