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Bipartisan group seizes spotlight, and more clout

The clout of a bipartisan group of lawmakers aimed at forging consensus is on the rise.

With the House expected to have its most narrow Democratic margin of control in decades, members of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus see the group’s influence growing exponentially in the next Congress. And its members are looking to flex their strength in pushing for policies that can pass both chambers. 

The bipartisan group of roughly 50 members, which is co-chaired by Reps. Josh GottheimerJoshua (Josh) GottheimerPolice reform talks ramp up amid pressure from Biden, families The Hill's Morning Report - Biden to take stock, revive push for big government As Americans struggle, Biden's tax plan helps blue states and foreign nations MORE (D-N.J.) and Tom ReedTom ReedLawmakers brace for battles with colleagues as redistricting kicks off Hundreds of businesses sign on to support LGBTQ rights legislation House panel opens probe into Tom Reed over sexual misconduct allegations MORE (R-N.Y.), has played a leading role in moving the needle on COVID-19 relief negotiations after a months-long stalemate.

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Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden reverses Trump limits on transgender protections The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Infrastructure, Cheney ouster on deck as Congress returns This week: Congressional leaders to meet with Biden amid GOP reckoning MORE (D-Calif.) will face a more difficult path next year in passing controversial bills due to her caucus’s diminished ranks. The support of the Problem Solvers could be needed on an array of measures.

However, that would require Pelosi to run the House differently than she and other recent Speakers have conducted business in the partisan chamber.

Reed said his group is both expanding in size and finding its footing on ways to push for and shape an agenda both parties can support.

“Obviously, the Problem Solvers Caucus, in my opinion, is growing in strength. It’s growing in depth, not only with the numbers of members, but the sophistication of members understanding the process, understanding the politics and understanding the policy. And so as we go into the next congressional session, I think that’s all going to play to our strengths of wanting to govern for the people back home,” he said in an interview. 

While tensions between parties have intensified over the course of the past few years, Gottheimer said he believes the group has the capability to help bring the focus back on governing, working with the Senate and the administration to find solutions where Republicans and Democrats can come together moving forward.

“My goal would be, first and foremost, to bring both sides to the table and try to build a majority and build enough support for the president-elect’s agenda. And to me, that means you need to bring Democrats and Republicans to the table and need to do it early,” he told The Hill.

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“I mean, it’s a different model. I understand that we’re not used to actually bringing in both sides of the table early on — it’s not what we’re accustomed to. But you think in order to get something into law you’re going to have to get it out of a slim majority in the House, and then you’re going to have to get out of the Senate.”

In past Congresses, groups like the House Freedom Caucus were able to successfully push policies to the right and derail deals it felt weren’t conservative enough by using procedural tactics and vowing to withhold enough votes to prevent legislation from passing. Multiple members of the Problem Solvers, which was established in 2017 to provide a space for members to find common ground, said they see themselves as a foil to the Freedom Caucus that could potentially use similar tactics. But the caucus leaders say their focus is on getting bills passed and signed into law.

Leadership officials have ignored many of the Problem Solvers’ plans over the past few years. But there have been successes.

After House and Senate leaders publicly bickered this summer and fall over how expensive the next coronavirus relief package should be, the Problem Solvers picked a number in the middle: $908 billion. Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerHouse conservatives take aim at Schumer-led bipartisan China bill There will be no new immigration law under Biden, unless he changes course This week: Congressional leaders to meet with Biden amid GOP reckoning MORE (D-N.Y.), who had once pushed a $3.4 trillion bill, last week embraced the $908 billion price tag.

Two years ago, Pelosi struck a deal with the Problem Solvers to get votes on the House floor to become Speaker for the second time. The deal exchanged votes for changes to the House’s rules to promote more bipartisanship. In order to get 218 votes on the floor next month to serve as Speaker again, Pelosi might have to strike another agreement with the Problem Solvers.

Rep. Jaime Herrera BeutlerJaime Lynn Herrera BeutlerUninvited Trump is specter at GOP retreat McCarthy defends Trump response to deadly Jan. 6 riot Republicans who backed Trump impeachment see fundraising boost MORE (R-Wash.) said the support seen from top lawmakers and administration officials in both parties on the group’s coronavirus relief package is a good indicator of the weight the group can carry.

“You know what, our goal is not to derail, our goal is to govern — people have brought those comparisons [to the Freedom Caucus] up and I think it’s important because our goal is not to fill that role. Our goal is to be the one that looks at all of these things and says, OK, yes there are disagreements and that’s great, we’re not trying to change that, but we’re trying to be more of a governing group.’ And so I think the Freedom Caucus had a lot of ability to stop things, but if you’ve noticed, they really have driven nothing,” she said.

While the fate of which party will control the Senate is still unclear, with Georgia’s runoff elections taking place in January, members of the caucus have been forging strong relationships with members in the upper chamber.

“That’s something we made investments in over the last four years because we recognize that yeah, we can get 218 votes in the House, but you need 60 votes in the Senate,” Reed said.

“We now have a standing working relationship with eight to 10 senators — the line of communication is direct and the more that you can have that line of communication open, the easier it is to get 60 votes in the Senate.”

Senate Majority Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneTop female GOP senator compares Cheney ousting to 'cancel culture' GOP braces for wild week with momentous vote Cheney fight stokes cries of GOP double standard for women MORE (R-S.D.), who has worked with Problem Solvers members during the course of the coronavirus relief talks, also said he sees the group playing a larger role during the next Congress.

“I think they’re going to have a lot more influence with a narrower margin in the House. And if they can hang together, they’ve got a lot of leverage. I think they’re going to have a good, strong voice and hopefully they can use it in a way that gets some results. And I know that a lot of Republicans that are involved with that over there, I know they’re good people and people who want to get things done,” he told The Hill.

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Rep. Abigail SpanbergerAbigail Davis SpanbergerFive takeaways on the House's return to budget earmarks Lawmakers say companies need to play key role in sustainability On The Money: Weekly jobless claims fall to lowest level since lockdowns | Retail sales surge in March | Dow, S&P hit new records MORE (D-Va.), a moderate who just won a close race for reelection, said she hopes the Problem Solvers Caucus can help change the overall dynamic of Congress over time.

“The Problem Solvers Caucus can be effective and helpful in attempting to bridge some divides until we reach a point in time where we don’t really need a Problem Solvers Caucus anymore in Congress,” she said.

“In every other aspect of our lives: in marriages and relationships with parents and children and siblings and friends and colleagues and co-workers — every place outside of Congress it’s a known thing that you don’t agree with somebody 100 percent of the time and you just figure it out. And somehow in our political system, we’ve really gotten away from where that’s the norm. Of course we don’t agree 100 percent of the time but we still need to function.”