Biden’s Seven Most Important Relationships With Congress

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(CNN) – The majority of Republicans in Congress have yet to call Joe Biden to congratulate him on his victory in the presidential election. Much less has he been referred to as president-elect, making the Mitt Romney case even more atypical. He was the first Republican senator to congratulate Biden when he was declared the winner. That’s a reflection of Romney’s subdued background, but also of the personal relationship he has fostered with Biden over the years.

The two were on opposite sides of the presidential ballot in 2012; However, as Romney reminded CNN on Tuesday, that didn’t stop Biden from speaking at Romney’s political summit in 2017.

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“He was kind enough to come and speak at my conference in Utah, and we probably spent an hour together, with our wives, and we had a very nice meeting. He seems like a charming and down-to-earth guy, ”Romney said.

Biden begins his work of transition of power 5:09

With 36 years in the United States Senate, Biden will have more experience on Capitol Hill than any other president of the United States. Yet only a quarter of the people he served with are still in Congress. That means you will have to rely on a few key relationships to get things done. In addition to maintaining working partnerships with the leaders of both houses, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Biden will have to rely on a handful of moderates and close political allies.

These are the most important relationships to consider between Biden and the Capitol early in his administration.

Biden’s successor in Congress: Chris Coons

Senator Chris Coons speaks during the confirmation of Supreme Court candidate Justice Amy Coney Barrett before the Senate Judiciary Committee in October.

A key ally of Biden will be the man who now holds his former Senate seat. This is Democrat Chris Coons of Delaware. Coons has been friends with Biden for over 30 years and remains an unofficial advisor who is in regular contact with the president-elect and his team.

According to a senior Democratic aide on Capitol Hill, during the transition, Coons has spoken with incoming White House counsel Steve Ricchetti on a daily basis and with incoming White House secretary general Ron Klain several times a week.

Coons, who is seen as temperamentally moderate and willing to work with Republicans, will be a reliable barometer for his fellow senators of the new president’s position.

“They trust him as an emissary,” said the Democratic adviser. “And I think people in the Senate know that if Chris Coons comes up with an idea, it’s something the White House (Biden) will back.”

For Biden, Coons will be equally important in taking the temperature of any group of centrist senators who can maintain the balance of power over presidential appointments, spending bills or big laws.

Joe Manchin, a strong contact in Congress when Biden was vice president

Senator Joe Manchin during a press conference on Capitol Hill in June 2017.

There was a time when Joe Manchin was the least welcome Democrat in the Obama White House. The West Virginia senator often found himself voting against the administration on issues like weather, trade and weapons. And by the second term, Manchin was in regular contact with a single Obama administration official: Joe Biden.

“Manchin didn’t have a great relationship with anyone in the Obama administration except Joe Biden,” said the Democratic adviser on Capitol Hill. “Biden was the only person [en la Casa Blanca] The one Manchin would call, and Biden the only person who would call Manchin.

Biden eventually became a key adviser to Manchin on a gun control bill he co-wrote in 2013. He drew on his own experience in crafting that legislation. At one point, Manchin asked Biden to stop the White House from publicly endorsing the legislation, which would have killed any push to win the support of the Republican Party.

“Biden prevented the White House from backing him up, from saying nothing about it,” said the Democratic adviser.

Although the bill ultimately failed in the Senate, the measure reflected a willingness to work together. Manchin has spent much of his time on Capitol Hill trying to unite colleagues in various bipartisan “gangs” to tackle everything from rights protection to immigration laws. Under Presidents Obama and Trump, these efforts generally did not go very far. But if there is a senior commitment in the White House, Manchin may be more successful in turning quiet conversations into productive action on infrastructure, pandemic relief and spending authorization.

Manchin could also help Biden build a bridge to Trump’s voters. West Virginia is the second most pro-Trump state (behind Wyoming), giving Manchin some insight into a portion of Trump’s working-class white voter base that continues to back away from the Democratic Party.

If Biden hopes to regain ground with these voters, he could help himself by calling Manchin.

Lisa Murkowski, a key Republican ally for Biden

Senator Lisa Murkowski during a hearing on COVID-19 in early 2020.

There is also room for a centrist Republican contingent. Senators Romney; Susan Collins from Maine; Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Rob Portman of Ohio could, at times, provide crucial votes to break the party line. But Alaska Congresswoman Lisa Murkowski could be Biden’s most crucial partner on that front.

Murkowski is set for re-election in 2022, which means she will come under cross pressure from both her right wing within the Alaska Republican Party and from centrist voters who have occupied her base of support for two cycles.

