Moderates vow to 'be a force' under Biden


Moderates in both chambers are hoping to grow their influence and cut deals under the Biden administration.

Staring down at least two years of a narrow Democratic majority in a 50-50 Senate where Vice President Harris will be the tie-breaking vote, centrist lawmakers are eager to help break Washington’s most well-known habit: a penchant for gridlock. 

In the Senate, 16 lawmakers, many of whom were involved in last year’s coronavirus negotiations, have formed a bipartisan gang with an eye on looking for potential areas where they could cut a deal. 

“The numbers are so tight. All of us want this place to work. We’ve got a golden opportunity to make it work, we really do. And our bipartisan, bicameral group is going to be a force, and when I say a force, we’re going to try to find that middle,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), the most outspoken Senate Democratic centrist. 

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), another member of the group, said their objective was to “try to get results and avoid a lot of the stalemates that we’ve had in the past.” 

In the House, the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus added 16 new members, bringing its total to 56 members. 

“With Congress now narrowly divided in both chambers, bipartisanship will be key to enacting meaningful legislation," said Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), a caucus co-chair. 

The groups could be a potent force in a closely divided Washington, particularly in the Senate where Democrats need the support of at least 10 Republicans to pass most legislation unless they get rid of the legislative filibuster. 

And they are hoping they’ll have an ally in President Biden, a former long-time senator who is known for his penchant for cutting deals and who came up through the party’s center lane. 

“We’re working through everything, we’ve been having good conversations with the Biden transition,” Manchin said. 

Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), another member of the Senate group, added that he had “made it known” that he “thought there would be opportunities to identify common ground on a whole host of different issues” with the Biden administration.  

“So I’ve been in touch as it relates to a lot of consequential policy issues,” he said. 

Their first task is likely going to be similar to the last big legislative fight many got involved in: figuring out if there’s a bipartisan deal to be had on another round of coronavirus relief. 

Both members of the Problem Solvers Caucus and many senators involved in the bipartisan gang, tentatively named the Common Sense Coalition, were a part of the group credited by leadership in both parties for breaking the stalemate late last year on another round of coronavirus relief. 

That’s building hope that they could be a viable path for cutting deals between the Biden administration and an increasingly partisan Congress. 

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a close ally of Biden’s, isn’t in the group, but pointed to last year’s work on coronavirus legislation as reflecting the potential for moderates to be a force in deal-making.

“After eight months in which there was no movement in the Senate on a COVID relief package a bipartisan group … actually pulled together the deal that was actually able to overcome Majority Leader McConnell’s obstruction,” Coons said. “I do think this is a moment where constructive working relationships both within our own caucuses and across the aisle are going to be more important than ever.” 

The 16 senators held a call on Sunday with National Economic Council Director Brian Deese to try to get more specifics on Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus proposal and find out how the money from previous packages is being distributed. 

The GOP senators in the group are Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Mitt Romney (Utah), Rob Portman (Ohio), Bill Cassidy (La.), Capito, Jerry Moran (Kan.) and Young. 

The Democrats are Sens. Manchin, Mark Warner (Va.), Maggie Hassan (N.H.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Mark Kelly (Ariz.), John Hickenlooper (Colo.), Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Independent Sen. Angus King (Maine), who caucuses with Democrats. 

Some GOP senators in the group have expressed disappointment with Biden’s proposal and a lack of outreach to them, another sign that Biden likely has his work cut out for him to win over Republicans in the group. 

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she was “happy to listen” but questioned the size of what Biden is proposing. 

“It's hard for me to see, when we just passed $900 billion worth of assistance, why we would have a package that big. Now maybe a couple of months from now, the needs will be evident, and we will need to do something significant,” she added. 

“My focus is to see where’s the need, and let’s make sure that the numbers are real based upon need, as opposed to simply looking for more stimulus,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah). 

Democrats are also prepping reconciliation text — a budget tool that would allow them to pass a bill with only simple majorities in both chambers. 

Moderates face an increasingly polarized political reality both on Capitol Hill and across the country, which remains on edge after the January 6 attack at the Capitol. 

Democrats are under fierce pressure, including from some of their own colleagues, to nix the 60-vote legislative filibuster, which would allow them to pass legislation with only a simple majority. 

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned during a recent Senate floor speech that while Republicans were willing to work with Biden that they were also prepared to block ideas that they disagree with. 

“We’ll use the power the American people have given us to push for what is right,” McConnell said. 

Durbin cautioned that it was too soon to tell how McConnell would operate under a Biden administration, but that he expected the bipartisan group to stick together beyond the current coronavirus talks as they try to influence strategy. 

“I don’t think it’s a bad ambition because we’re going to have bipartisanship to have success,” Durbin said, adding that he had already reached out a half dozen GOP senators about trying to find a deal on immigration. 

“They’ve been open to the conversation,” he said. “We haven’t agreed on anything but they’ve been open to it and that’s what it’s gonna take. We just have to try if we can get 60 people together on both sides.”

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