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Biden’s reputation for bipartisanship faces the test

Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden’s long history of reaching across the aisle in the Senate may well hold the key to his legislative success in the Oval Office. Evidence of that hope was his visit to Georgia last week to support two Democrats for Senate seats at stake in a runoff election there on January 5.

Biden, who carried the state on November 3 in a breach from tradition, is backing the Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff against Republican incumbent Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. That outcome would change a 50-48 GOP majority in the upper chamber to a 50-50 tie, enabling vice president-elect Kamala Harris to break it as President of the Senate upon taking office on January 20.

“We need those two seats,” Biden said during his visit. “I may eat these words, but I predict to you: As Donald Trump’s shadow fades away, you’re going to see an awful lot of change.” He spoke on the heels of Trump’s own rally in Georgia to shore up Republican support for Perdue and Loeffler amid GOP fears the outgoing president's efforts might be counterproductive.

At the same time, Biden’s campaign rushed ground forces into the state to stir voter turnout for Warnock, senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, the Atlanta church of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and for Ossoff.

Biden himself cautioned that despite his own long connection with the Senate, it might take “six to eight months” for a better working relationship between the two parties to jell. But he promised: “You’re going to be surprised. We’re going to have a lot of people wanting to work with us.”

The president-elect said he had been in touch with seven senior GOP senators, and he may well have taken heart in how Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had suddenly acknowledged Biden’s election and congratulated him. It remains to be seen whether that gesture, and his mild rebuke to Trump’s feud against the man who beat him at the polls, will lead to any post-Trump collaboration in the Senate.

Biden met with McConnell on Tuesday and said afterward: “We agreed to get together sooner than later.” Of Perdue and Loeffler, he dimissively observed, “I need two senators from the state who want to get something done, not two senators who are just going to get in the way.” It was a comment that said nothing of his hallowed ability to work across the partisan aisle.

 

At the same time, Biden cautioned progressive Democrats among civil right leaders he addressed via video call not to get enmeshed in an intramural squabble over criminal justice. “I also don’t think we should get too far ahead of ourselves on dealing with police reform, because (the Republicans) already labeled us as (being for) 'defund the police.' That’s how they beat the living hell out of us across the country,” he said.

Such accommodations seemed to illustrate there are limits to Biden’s willingness to split the difference on some controversial issues.

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(E-mail Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.)

©2020 Clarence Page. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

(c) 2020 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
 

 

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