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Joe Biden, Kirsten Gillibrand shun bipartisan deal making

May 20, 2019

Jesus might have blessed the peacemakers, but Democratic activists searching for a presidential candidate in 2020 are not likely to be as charitable.

A vocal segment of the party’s electorate is shunning deal-making and bipartisanship, saying the Republican Party under President Trump isn’t worth talking to, much less working with.

Candidates also appear to be heeding that call.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, who during more than 40 years in Washington was a consummate deal-maker, downplays those agreements on the campaign trail. Instead, he insists he is as liberal as the next left-wing champion.

Sens. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Cory A. Booker of New Jersey and Kamala D. Harris of California compiled some of the most partisan records in the U.S. Senate as they laid the groundwork for presidential bids, according rankings from CQ Roll and FiveThirtyEight.

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand of New York, who entered Congress more than a decade ago as a bridge-builder who eschewed party labels as “irrelevant,” now seems intent on setting those bridges on fire, having established herself as one of the fiercest partisans in the Senate. She has even rejected the idea of naming a Republican to her Cabinet, should she win the White House.

“Politics has become so tribal now that if you talk about marrying someone from another tribe it is considered almost treasonous,” said Neil Levesque, executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College.

Still, some candidates are willing to take that risk.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, who entered the race this month, brags about having to find common ground with a Republican-dominated state Legislature in Helena.

“As a Democrat governor of a state that Trump won by 20 points, I don’t have the luxury of just talking to people who agree with me,” Mr. Bullock said. “I go all across our state’s 147,000 square miles and look for common ground to get things done. That’s how I was able to bring Democrats and Republicans together.”

Even in Washington, a few lawmakers are open to giving bipartisanship a shot.

The McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University, which studies willingness to cooperate with someone from the other party, found Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Michael Bennet of Colorado in the top half of the Senate.

Mr. Bennet, another recent entrant in the presidential race, touts his work with Sen. Bill Cassidy, Louisiana Republican, to curb surprise medical bills.

“We actually have a chance of passing a bipartisan bill around here, which is a rare and welcome occurrence,” Mr. Bennet said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

The energetic liberal base of the Democratic Party, though, is working to ensure those occurrences are rare.

Writing in GQ magazine, Adam Jentleson, who served under former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, warned that 2020 candidates running on bipartisanship are delusional.

“This naive thinking fails to recognize that the modern GOP is ruled by an incentive structure that rewards obstruction and punishes cooperation,” he wrote. “No matter how strong personal relationships with individual Republicans are, they will not withstand the onslaught from Fox News and the network of donors and extremist activist groups that drive any conservative who tries to cooperate from the fold.”

That could be good news for Mr. Sanders, who ranked dead last in the McCourt School’s bipartisan list for a second straight year.

Ms. Harris ranked 95th of 100 senators, Mr. Booker and Ms. Gillibrand placed in the 80s and Ms. Warren ranked 68th.

Mr. Biden, while downplaying some of the bipartisan deals he struck, has not eschewed the need to work on deals. He predicted last week that once Mr. Trump exits office “my Republican friends” will have an “epiphany” and be worthy of cooperating with.

“This nation can not function without generating consensus you can’t do it,” Mr. Biden said during a swing through the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire. “Because what happens is, if you can’t generate consensus under our system of separated powers, all the power moves to the executive because then it gives excuses for them to say, ‘I’m going to act by executive order to do something because nothing is getting done.’”

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee said Mr. Biden’s comments about reviving bipartisanship show he is out of touch, arguing that working with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his fellow Republicans will not yield real change.

“Just like his support of NAFTA and a middle ground on the existential climate crisis, this epiphany comment is the latest example of Biden operating in an insider world of yesteryear and shows that he is our worst foot forward in the general election,” the group said in an email blast.

Mr. Biden, though, has emerged as the clear front-runner in the race, sprinting out to a double-digit lead in national and early primary state polls, which also show voters are putting a greater emphasis on defeating Mr. Trump than the purity tests of grass roots activists.

Ms. Gillibrand, meanwhile, has yet to qualify for the first Democratic debate.

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