By contrast, the centrist Democratic group Third Way this week released a poll showing that a strong majority of registered voters want political leaders in both parties to seek compromise. In the survey, 85 percent of self-identified Democrats and two-thirds of Republicans said they prefer political leaders who will “compromise in order to get things done.”
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Matt Bennett, the group’s executive vice president for external affairs, told me that while Republicans’ behavior since the election has been “openly seditious,” Biden has no choice but to seek agreements with them. Referring to Biden’s remarks after the Electoral College vote, Bennett said: “He couldn’t make the entire speech the first half; he had to have the second half. You simply can’t enter office as a new president convinced that there is no hope of working with your political opponents.” (He added one qualification: “I guess Trump did that, but that resulted in the worst presidency in American history, so that’s not one to emulate.”)
In practice, these two perspectives may not really be all that different. McElwee agrees that Biden should work, wherever possible, to divide the GOP by seeking to attract at least a few Republican senators to his policy priorities. And Bennett said that while Biden must continue to pursue agreements “in the hope that Republicans will come to their senses, he also needs to be mindful that they may not.”
The real difference among Democrats may be over where to strike the balance between conciliation and confrontation—between seeking agreements and building a case against McConnell as a blindly partisan obstructionist, the same way Republicans have worked for years to paint House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as a radical.
Biden probably lands much more on the conciliatory end of that continuum, both because of his long experience in the clubbier Senate of decades past and because of his belief that he’s negotiated productively with McConnell before (a view not all Democrats share). But his is not the only viewpoint in the incoming administration. Jen O’Malley Dillon, his campaign manager and future White House deputy chief of staff, expressed the flintier perspective common among younger Democrats in an interview published this week in Glamour. Dillon said that while Biden must pursue the “bipartisan ideal” he offered voters, she, at least, will enter any negotiations without illusions: “I’m not saying they’re not a bunch of fuckers,” she said. “Mitch McConnell is terrible.”
A wild card in how Biden will approach Senate Republicans may be his vice president. Harris entered the Senate in 2017, so all she’s known is the unstinting partisan warfare of the McConnell era. As a result, some progressives think that she may temper Biden’s tendency to keep talking, and to keep offering concessions, in pursuit of bipartisan agreements. “Kamala Harris is a creature from the current Senate, not the 1970s and 1980s Senate,” Waleed Shahid, the communications director for the progressive group Justice Democrats, told me. “She is most known for grilling [Republicans] in her Senate committees.” As Biden decides how to approach congressional Republicans, he added, “one place of hope is that in those rooms Kamala Harris will have a different perspective based on her experience of the Senate as a place of asymmetric conflict.”