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Opinion | Mitch McConnell Doesn’t Get to Define ‘Bipartisan’

Mr. Biden indeed ran on a pledge to unify America — to start draining the partisan poison from the body politic. It was a winning vision for a weary public. Republicans are clearly aiming to exploit that vision in their quest to block Mr. Biden’s agenda. Because if Republican lawmakers don’t sign on to a proposal, then a plan isn’t bipartisan. And for Mr. Biden to proceed with a plan that isn’t bipartisan, well, that’s a betrayal of his promise to the American people.

Opinion Debate
What should the Biden administration prioritize?

  • The Editorial Board writes that by improving plans for aid to families with children, “Democrats can pass a permanent change now by doing the hard but necessary work of figuring out how to pay for it.”
  • Gail Collins, Opinion columnist, writes that while one can appreciate that Joe Biden is busy, there’s “absolutely no reason we shouldn’t start to nag” on new gun control measures.
  • Alison Siegler and Kate M. Harris write that Judge Merrick Garland, President Biden’s pick for attorney general, would have the power “to prioritize federal bail reform and reduce sky-high rates of pretrial jailing.”
  • Ross Douthat, Opinion columnist, writes that after such a difficult year, Joe Biden would be doing our country “a great service” if he suggested that “the era of emergency might be over by the Fourth of July.”

Got it?

Mr. Biden does face an early choice — just not the false one Mr. Portman presented. The president and his party should double-down on the bipartisanship message, even as they redefine and refocus it away from Congress.

For a host of reasons — including the growing polarization and ideological extremism of members of Congress — the policies that a bipartisan majority of Americans favor often have little overlap with the positions their elected leaders stake out. All too often, even lawmakers who support a bill are bullied into opposing it by their leadership or threatened with retaliation by the more extreme, more intransigent elements of their party. Broadly popular policies fall victim to congressional game playing.

In recent years, for instance, there has been strong bipartisan support for modest gun control measures such as expanded background checks and red-flag laws, but Mr. McConnell’s Senate never got around to making those happen. Neither have lawmakers provided legislative relief to Dreamers, immigrants brought illegally to the United States as children, despite bipartisan public support for providing legal status and a path to citizenship.

Last August, the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy issued a report, based on a survey of more than 80,000 Americans, enumerating nearly 150 issues on which majorities of Democrats and Republicans agree. These range from raising the eligibility age for Social Security to creating a national registry for police misconduct, and from strengthening campaign finance laws to imposing congressional term limits.

As for Mr. Biden’s relief plan, currently awaiting congressional action: 76 percent of Americans, including 60 percent of Republicans, support it, according to a Morning Consult poll out Wednesday.

Going forward, Mr. Biden should think, and talk, about bipartisanship as it relates to the American public — not whether a few tribal warriors in Congress can be coaxed into crossing party lines. His team has explicitly nodded in this direction now and again. “Even with narrow majorities in Congress, he has the opportunity to build broad bipartisan support for his program — not necessarily in Congress but with the American people,” his adviser Anita Dunn told CNN in January, regarding Covid relief.

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