If there’s anyone who can reach a deal, it’s Joe Biden (opinion)

It’s a tall order, but as a Republican who has spent a good part of the last 30 years on Capitol Hill, I can say this: There is no politician better positioned to make this happen than Joe Biden.

I’ve seen him up close in the two jobs that bookended my career in Congress.

I arrived on Capitol Hill in the summer of 1991 as an intern for Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina. The first Democratic politician I met was Biden, ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Helms. I saw a lot of Biden that summer.

“Jesse and I have our differences,” I remember him telling me. “But if he gives me his word, it’s a blood oath. I trust him.”

Fast forward 21 years. Now I’m deputy chief of staff to the House majority leader, Eric Cantor. With which Democrat does he have his most important working relationship? Vice President Joe Biden.

They forged a bond during the 2011 debt ceiling negotiations. While those talks did not pan out, Biden and Cantor stayed in touch. Conversations were held. At least one dinner happened. And visits to the Naval Observatory (the VP’s residence), if infrequent, occurred. These were clandestine, of course. Washington was already polarized enough that “compromise” was a dirty word.

Did that really just happen?

So it was no surprise in 2012 when Biden reached out to Cantor to ask for his help in reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, a legislative priority for the Democratic administration.

The politics surrounding the law were treacherous. Biden wanted a deal. Our team jumped in to help. Some Senate Democrats wanted to use VAWA as an issue against Republicans. Reaching agreements was difficult. Keeping them, we found, was often harder. But Biden never wavered. Despite some tough conversations among our staffs, he was always focused on the end result.

When I saw Biden that December, I had not spoken to him since the summer of 1991. But he was the same person. Told I worked for Cantor, he put his arm around me and said, loudly, to the many people in the room: “Doug works for Eric Cantor. I like Eric Cantor because I know I can trust him. When he gives his word, he means it.”

There was that word again. In Washington you learn not to trust anyone, especially people from the opposing party. But to Biden, trust is critical.

It’s one reason why Cantor wrote the 2013 article in Time magazine praising Biden as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Last year, I co-wrote an op-ed article calling for mandatory Covid-19 testing on Capitol Hill. My co-author was Kendra Barkoff Lamy, Biden’s press secretary during the VAWA negotiations. When you want to do something bipartisan, Team Biden is where you look first.

Republicans in the House Freedom Caucus, and their allies in the Senate, are saying they don’t want to compromise with Biden on anything. On the other side, Democrats with an agenda more liberal than Biden’s are wary of compromising with the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell.

Republicans must be prepared for disappointment. A perfect example happened on day one of the Biden presidency. It didn’t get much attention, but Biden blocked the Keystone Pipeline, which would have created thousands of union jobs, something the left typically supports. The National Association of Manufacturers and North America’s Building Trades Unions praised Biden’s inaugural words of “healing and bipartisanship” even as they criticized his decision on Keystone.
As the new President said Wednesday, “The answer is not to turn inward, to retreat into competing factions.” He’s right about that. Unfortunately, the political status quo favors obstructionists, not dealmakers. If Biden’s goal is to get things done for the American people — on things they broadly agree on, like Covid-19 relief, infrastructure and jobs — he will have to wield all his deal-making skills to the utmost.

There’s no guarantee of success. These things are hard even in normal times, even when we agree.

Donald Trump won four years ago as an outsider, but that didn’t get us out of our political mess. Biden’s long career and deep relationships on Capitol Hill are a big part of what America needs now.

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