Joe Biden, Sen. Mitch McConnell show how old-school politics works

 

McClatchy Newspapers

Mitch McConnell wanted a dance partner, and in Joe Biden he found one.

Lawmakers narrowly averted the worst of a fiscal crisis this week, largely thanks to behind-the-scenes negotiations between the Senate minority leader and the vice president – two Senate veterans and old-school politicians who reached a compromise no one seems to love but that enough members of both parties could accept.

The end to weeks of fevered negotiations came when a frustrated McConnell, who’s a Kentucky Republican, put out the call Sunday for someone to barter with after talks with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had stalled. McConnell suggested Biden, who speedily returned to Washington from his home in Delaware.

By day’s end, the two had spoken more than three times by phone, and eventually they hammered out what would become a compromise to avert sudden economic peril.

“When the history books are written, we will see they made the difference,” said Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C. “They may not be political allies who see eye to eye, but they have mutual respect for each other and that’s what was needed.”

It’s not the first time the political odd couple – who served in the Senate together for more than two decades – has teamed up to broker deals, including a pact to extend the Bush-era income tax cuts in 2010 and another to lift the debt ceiling in 2011.

President Barack Obama, who was elected before he finished his first term in the Senate and has had frosty relations with Congress, has often turned to Biden as an ambassador to the chambers. Biden – whose public persona is often defined by a propensity for gaffes – spent 36 years as Delaware’s senator and knows how the Senate works and what it takes to make deals, observers say.

Biden shepherded the administration’s 2009 economic stimulus proposal, and he was asked last month to lead a task force to come up with suggestions on curbing gun violence in the wake of the school shootings in Newtown, Conn. His emergence as a deal-maker comes as speculation ramps up about whether he’ll mount a third run for president in 2016.

Observers say the shared Senate experience helped the two leaders talk to each other.

“Biden’s very much an institution man, as opposed to Obama, who pretty much passed through,” Senate Historian Donald Ritchie noted. McConnell and Biden “served together, and there’s a great deal of trust there that enables them to work together. They’ve known each other for decades, and they’ve taken the measure of each other along the way.”

Both men, said Jared Bernstein, a former economic adviser to Biden, come from an era of deal-making.

“These are two guys who remember how to compromise,” Bernstein said. “Unfortunately, that’s a lost art.”

Despite McConnell’s take-no-prisoners approach on the Senate floor – some Democrats revile him for his remarks in October 2010 that his priority was preventing Obama from winning a second term – Senate observers say he has a record of finding common ground.

Behind the scenes, McConnell repeatedly has shown a veteran senator’s knack for getting 80 percent of what he wants, not the 100 percent that younger members often insist on.

He’s often credited with finding a path to end the weeks-long impasse over raising the debt limit in August 2011. He first proposed the multi-stage approach to raising the limit, the outline of a plan that was later adopted.

He got all but five members of the Senate’s Republican caucus to vote for this week’s fiscal cliff fix.

For his part, Biden sold the plan to members of Congress in personal, and lengthy, trips to the Senate and the House of Representatives. Asked what powers of persuasion he’d employed, he quipped, “Me,” and said he’d reassured wavering senators, “I’m Joe. I’m your buddy.’”

In the House, Biden spent more than two hours answering questions from Democrats who were worried that the administration was giving up too much when it came to income levels for higher tax rates.

“I thought it was a filibuster,” Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., quipped as he left the meeting.

In the end, just 16 House Democrats voted against it, and three in the Senate.

Late Tuesday, after the House had voted to send the legislation to Obama for his signature, the president took the stage at the White House, a beaming Biden at his side. Obama thanked legislative leaders, including McConnell. And he singled out Biden, calling him his “extraordinary” vice president.

“Everybody worked very hard on this and I appreciate it,” the president said, adding, “Joe, once again, I want to thank you for your great work.”

Email: lclark@mcclatchydc.com, dlightman@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @lesleyclark, @lightmandavid

Read more Politics Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  • City leaders talk 2024 with US Olympic Committee

    City leaders from Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington have met with top executives at the U.S. Olympic Committee to hear about the nuts and bolts of bidding for the 2024 Olympics.

  •  
In this Friday, July 18, 2014 photo, United States U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power speaks during a U.N. Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters. One day after a passenger jet was shot out of the sky, Samantha Power took her seat at the United Nations Security Council and angrily began building the Obama administration’s case against separatists in eastern Ukraine and their Russian benefactors.

    Obama's UN envoy takes lead role in plane response

    One day after a passenger jet was shot out of the sky, Samantha Power took her seat at the United Nations Security Council and angrily began building the Obama administration's case against separatists in eastern Ukraine and their Russian benefactors.

  • House to Obama: No troops to Iraq without our OK

    The House overwhelmingly passed a resolution Friday that would bar President Barack Obama from sending forces to Iraq in a "sustained combat role" without congressional approval, a bill with greater symbolic than legal effect.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category