Skip to content

Attempts to Find Bipartisan Mood Challenged at Start

Despite hope among both parties, partisanship rears ugly head

President Donald J. Trump addresses the crowd after being sworn in as the 45th President of the United States on the West Front of the Capitol, January 20, 2017. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
President Donald J. Trump addresses the crowd after being sworn in as the 45th President of the United States on the West Front of the Capitol, January 20, 2017. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)


President Donald Trump’s inauguration ushered in hopes from both sides of the aisle for some bipartisan comity. But shortly after Trump departed the Capitol Friday, those feelings ran headfirst into the partisan scars of the previous Congress.

Some Democrats see the GOP reaping the rewards of what they call a strategy of obstruction in the last Congress, and it might be difficult for them to heed calls for bipartisanship, even if it’s something they might believe needs to happen. 

But others may be willing to try.

“I think you’re going to see a lot of cooperation there, I really do,” said Sen. Joe Manchin III, a West Virginia Democrat, referring to issues like infrastructure development and trade.

One senior Democrat said that when Trump called for worker protections in his inaugural address, it was music to his ears and that Trump might find more allies among Democrats than in the GOP.

“Some of the ‘Buy American, Hire American’ stuff he talked about, look back at the record on where that came from,” said Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois.

“It’s been the Democrats. That’s been our theme for a long, long time,” Durbin said. “So if they want to join us, with President Trump, welcome aboard.”

But as the Senate gaveled in Friday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky complained that Democrats were dragging their feet in confirming nominees, and that was not the way to start off things.

“There are nominations that are not even controversial that we’re not doing. I would hope the feeling around here would be at least on Day One to have some level of cooperation,” McConnell said.

Still cranky

And it wasn’t just McConnell. Susan Collins of Maine, the moderate Republican whom Democrats frequently look to for bipartisan team-ups, seconded McConnell’s previous assertions that Democrats were still cranky about November and holding nominees hostage.

“I’m not sure what the cause is,” she said. “I think many of my Democratic colleagues are still coming to grips with the election results and are having a hard time accepting the election results.”

Democrats have repeatedly said they only want to have ample time to review nominees and make sure they have signed ethics agreements. But Durbin threw in another reminder of the hard feelings that persist from the just-concluded Obama era.

“Let me quickly add for those who have forgotten the record of the Republicans in the Senate when it comes to delaying nominations: Exhibit A will continue to be the vacancy on the Supreme Court,” Durbin said on the Senate floor. That was a reference to the GOP’s refusal to hold a hearing or vote on President Barack Obama’s nomination last year of Merrick Garland to fill the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s Supreme Court seat.

Great expectations

Still, Sen. James M. Inhofe told Roll Call he expects Trump and Congress will get a lot done.

“It’s going to be good,” the Oklahoma Republican said, when asked about the president’s likely relationship with lawmakers.

But before that, he expects the 45th president will follow through on his vow to use executive actions and orders to undo a list of Obama-era policies.

“There’s a lot that, in our talks with the new White House people, they say he can do through executive orders,” Inhofe said. And he expects the new president will bypass Congress when he determines he must, but doubts his party will cry foul as it did when Obama did so.

“Sure,” he replied with a grin, when asked if Republicans will support Trump’s executive actions. “We’ve got a different crowd in there now.

But when asked what Republicans would do if Trump works with Democratic leaders on legislation, Inhofe replied: “We want him to work with them.”

Rep. Ben Ray Luján, the New Mexico Democrat who chairs the House Democrats’ campaign operation, said that would be nice.

“It’s critically important that the administration and the Congress find a way to communicate with one another and I hope that there’s many areas that we can work together,” he said, acknowledging that “broad strokes with broad brushes” was fine, but he wanted to see the details.

One former Senate dealmaker said the pressure is on to perform.

“America is looking for results in areas that are not partisan,” former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said. “Infrastructure’s not partisan. Safe drinking water is something everybody should be for. Do we need to get sensible about immigration policy in America? Should we secure the border? Yeah.”

But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Trump’s approach to immigration went against bipartisan efforts on the issue and was a cause for concern.

“Public sentiment will prevail and the president will know the harm that he is doing to our country by going forward with something that might have some popular appeal on the campaign,” Pelosi said.

Ultimately, said Maryland Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the onus is on Republicans to reach out.

“The Republicans control the agenda,” he said. “If they want to reach out and work with us, try to reach out and work with us. It makes life a lot easier. Donald Trump said he wanted unity in the country. Let’s see if they reach out to us.”

Republicans will get a chance to strategize about that as they set off for a House-Senate retreat in Philadelphia on Jan. 25-27 that will feature a visit from Trump.

Whatever happens with respect to cross-party cooperation, it won’t be for lack of trying, at least according to Manchin. Asked by a reporter whether there was hope for bipartisanship in Washington, the amiable former West Virginia governor replied, “I’m trying, honey, so hard, Jesus Christ. I’m doing everything I can.”

Niels Lesniewski, Rema Rahman, Lindsey McPherson, John T. Bennett and Jason Dick contributed to this story.