President Biden campaigned as a shrewd Senate negotiator who would bring the two sides together, but he is abandoning that model after a year of failure in the White House.
Although he served 36 years in the Senate, Mr. Biden admitted after a year as president that his entire experience on Capitol Hill had not benefited him in the Oval Office as he had imagined.
“One of the things that I think I’ve made clear to me … is that the public doesn’t want me to be the ‘Senator President,'” Mr Biden said at a press conference marking his first birthday. “They want me to be the president and senators to be senators.”
The president spoke on Wednesday as those senators inflicted two more high-profile losses on him: a proposed election overhaul and an effort to gut the filibuster rule. The filibuster proposal would have made it easier for Mr. Biden to push legislation through the 50-50 divided Senate without any Republican votes.
Mr Biden said of his Congressional victory: “If I made a mistake, I am used to negotiating to get things done, and I have, in the past, been relatively successful in the United States Senate. United, even as Vice President. But I think this role of president is a different role.
It was a startling admission for the man who bragged a decade ago: “I don’t know anyone who counts votes better than I do in the Senate.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that Mr Biden “wants to spend more time in the country and less time behind closed doors negotiating.”
“He has a talented and experienced legislative team,” she said. “He’s definitely going to rely on them, and probably more on them, to get a lot of the business done, to negotiate, and to work with Congress.”
She said Mr Biden “will always be someone who picks up the phone and talks to people he’s known for a long time in Congress.”
Mr Biden’s downsizing as a negotiator came as no surprise to those campaigning against him in 2020.
“Biden campaigned as a unifier, but the country is more divided than ever,” said Tim Murtaugh, a former Trump campaign spokesman who now runs consultancy Line Drive Public Affairs. “He promised he was moderate, but he governs like a leftist. He’s bragged about being an experienced dealmaker in Washington, but he’s kind of offended when Republicans don’t want [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s] the agenda stuck in their throats. He’s not what he said he would be.
The president criticizes the Republicans for having refused to cooperate with him. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, said Thursday that Mr. Biden had spent the past year focusing on far-left priorities that most Americans don’t care about, like the climate policies, while failing to control record inflation, a wave of violent crime and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Senate Republicans have more than half met this administration,” McConnell said, pointing to a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and measure on competition with China. “But beyond that, this administration has deliberately chosen to build its entire strategy of government around the party line reconciliation process, [which requires a simple majority]. So the president can’t deflect blame for his disappointing first year. The American people know where the responsibility ends.
Many Democrats say they are surprised that it took Mr. Biden and his advisers a year to figure out the depth of the Republican opposition.
“Reality hit,” said Tre Easton, deputy director of liberal consultancy Battle Born Collective. “And as one of the people who was screaming about it in the primaries, I hate that it took the president a year to try to pretend that Republicans wanted to be bona fide negotiators to get here.”
Mr. Easton, a former aide to Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, said the Senate “has changed since then-sen. Biden served there. Our policy has changed. The political motivations were different.
“I really don’t think people understand or appreciate how much Barack Obama’s election as president has changed the way the Republican Party comes alive,” he said. “The Republican Party’s most consistent agenda right now is getting and keeping power. And President Biden, as many friends as he might have on the other side, is an obstacle to that.
Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen said the White House miscalculated by repeatedly sending Mr. Biden to Capitol Hill to rally Democrats to his legislative priorities, only to return empty-handed time and time again.
“It’s just not presidential … rushing up the Hill every day, begging people to do things,” she said on CNN.
Even as Mr Biden steps down from his dissatisfied role as ‘Senate master,’ lawmakers from both parties are discussing how to revive parts of his failed $1.8 trillion welfare bill on the climate. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat, chastised the president for abandoning the renewal of the Child Tax Credit, which makes direct monthly payments to parents. He said he saw possibilities for bipartisanship.
“The reality here is that with [Republican Sen.] Mitt Romney and evangelicals too, it’s very popular,” Mr. Neal told reporters. “So I don’t understand why we can’t find this accommodation.”
The senators are also discussing a bipartisan rewrite of the Voter Count Act of 1887, which would revise procedures for certifying the presidential election. The idea gained momentum in the aftermath of the January 6, 2021 riot on Capitol Hill when a pro-Trump mob tried to block Congress from certifying Mr. Biden’s election victory.
“We never give up on bipartisanship,” said Sen. Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, who stood alongside Sen. Susan M. Collins, Republican of Maine. “We never give up on making the Senate work. This Senate can and does work.
When asked if he had any advice for the president on working with Congress, Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, replied, “The president has served in the Senate longer than I have. But we both know that it’s really about meeting the members where they are.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernard Sanders, an independent from Vermont, said Mr Biden should follow the example of President Truman, who in 1948 presented his program directly to voters in a more robust effort to lobby on the Republicans.
“Harry Truman was considered a dick. He had no support and he was way down in the polls,” Mr. Sanders said. “And he started raising issues forcing Republicans [to vote]. We didn’t force the Republicans to vote on this. If they want to vote not to reduce the cost of prescription drugs, let them vote. If they want to vote against expanding medicare, if they want to vote against improving child care in this country, let them vote. At the end of the day, we will see how things develop.
The 79-year-old president said he intended to do so as part of his “change in tactics”.
“I will be on the road often advocating for the cause across the country with my colleagues who are up for re-election and others, explaining what we have done and what we want to do, what we need to do” , Mr. Biden said. “I say to my Republican friends: ‘Here I am’.”