“Well, first of all, I am going to treat him a hell of a lot better than Chuck Schumer ever treated Donald Trump.”
My chat with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell came last week, shortly after he eulogized the Trump administration and acknowledged Joe Biden as president-elect. His speech on the Senate floor was a crisp packaging of Trump’s successes and a nod to the cranking of America’s democratic gears.
“The Electoral College has spoken,” McConnell said.
With Trump leaving the White House in January, the question on many minds is how McConnell’s and Biden’s relationship will impact policymaking. In McConnell’s estimation, relations between the two parties and two branches of government are bound to be better from the start because the Kentucky Republican does not intend to “bring the administration to its knees” the way Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer did when Trump took over.
Just days after Trump’s inaugural, Schumer, bowing to the wishes of the #Resistance mob swarming his Twitter account and his home, sent a loud and clear message to the new president: There will be no peace, no cooperation, and no comity between the legislative and executive branches. Schumer even voted against Elaine Chao, McConnell’s wife, for Transportation secretary, despite her being the most qualified choice for Trump’s cabinet.
In Washington, personnel is policy. And Schumer’s intentions were clear: If we can’t beat Trump at the ballot box, we’ll do everything we can to cripple his ability to make policy.
The decision by Schumer to lead a filibuster blockade against Trump’s cabinet and sub-cabinet nominees (people you’ve never heard of but who nonetheless had important jobs to do), plunged Washington into partisan dysfunction. Although it was Trump who ran to blow up Washington’s traditions and norms, Schumer beat him to it. During Trump’s first two years, his nominees faced five times more cloture votes than did the six previous presidents in their first two years, combined.
USA TODAY Editorial Board: COVID-19 relief deal reached after corrosive politics left Americans feeling abandoned
On 128 occasions, Schumer led filibusters against Trump appointees, forcing McConnell to file cloture (the Senate procedure for breaking a filibuster and moving forward with a vote) just to get Trump’s people confirmed. This left government positions unfilled for months and ate up days and days of valuable floor time clearing procedural hurdles instead of debating policy.
Schumer’s liberal use of the filibuster against non-controversial appointees had never been done in the history of the Senate and destroyed any pretense that Democrats wanted to find areas of agreement with Republicans.
“Not allowing the administration to take over the government is the wrong thing to do,” Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri said in 2017. “It is unacceptable. It’s outrageous. Something has to change.”
It seems that Blunt — and many other senators who detested Schumer’s attitude — might get their wish.
“They (Biden’s nominees) aren’t all going to pass on a voice vote, and they aren’t all going to make it, but I will put them on the floor,” McConnell said. Two Biden nominees who face a tough road are Neera Tanden, a hyper-partisan Democratic operative (with detractors on the right and left) nominated for director of the White House Office of Management and Budget; and Xavier Becerra, nominated for secretary of Health and Human Services with an extremist, pro-abortion record that most Senate GOP’ers can’t stomach.
Aside from personnel, McConnell said he interpreted the election results as a message from Americans for the two parties to operate “between the 40-yard lines.” He anticipated that the two parties could find common ground on infrastructure spending, although “we still have to figure out how to pay for it."
“I think the American people expect us to look for areas of agreement in a divided system while setting aside for debate the things we don’t agree on,” McConnell said, a mantra he employed during the recent COVID relief negotiations. McConnell’s position finally prevailed in the year-end package, after months of damaging, partisan intransigence from Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
McConnell described his relationship with Biden as a “friendship,” and noted that he was the only Senate Republican to attend Beau Biden’s funeral. This will be the first time in McConnell’s career that he has known a new president for as long and as well as he has known Biden.
'All-or-nothing' won't help anyone: The Democratic left needs Biden to succeed. Stop trashing the winner and help him deliver.
During the Obama years, it was often McConnell and Biden who forged agreements that staved off some crisis. Both men are fiercely partisan, but neither view their political duties as incompatible with their official responsibilities. Biden will fight for Democrats and McConnell for Republicans, just as they always have. And no one should expect Senate Republicans to begin rubber-stamping Pelosi-written legislation anytime soon.
But both are pros, two veteran Washington knights who know how to raise their visors in friendship from across the battlefield and mean it. And both know how to make deals. Maybe — just maybe — the American people will get a calmer, more functional Washington because of it.
Scott Jennings is a Republican adviser, CNN political contributor and partner at RunSwitch Public Relations. This column originally appeared in the Louisville Courier Journal. Follow him on Twitter: @ScottJenningsKY
You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Will Mitch McConnell and Joe Biden mean a functional Washington?