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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: The path ahead

by John Brummett | February 16, 2021 at 4:00 a.m.

The left-of-center panelists on "This Week" on ABC got into a spat Sunday.

It was over the path Democrats should follow now that Republicans have disgraced themselves by defying the Constitution and ratifying a madman's incitement of right-wing insurrection.

Rahm Emanuel, aide to Presidents Clinton and Obama and former mayor of Chicago, outlined four ways in which Joe Biden could now seek to appeal to Republicans in pursuit of the bipartisanship and unity he invoked in his inaugural address.

Yvette Simpson of the liberal Democracy for America was aghast. The Republicans had just let Donald Trump get away with a crime, she said. You don't compromise with that kind of evil, she said. It's time for Democrats to cram things through with only Democratic votes, she said.

But they can't really do that in the Senate absent the occasional use of budget reconciliation, which, even then, requires that Democrats from Bernie Sanders to Joe Manchin agree.

Host George Stephanopoulos asked former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie what plan his fellow Republicans should follow. He replied that it was for Emanuel and Simpson to keep talking.

Christie and Emanuel had it right.

Christie's point was that Republicans need now to restore themselves as the Trump-ridden policy alternative to Democrats, whether to assail the Democrats' inability to agree and thus govern or to attack the Democrats' unilateral pursuit of an activist and polarizing liberal agenda.

Emanuel's point was that Democrats could foil Republicans with a third way. It was that President Biden might in fact need to go forward in passing covid-19 relief only with Democrats using budget reconciliation, but that, after that, he should insist on bringing along at least some of the now-quantifiable decent Republicans.

Seven in the Senate and 10 in the House identified themselves as such on impeachment.

Simpson was simply wrong. Deciding policy, politics and process solely on the basis of partisan resentment -- trying to cram issues down the throats of Republicans -- is seldom the politically wise way to go. It would be fraught with midterm peril and ripe for the pendulum.

There's no strong policy reason for Biden not to compromise with Republicans off the top and reduce his covid-19 relief package. But there is political thinking that he shouldn't start with concession, but offer it only after doing at least one big thing with unilateral boldness, presumably strength.

Biden need not ever depend on making deals with Mitch McConnell. He need not ever acknowledge that blind partisans and Trump enablers like Tom Cotton and John Boozman exist.

But he could seek center-out partnerships, beginning on infrastructure, with Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Ben Sasse, Pat Toomey, Bill Cassidy, Richard Burr and maybe others such as Rob Portman who, for some distressing reason, didn't join the others in opposing incitement to insurrection.

Biden could create a coalition of Democrats, the center, the decent and the sane. Everyone else would be McConnell's.

It might not get Biden to 60 votes in the Senate -- only 54 to 58, I suspect. But it would endear him to decisive swing voters who, at once last year, took the presidency from Trump and reduced the majority of Nancy Pelosi.

They weren't looking for ideology. They were looking for competence, fairness and effectiveness.

McConnell seems to recognize that the split in his Senate conference as revealed by the impeachment trial exists between the seven sane and decent and his cowardly 43.

In a remarkable attempt Saturday at political gymnastics, the minority leader tried to straddle that landmine.

First, he voted with the other 42, not from support of Trump, but from fear of primary opposition or worse from the madman's rampaging cultists. He thought it best not to poke the primitives with truth or justice.

Then, immediately, he hopped up from voting to acquit and gave a speech saying Trump was guilty as charged.

McConnell relied for an explanation of his contradiction on the handy if bogus procedural crutch of arguing that the entire proceeding was unconstitutional since Trump was no longer in office.

Can he pull off his rehabilitative straddle?

He very well could succeed, considering that all will depend on whether Biden listens to his own base or, more smartly, seeks to take in some of those seven Republicans as occasional defectors on a few efforts for bipartisan resolution of vital issues.

Biden will want by gregarious instinct to go for bipartisanship. But Christie figures Republicans can best extricate themselves from the fix they're in by sitting back and waiting for the Democratic base not to let Biden pursue what he'll want to pursue, or go wobbly on him if he does.

The only way to do battle with polarizing partisanship is to blend a few partisans. Otherwise, we can go back and forth on executive orders for the rest of time.

--–––––v–––––--

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected] Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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