On social issues and with regard to judicial appointments, Murkowski has been the Republican senator most willing to break with Mitch McConnell and the Republican conference, an opportunity for the Biden administration.

But given the conservative challenges she has faced in her state in her last two reelection efforts – a successful primary challenge, in 2010, that forced Murkowski to run as a candidate who did not appear on the ballot, but whose name could be writing to vote for her, then a strong challenge from the libertarian party, in 2016 – Murkowski will need to be careful in choosing his battles.

Additionally, his most prominent fights with the Obama administration came over his defense of Alaska’s oil and gas industries against various environmental policy goals. In his final days in office, Obama blocked additional drilling leases off the Arctic coast in a move that Murkowski criticized as a “reckless, short-sighted and last-minute gift to the extreme environmental agenda.”

That may give Biden an idea of ​​where this crucial GOP Senate vote may be most sensitive.

James Clyburn

Representative James Clyburn (center) endorsed Joe Biden as president ahead of the 2020 South Carolina primary earlier this year.

Perhaps no one is more responsible for Joe Biden’s presidency than Representative James Clyburn. His endorsement before the South Carolina primary earlier this year revived Biden’s struggle by handing out black voters across the South.

It was the first step for Biden to get the nomination, but it didn’t end there. Clyburn has also been given some credit for rooting for his choice as running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris.

The highest-ranking black lawmaker in Congress and the third-largest Democrat in the House of Representatives, Clyburn is in a strong position to continue to influence Biden on both staff and policy. Days after Biden’s election, Clyburn told CNN that he spoke frequently with the transition team.

The veteran lawmaker is also offering constructive criticism from the outside. In an interview with Juan Williams with The Hill last week, Clyburn praised Biden’s selection of Linda Thomas-Greenfield for ambassador to the United Nations, but said there should be more diversity in the president-elect’s cabinet elections.

“From everything I’ve heard, blacks have been given fair consideration,” Clyburn told Williams. “I want to see where the process leads, what it produces … But so far it is not good.”

Nancy Pelosi, Leader in Congress and Biden’s ally

The speaker of the House of Representatives will have a much narrower Democratic majority next January, which will give progressives in Nancy Pelosi’s caucus a relatively stronger voice. Some of those left-wing voices, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are already directing their rhetorical fire at the likes of Manchin, heralding a possible war between Democrats.

Pelosi’s task is once again to keep the House committee at bay, but she will have help from having a fellow Democrat in the White House again. By maintaining a positive working relationship with Pelosi, Biden is able to redirect some of the internal energy toward legislative productivity.

Biden and Pelosi have a long history of working together on great legislation, first in their shared years in Congress and then during the Obama administration to pass the Affordable Care and Stimulus Act. Pelosi also worked with Biden to help secure House Democratic support for the Iran nuclear deal.

A Pelosi adviser told CNN that she and Biden are “cut from the same scissors.”

Mitch McConnell, a Republican close to Biden

Mitch McConnell

In the final days of the Obama administration, with Biden presiding over the Senate floor for the last time, members fired the outgoing vice president. Mitch McConnell, the Republican Majority Leader in the Senate who had served alongside Biden for 24 years, spoke first in a tribute to both the man himself and his positive working relationship.

McConnell said he trusted Biden “implicitly” and praised the vice president as a negotiating partner.

“There’s a reason ‘Put Joe on the phone’ is short for ‘It’s time to get serious’ in my office,” McConnell said.

While relations between McConnell and Obama were cold, Biden’s intervention helped the White House and Republicans in Congress reach a series of critical spending and tax deals, including preventing the so-called fiscal cliff that could have put in threatens the economy after the 2012 elections.

There is also the risk that the majority leader’s silence on Trump’s unsubstantiated claims about voter fraud could chill relations with the incoming president. McConnell has only been willing to say that the election “process” will unfold and has yet to recognize Biden as president-elect.

But after Biden’s inauguration, the Kentucky Republican may be ready to get serious again. McConnell’s ruthless pragmatism suggests an opportunity for Biden to find areas in which to work with him. Some of the groundwork is already being laid for the confirmation of several of Biden’s nominated cabinet appointees, and Republican senators praised some members of the announced Homeland Security team.

Ultimately, McConnell’s interest will be to protect and grow his majority. That will limit Biden on everything from court nominations to large legislative packages. Much of what the next two years will be like will depend on how willing McConnell is to “get Joe on the phone” and make a deal.

– CNN’s Ted Barrett contributed to this story.

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