Vice President Joseph Biden (above) met with House Democrats on Wednesday afternoon to try to win support for the $900 billion tax cut package he negotiated with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
But not all the reviews of Biden are glowing. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) — who are vocal critics of the Biden-McConnell compromise — declined to comment Wednesday when asked whether the White House should use the vice president more often in bipartisan negotiations.
Biden got an earful from Senate Democrats during their regular Tuesday lunch this week, with many feeling the administration brokered a deal that favors tax cuts for the rich and does to little for struggling working families and the jobless.
“Biden got an unfriendly reception. Lots of hostile questioning and grousing. … Senators were not on their best behavior,” one senior Senate Democratic source said.
Part of the Democrats’ anger grew from the fact that Biden led secret back-channel discussions with McConnell, even as well-publicized bipartisan talks with Members of both the House and Senate and the administration were ongoing, the source said. Still, Democrats said Biden handled it well.
“If someone needed to sell something unpopular to the caucus, he’s the one to do it,” one Senate Democratic aide said.
And most Democrats said they don’t think Biden will bear the full brunt of Democratic anger over the package. Many liberals have long felt the president has negotiated away their priorities without receiving GOP assurances of support for other items — such as during the health care and stimulus debates — and that Obama has not called the GOP’s bluff on policy proposals over the past two years.
“I don’t think people blame Biden for any of this stuff,” another Senate Democratic aide said.
Republicans said Biden and McConnell were able to reach a compromise because they both veteran dealmakers.
“Frankly, it worked well, because it was a very candid discussion. ... And the discussion had constant forward progress,” said one Senate GOP aide with knowledge of the talks.
Though they served in the Senate together for 24 years, McConnell and Biden never developed an especially close or personal relationship; they didn’t serve on the same committees or have similar interests. But over nearly a quarter-century, they developed respect for one another and share an institutional knowledge of how the process is supposed to work.
Biden is “a personal relationship politician, that’s how he operates,” the administration official said.
Not that the vice president hasn’t already been quietly helping to nurture bipartisan deals behind the scenes. During last year’s debate on the $787 billion stimulus package, Emanuel gave Biden a list of six Republican Senators to try to bring on board with the proposal. The vice president was able to deliver on three: Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe and Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), all three of whom Biden has worked with for years.
Biden’s farewell speech to the Senate in January 2009 was almost entirely focused on the unlikely friendships he forged with numerous conservative Senators.
The Senate has “left me with the conviction that personal relationships are the one thing that unlock the true potential of this place,” he said in his speech. “Pressure groups can and are strong and important advocates. But they’re not often vehicles for compromise. A personal relationship is what allows you to go after someone hammer and tong on one issue and still find common ground on the next.”