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The vain illusion of bipartisanship

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After the U.S. Senate’s defeat this past Friday of the measure to create a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection—perpetrated by Donald Trump fanatics convinced by their leader that the election was “stolen”—President Joe Biden and the Democrats must be convinced that the Republican Party will not act in good faith or in a bipartisan manner. Therefore, it’s time for them to bypass the Republicans, if the Democrats plan to push some elements of their legislative agenda forward in the balance of this session.

It seems Republicans are more interested in holding hearings about the arrival of thousands of children seeking asylum at the border than in getting to the bottom of the attack on the Capitol this past January 6. They fear migrant children more than a group of violent insurrectionists led by Trump, who armed themselves against the Capitol police and literally wanted to hang former Vice President Mike Pence for recognizing Biden’s win.

If the leader of the Republican minority in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, had no qualms about scuttling a measure that in a normal world would have enjoyed bipartisan support, dealing with a full frontal assault on our demogratic system—where people even died, all with the only goal of not contradicting their leader Trump nor his Republican enablers who continue to believe in the great lie of “fraud”—why continue spending so much time on the Republican side of the aisle, when their only goal is to stop Biden’s legislative agenda so that Democrats cannot show any achievements to voters in the runup to the midterm elections in 2022 and the general elections in 2024.

With every new Republican assault, the young Biden administration continues to resemble that of Barack Obama when he first came to power in 2009 promising “hope and change,” and ran into the same Republican wall of obstruction before Trump was even in the picture. The same Republican bad faith operated then, supposedly under different ideologies, although it was beyond evident that the election of an African American to the presidency mobilized the most racist and prejudiced sectors of that party, resulting in Trump’s election eight years later.

But Obama tried to appease them. He called for bipartisanship and achieved nothing, other than diminishing his approval ratings and seeing his legislative agenda get bogged down, only to then lose control of the House of Representatives in 2010 when the Republicans won 63 seats. The Senate remained in Democratic hands, but the Republicans gained seven seats.

The question is how many times the Democrats have to be bludgeoned by the Republicans to finally realize they are not working with a group of politicians interested in the wellbeing of their constituents or the country. They have no proposals and they do not want to cooperate. They just want to assume power, even if they have to continue kissing the ring of Trump, an instigator of violence who is facing criminal investigations.

What’s sad is that Biden’s ambitious legislative agenda, five months after taking charge, continues to stagnate. There’s too much at stake. His budget was already declared dead by the Republican minority; his infrastructure project is going down the same road, despite “negotiation” attempts by Republicans. And on the immigration issue, at the legislative level, measures that would legalize millions remain uncertain.

Biden still enjoys strong approval ratings, especially regarding this management of the COVID crisis. But there is a long way to go between here and 2022, when the midterm elections take place, and the Democrats have to show the voters that they have been turning their campaign promises into reality.

I do not know if, in the end, the Democrats will use the budget reconciliation process to approve measures through a simple majority, without needing the 60 votes required in the Senate to overcome a filibuster. Beyond Republicans, Biden also has to deal with conservative Democrats. Since 1980, twenty-two bills have been passed and became law via reconciliation, almost all related to taxes, expenditures, or the debt ceiling. When in the majority, the Republicans used reconciliation to undermine the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

There are times when historic moments require bold and brave measures. And if it seems to be a pipe dream that bipartisanship could function with a Republican Party that lost its principles years ago and only pledges loyalty to Trump and his minions, perhaps this will be one of those moments when one has to use all the tools in the toolbox to advance laws that benefit the country, from infrastructure to immigration reform.

The country and voters will thank them.

Maribel Hastings