If Joe Biden wants a cooperative Congress, he needs to reshape the Senate.
In his Saturday night victory speech, President-Elect Joe Biden announced his desire to cooperate with Congress and called on both Democrats and Republicans to cooperate together with him. It’s an important goal, considering Congress has been unable to find consensus on any much-needed pandemic relief since April. However, just like every major bill passed by the House of Representatives in the last two years, this call for cooperation is likely to fall flat at the feet of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. As long as McConnell wields the power in the Senate, he controls exactly how much cooperation the Senate will show our new President. If McConnell wants to play hardball, as he did in the final two years of Obama’s second term, there’s nothing to stop him from refusing to let even a single bill cross the President’s desk. If Joe Biden wants a cooperative Congress, he needs to find a way to reshape the Senate.
Here are three things Biden can do — starting now — to create a Senate more able and willing to cooperate.
Campaign to Win
While the Presidential election is now decided, the battle for control of the Senate carries on in the form of two runoff Senate races in Georgia. For the sake of promoting national unity, Joe Biden might be tempted to sit these races out. That would be a grave strategic error. These two races could deliver Biden a narrow Democratic majority in the Senate and unlock the doors of meaningful cooperation on Biden’s terms — not McConnells. As the President Elect, and proud winner of Georgia’s 2020 presidential vote, Joe Biden should campaign to win Georgia’s two Senate seats. Democrats, who historically turn out fewer voters in special election races, will need all the help they can get. While Biden’s transition team plots the upcoming administration, Joe Biden and Vice President Elect Kamala Harris should move to Georgia and campaign hard to bring about the unity and cooperation that Georgia could deliver them. Win or lose, these races would provide Biden a helpful blueprint for campaigning for key Senate races across the country in the 2022 midterm elections — including another scheduled Senate race right there in Georgia.
One of President Elect Biden’s most important responsibilities is appointing personnel to the Cabinet, Ambassadorships, and all sorts of agency positions. While this process will be hampered by McConnell’s ability to block any and all Senate confirmations, it could also be wielded as a tool for reshaping the Senate itself. If Biden appoints sitting Republican Senators from select states with Democratic Governors, he could guarantee Democratic replacements in the Senate. There are a few Republican Senators that fit this criteria, though it’s unclear if they would want to be part of Biden’s administration or would willingly leave the Senate knowing a Democratic replacement sits in the wings. Might Kansas Senator Jerry Moran — chair of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs — be interested in a promotion to the U.S. Secretary of Veteran Affairs? Might Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey — who has already announced his 2022 retirement — be interested in leaving the stodgy Senate ahead of schedule for a plush ambassadorship? Might Maine Senator Susan Collins be coaxed out of the Senate to lead the Small Business Administration or even the Department of Homeland Security? Appointing Republicans to the Cabinet would signal that Joe Biden is serious about unity and cooperation. If done strategically, it could also increase Democratic numbers in the Senate and create an environment more receptive to working with the new administration.
Uncover the Corruption
Joe Biden’s call for national unity should not negate the responsibility of holding Trump accountable for his crimes and corrupt dealings. Meaningful reconciliation requires being honest about the damage that has been done. We can only move forward as a country if we bring hidden misdeeds to light — in search of truth, justice, and a basis for reform. The McConnell-led Senate has played a key role in allowing Trump to get away with all sorts of corruption, self-dealing, and obstruction of justice. President Elect Biden should not prevent the new Justice Department from fully investigating Trump’s alleged abuses of power. While this is simply the right thing to do, it could also catch some Republican Senators in the mix of uncovered corruption. From insider trading (hello Georgia Senators Loeffler and Purdue), to suspicious connections with foreign powers (why was Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson defending Russia and promoting baseless conspiracy theories about Hunter Biden?), to suspected blackmailing schemes (what does Donald Trump have on Lindsay Graham?), there are more than a few Republican Senators caught up in Trump’s crimes. Biden owes it to the American people to investigate the truth of the last four years and let the chips fall where they may. While the truth takes no sides, it could certainly take out a few sitting Republican Senators if it is ever brought to light.
Only in a narrowly Democratic Senate will Republicans have any incentive to work across the aisle with Joe Biden. Otherwise, McConnell will set the terms of cooperation and all of Joe Biden’s best intended plans will simply come up short. If the President Elect wants a cooperative Senate, he’ll have to use every tool at his disposal to shape it in his own image — and start working now to wrest it from McConnell’s cold hard hands.