Wednesday, October 20, 2021
Oct. 20, 2021

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Leubsdorf: Encouraging signs of collaboration

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Veteran Washingtonians scoffed when candidate Joe Biden said he believed many Republican lawmakers were open to a more conciliatory approach than their fierce partisanship of recent years.

Derided by President Donald Trump for his 44 years in Washington, the longtime Delaware senator contended that the lessons from that very experience could enable him to break down those barriers.

Six months into the Biden presidency, that new era hasn’t quite arrived. But there have been at least some encouraging signs of bipartisanship, in both the Senate and the House, thanks both to Biden’s persistence and the reaction to his predecessor’s continuing efforts to sow division.

In the Senate, weeks of painstaking negotiations among 10 senators from both parties and the White House have finally produced a long overdue bipartisan bill to rebuild the nation’s physical infrastructure. While the $1 trillion measure is far from enactment, it cleared its initial Senate test with votes from all Democrats and 17 of the 50 Republicans.

Partisan acrimony remains on multiple issues from voting rights to immigration. Still, the Senate’s infrastructure alliance is not the only sign of nascent bipartisanship.

When the House Select Committee on the Jan. 6 insurrection held its first hearing, gripping accounts from Capitol police officers dominated the coverage. But the day’s most significant long-term development was the unified determination among its seven Democrats and two Republicans to pursue that horrific day’s unanswered questions. “The American people deserve the full and open testimony of every person with knowledge of the planning and preparation for January 6th,” Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said.

In essence, the positions of Cheney and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., reflect the view of Republicans who consider Trump’s actions a threat to democracy that could jeopardize GOP hopes of regaining the presidency, Senate and House in 2022 and 2024.

In a quieter, less confrontational way, the decisions by five Republican senators to work with Democrats and the White House on infrastructure also represent a rejection of Trump’s approach and a recognition they can help their constituents — and their party — by collaborating where possible with Democrats.

“Washington, D.C., is not used to this,” Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman conceded July 25 on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” declaring it not only “the right thing to do for the country, most importantly, but it’s also something that has been the subject of a bipartisan consensus finding process which we ought to do more of in this town.”

During the negotiations, Portman reportedly asked Trump to back the effort since, while president, he too sought to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure.

But the former president rejected his entreaty, denouncing the bipartisan agreement as “a victory for the Biden Administration and Democrats” and “a loser for the USA, a terrible deal, and makes the Republicans look weak, foolish, and dumb.”

That’s the kind of confrontational politics Trump pursued in the White House — and it’s still all too prevalent. But it’s encouraging that prominent Republicans like Rob Portman and Liz Cheney joined Biden in reminding everyone there just might be a better way.

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