Mitch McConnell and Joe Biden — Two Old Pros, Working Together
Author: Greg Valliere
December 16, 2020
IF THERE WAS ANY DOUBT, Mitch McConnell has sealed his reputation as Washington’s premier lawmaker. He gently pushed Donald Trump out of the picture yesterday, and now McConnell will focus on getting a desperately needed pandemic relief bill passed by the end of this week.
McCONNELL HAS GIVEN REPUBLICANS cover to abandon Trump while saying nice things about the president, who remains a major force in the party. And the relief bill will move so quickly — everyone wants to go home for the holidays — that speculation will soon grow that McConnell and Joe Biden can work together.
THESE TWO OLD PROS, BOTH 78, could become Washington’s power couple, but just as the outgoing president has to acknowledge reality, so does the incoming president, whose power will be limited. Even if the Democrats take both Georgia Senate seats on Jan. 5 — hardly a safe bet — Biden would only have a 50-50 tie.
THE DEMOCRATS WOULD BREAK THAT TIE, OF COURSE, but with at least two moderate Democrats — Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana — Biden will have to stay close to the center if he wants to get much done.
AS WE NOTED EARLIER IN DECEMBER, there’s a case that Biden wouldn’t mind a scenario where he would have to reject pushy Progressives and deal with McConnell. That seems increasingly likely, based on the President-elect’s Cabinet nominees, most of whom are center-left pragmatists, not liberal-left ideologues.
THE TWO OLD PROS reportedly had a cordial chat yesterday, a positive sign for speedy Senate approval of all but one or two Cabinet nominations. Neera Tanden, picked to head OMB, is a possible sacrificial lamb, but virtually all of Biden’s team should be confirmed and in place by February.
BEYOND THAT, CAN BIDEN AND McCONNELL AGREE ON MUCH? Biden said yesterday that they could. For McConnell, the key is keeping his Senate majority in 2022, and that’s possible if a few issues can be ironed out — more stimulus until the pandemic subsides, including liability reform and aid to state and local governments. And there could be an infrastructure bill later next year, then possibly progress on immigration.
AN UNDERSTANDING BETWEEN THE TWO is likely on geopolitics, with Biden and most Senate Republicans taking a harder stance on Russia and other U.S. adversaries. Defense spending won’t rise as dramatically as in the past four years, but there’s little likelihood of an actual cut in Pentagon outlays.
WHILE BIDEN AND McCONNELL will have a cordial and consultative relationship, let’s not get carried away — there will be fierce battles over judicial nominees and an activist Biden stance on regulations. And McConnell knows a winning issue when he sees it — he will steadfastly oppose big new taxes.
OUR BOTTOM LINE ON McCONNELL is that he and his leadership team — including Sens. John Cornyn and John Thune — are experienced pros who push and push until it’s time to deal. Biden can play that game as well. This will be interesting to watch, starting with passage of the budget and a relief package later this week.
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