President Joe Biden, who predicted throughout his campaign that he would be able to work with a post-Donald Trump Republican Party, admitted Wednesday that he was surprised by the former president’s ongoing influence.
Still, Biden reiterated his desire to work with Republicans on an infrastructure package and even insisted he could work with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell mere hours after McConnell told a crowd in Kentucky he was “100%” focused on stopping the still-new Democratic administration.
Biden’s comments highlight the administration’s struggle to attract widespread GOP legislative support for his signature proposals, even as many of those proposals draw significant support from rank-and-file Republican voters in public opinion surveys. Throughout the presidential race, Biden said his lengthy tenure in Congress made him well-suited to win GOP support for liberal ideas ― a proposition other Democratic candidates suggested was naive.
Speaking to reporters after highlighting an administration program to help restaurants struggling because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Biden said there was “a significant mini-revolution going on in the Republican Party” when asked about the ongoing efforts to oust Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) from party leadership.
Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney and the third-ranking House Republican, voted to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. She has refused to back Trump’s repeated lies that there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election. Most House Republicans, along with a majority of GOP voters, have supported and echoed those lies, helping spur a wave of state legislation to limit voting rights.
“I’ve been a Democrat for a long time. We’ve gone through periods where we’ve had internal fights and disagreements. I don’t ever remember any like this,” Biden said of the fight over Trump’s false assertions and Cheney’s role. “I think the Republicans are further away from trying to figure out who they are and what they stand for than I thought they would be at this point.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise, both of whom supported Trump’s election lies, have turned on Cheney and have backed Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, a Trump loyalist, to replace her.
If backing Trump is the primary force uniting the GOP, the second-strongest unifier is opposition to Biden.
“One hundred percent of my focus is standing up to this administration,” McConnell told reporters in Kentucky earlier Wednesday, claiming opposition to Biden stretched the ideological length of the Republican conference. “What we have is total unity, from [Maine Sen. Susan] Collins to [Texas Sen. Ted] Cruz, in opposition to what the new administration is trying to do to this country.”
McConnell claimed Biden, whom he negotiated with on multiple occasions when Biden was vice president, was moving to the political left.
“I think the best way to look at what this new administration — the president may have won the nomination, but Bernie Sanders won the argument,” he said. (Most of Biden’s proposals so far closely match what he campaigned on in 2020.)
Biden brushed off McConnell’s comments, noting he had similarly pledge to make Barack Obama a one-term president.
“Look, he said that in our last administration, with Barack, he said he was going to stop everything,” Biden said. “And I was able to get a lot done with him.”
So far, McConnell has succeeded in blocking little of Biden’s agenda. The Republican minority in the Senate is yet to officially mount a filibuster, with Democrats using a legislative process called reconciliation to pass a $1.9 trillion stimulus plan, and all but one Cabinet nominee ― Office of Management and Budget Director Neera Tanden, whose nomination failed ― drawing support from at least one Republican senator.
Earlier Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration had invited Sen. Shelly Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) to bring a group of Republicans of her choosing to the White House when Congress returns next week. Biden has been negotiating with Capito on an infrastructure plan.
Still, Biden’s previously established timeline for Republicans breaking with Trump is months away, even if the party shows little sign of sloughing off his influence.
“I predict to you, and I may eat these words, I predict to you, as Donald Trump’s shadow fades away, you’re going to see an awful lot of change,” Biden told a virtual gathering of his supporters in December. “I think you’re going to be surprised. It’s going to take six to eight months to get it underway, but I think you’re going to be surprised.”