Former Vice President Joe Biden’s theory that Republicans will “change” and be more open to bipartisan cooperation after Donald Trump leaves office was met with skepticism by some Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday.
Biden, who is leading a crowded pack of Democrats hoping to unseat Trump next year, referenced criticism he had received from some of his presidential competitors for being, in his words, “stuck in the past” by talking about working with congressional Republicans on the campaign trail.
“With Trump gone, you’re going to begin to see things change. Because these folks know better. They know this isn’t what they’re supposed to be doing,” Biden said of Republicans in Congress at a Monday fundraiser in Washington.
The 76-year-old former senator from Delaware pointed to the GOP’s 2016 blockade of Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court ― a bitter dispute to this day. Biden claimed 12 former Republican colleagues in the Senate expressed concerns to him in private about not allowing Garland a confirmation hearing or a vote in the Senate.
Republican lawmakers, Biden added, are worried about disagreeing with Trump and facing a GOP primary challenge because of it.
“This ain’t your father’s Republican Party,” Biden said, repeating one of his favorite refrains.
It’s not the first time Biden has touted the return of bipartisanship in Congress, either. Last month, he said he anticipated an “epiphany among many of my Republican friends” in the future.
While it’s possible Biden was delivering a message targeted at independent voters, his theory about a sudden wellspring of bipartisanship evokes a nostalgic picture of a far less polarized Congress, one in which lawmakers refrained from partisan acrimony and worked with each other in search of agreement.
These days, however, major legislation often requires large congressional majorities as well as control of the White House. And it requires convincing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to bring Democratic legislation to the floor for consideration, something he has steadily refused to do.
“They are a minority party, and they’re using every procedural trick they can ― like voter suppression ― to maintain as much power as they can,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said Tuesday. “They’re using it to play a minority hand to their strength. And I don’t think they’re suddenly going to decide, ‘OK, we’re a minority party now, we’re just going to be a loyal opposition.’”
Kaine, the 2016 Democratic vice presidential nominee, said that what could spur the Republicans to reassess their strategy is a “drubbing of historic proportions” in elections up and down the ballot.
“Then they may say we’ve got to look in the mirror,” Kaine added.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), meanwhile, offered a more pithy response when asked if he believed Republicans would come to their senses after Trump leaves the White House.
“A thousand flowers will bloom, children will smile and America will be happy again,” Durbin said, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
Even Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), another 2020 presidential contender who has made talk of bipartisanship and restoring civility a centerpiece of his campaign, has made the case that enacting big change in Washington will require Democrats to think beyond just the White House.
A thousand flowers will bloom, children will smile and America will be happy again. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)
“A lot of people want to say this election is just about getting rid of Donald Trump. That’s the floor, not the ceiling,” Booker said last month.
But Sen. Bob Menendez, the senior Democrat from New Jersey, said Biden had a point when it came to Republicans being freed to cross party lines and work with Democrats without the threat of a primary challenge egged on by Trump and his allies.
“I think there will be an opportunity to improve it, I don’t think that singularly will be the difference,” Menendez added.
Biden isn’t the first Democrat to bet on a changed Republican Party, though. While campaigning for reelection in 2012, Obama predicted that if he won a second term, the “Republican fever may break.” He added: “My hope, my expectation, is that after the election, now that it turns out that the goal of beating Obama doesn’t make much sense because I’m not running again, that we can start getting some cooperation again.”
But the “fever” never did break after he won reelection. It only worsened, especially after Republicans won control of both houses of Congress in 2014. And there’s little evidence to suggest that it will in the future.
“The problem is the Democrats and their unwillingness to work together,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said Tuesday when asked if Republicans would be more willing to work with a Biden administration.
“Joe’s got a long way to go between now and then,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) added. “Everybody likes Joe, but best I can tell, they’ve been keeping him closeted because he’s kind of a one-man gaffe machine.”