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How Biden And McConnell Will Work Together

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Which brings us to this story. While two runoff races in Georgia could hand Democrats the Senate, there is a good chance it will stay in Republican control with Mitch McConnell as the majority leader. McConnell and Joe Biden have been friends and colleagues for 35 years. Now that relationship will be in the national spotlight. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis has more.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Kentucky back in 2011 for a joint lecture at the University of Louisville with then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

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JOE BIDEN: You want to see whether or not a Republican and Democrat really like one another.

(LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: Well, I'm here to tell you we do.

DAVIS: Biden and McConnell served in the Senate together for more than two decades before Biden became vice president under Barack Obama. And in his eight years in the White House, he was Obama's top liaison on Capitol Hill. Together, Biden and McConnell cut some of the most memorable and the most controversial deals of the era.

ROHIT KUMAR: I think we got fair deals. I think we got the deals that were available. They were the deals that were in the political middle where each side got some that really mattered to them and gave up some stuff that they would have preferred not to have given up.

DAVIS: That's Rohit Kumar. He was a top McConnell aide back then. He helped negotiate a trio of McConnell-Biden deals - a 2010 tax compromise, a 2011 budget bill and a deal to avert a 2012 fiscal cliff that affected tax rates and raised the debt ceiling. In the years since, all of them are deals that left many Democrats bitter because they believe Biden gave away too much. It was even an attack used against Biden in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, as Colorado Senator Michael Bennet did here at a debate.

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MICHAEL BENNET: The deal that he talked about with Mitch McConnell was a complete victory for the Tea Party.

DAVIS: Democrats' distrust of McConnell has only intensified in recent years, particularly after he blocked Obama's nominee Merrick Garland from consideration for the Supreme Court. And in this Congress, he proudly calls himself the Grim Reaper for the Democrats' agenda. But Biden never personally attacked McConnell. His closing message in this campaign focused on his ability to work across the aisle.

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BIDEN: I'm told that, well, maybe that's - you used to be able to do that, Joe. That was your reputation when you were in the Senate and vice president. But things have changed. They don't work that way anymore. Well, I'm here to tell you they can, and they will. And they must if we're going to get anything done in America.

DAVIS: McConnell has likewise avoided the type of personal attacks against Biden and his family that defined the GOP message in the 2020 campaign. McConnell was the only Senate Republican to attend the 2015 funeral of Biden's son Beau. And at the end of the Obama administration, he paid tribute to Biden directly as the vice president presided over the chamber one last time.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: Champ, his father used to say, the measure of a man is not how often he is knocked down but how quickly he gets up. That's Joe Biden right there - unbowed, unbroken and unable to stop talking.

DAVIS: Kumar says what binds McConnell and Biden is a shared belief that to do anything meaningful in Washington, it has to be bipartisan and that at this moment, both fresh off an election expected to split control in Washington, they have the power to leverage it.

KUMAR: They both have or will have the stature within the party to lead them into things that are good for the country but require hard choices by each side.

DAVIS: One of those hard choices will be how to balance the demands of their liberal and conservative bases with any shared desire to cut a deal.

Susan Davis, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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