In New Hampshire on Tuesday, the former vice president and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate expressed confidence that he’d be able to work with the other side if he became president because, he predicted, a fundamental shift would occur in the Republican Party once Donald Trump is no longer president.
With Trump gone, in other words, Republicans will suddenly be willing to work with Democrats. Biden said:
[W]e found ourselves in a position where an awful lot of Republicans have become intimidated ― intimidated by the president. [...]
[T]he thing that will fundamentally change things is with Donald Trump out of the White House. Not a joke. You will see an epiphany occur among many of my Republican friends.
And it’s already beginning ― in the House now, you’ve seen people that in fact were not willing to vote for any Democratic initiative, even if they agreed with it, because they didn’t want to be the odd person out if it wasn’t going to happen. There’s not sense in getting politically beaten for something that’s not going to happen. But you are seeing the talk, even the dialogue is changing.
So look, let me put it another way. If we can’t change, we’re in trouble. This nation can’t function without generating consensus.
It’s not the first time that Biden has predicted an outbreak of bipartisan comity. In November 2012, he said that if President Barack Obama won a decisive reelection that month, he could get Republicans to work alongside the administration and that people would see the “fever break.”
A few months earlier, Obama had similarly said that once the election was over, he believed Republicans would start cooperating with him: “My expectation is that if we can break this fever, that we can invest in clean energy and energy efficiency because that’s not a partisan issue.”
Obama spent much of his presidency believing that he could get Republicans to work with him. But GOP leaders made clear that they had no interest in doing so.
“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in 2010.
Obama seemed to eventually realize he wasn’t going to get much through Congress, saying in 2014 that he was going to employ a pen-and-phone strategy: using his pen to sign executive orders and a phone to reach out to outside groups to build up support for his proposals ― ways to get around intransigent GOP lawmakers.
Biden was known as a dealmaker in the Obama White House, and he did help legislation get through Congress, drawing on his decades of service in the Senate. So it’s understandable he would insist he’s equipped to do so again if elected president.
But many of the deals that Biden brokered in his career ― including under Obama ― have been criticized by progressives as being inadequate and too favorable to moderates and conservatives.
And Congress is far more polarized than it was when Biden served there. Republicans showed little willingness to work with the Obama White House after his reelection in 2012. On clean energy, which Obama specifically mentioned, Republicans used a failed green energy startup, Solyndra, to question all of the administration’s energy initiatives and cast the president as corrupt.
This blockade continued right up to Obama’s last months in the White House, when McConnell refused to even allow the president’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, to come up for a vote in the Senate to fill the vacancy created by the death of Antonin Scalia.
And McConnell has already said there is no way that proposals like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal will ever pass the Senate as long as he’s in charge.
“If I’m still the majority leader of the Senate after next year, none of those things are going to pass the Senate,” he said last month, giving nary a nod to potential compromise. “They won’t even be voted on. So think of me as the Grim Reaper: the guy who is going to make sure that socialism doesn’t land on the president’s desk.”
In an interview on Fox News Thursday, McConnell also seemed to distinguish little between centrists like Biden and someone more to the left, like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), saying that “the nominee for president on the Democratic side is going to be on a path to try to turn America into a socialist country.”
“If Biden or any Democrat becomes president in 2020, Republicans will focus like a laser on 2022,” tweeted Norm Ornstein, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who has tracked the rightward shift in the GOP. “The blueprint was established [for the 2010 and 2014 midterms]: oppose everything the president is for, delegitimize anything that passes, stoke anger in your base. Period.”