McConnell finds his go-to Dems

Senate Republicans are reaching out to about nine Democrats they see as crucial swing votes in the new Congress.

With his 54-seat majority, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats make final plea for voting rights ahead of filibuster showdown Mellman: Voting rights or the filibuster?  Budowsky: To Dems: Run against the do-nothing GOP, Senate MORE (R-Ky.) is six votes short of overcoming Democratic filibusters, making bipartisan support a necessity for getting most legislation to President Obama’s desk.

Republicans have identified six go-to centrists: Democratic Sens. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinDemocrats make final plea for voting rights ahead of filibuster showdown The dangerous erosion of Democratic Party foundations Mark Kelly says he'll back changing filibuster rule for voting rights MORE (W.Va.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn Heitkamp11 former Democratic senators call for 'meaningful reform to Senate rules' Harry Reid, political pugilist and longtime Senate majority leader, dies Virginia loss lays bare Democrats' struggle with rural voters MORE (N.D.), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerBiden moves to boost security of sensitive national security systems We are America's independent contractors, and we are terrified Hillicon Valley: Amazon's Alabama union fight — take two MORE (Va.), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDesperate Dems signal support for cutting Biden bill down in size Overnight Energy & Environment — Biden's wildfire plan White House dismisses report of new Build Back Better package MORE (Va.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyBiden to have audience with pope, attend G20 summit Biden taps former Indiana Sen. Donnelly as ambassador to Vatican Republicans may regret restricting reproductive rights MORE (Ind.); and independent Sen. Angus KingAngus KingFor 2022, the Senate must work in a bipartisan manner to solve the American people's concerns This week: Democrats face crunch time on voting rights Democrats skeptical of McConnell's offer to talk on election law MORE (Maine), who caucuses with the Democrats.

ADVERTISEMENT

Several other Democrats, including Sens. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillBiden, lawmakers mourn Harry Reid Harry Reid, political pugilist and longtime Senate majority leader, dies On The Trail: Trump-inspired challengers target GOP governors MORE (Mo.), Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsDemocrats' filibuster gambit unravels Sen. Rob Portman announces positive COVID-19 test Ukraine president, US lawmakers huddle amid tensions with Russia MORE (Del.), Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOvernight Energy & Environment — Lummis holds up Biden EPA picks GOP senator blocks Biden EPA nominees over coal plant decision Biden raises vehicle mileage standards, reversing Trump rollback MORE (Del.) and Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichDefense bill creates new office to study UFOs This Thanksgiving, skip the political food fights and talk UFOs instead Degrees not debt will grow the economy MORE (N.M.), are also targets, though they are seen as riskier partners.

“If Republicans want a minimum of six or more Democrats to work with them and they’re sincere about policy and good policy moving forward, they’re definitely going to reach out, and I’ve reached out to them,” Manchin told reporters Tuesday.

Manchin teamed up with Republican Sen. John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenSenate Republicans call on Biden to lift vaccine mandate for truckers crossing Canadian border Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Southern Company — Native solar startups see business as activism Religious institutions say infrastructure funds will help model sustainability MORE (N.D.) on Tuesday to introduce legislation that would approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The Democratic co-sponsors of the bill include Donnelly, Heitkamp, Warner, McCaskill and Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Connected Commerce Council - Biden faces reporters as his agenda teeters Democrats' filibuster gambit unravels Biden: 'I don't know whether we can get this done' MORE (Mont.).

Hoeven believes he can attract centrist Democrats to the cause of regulatory reform. He says farm-state Democrats have signaled their support for an amendment that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from significantly expanding federal authority to regulate small wetlands, creeks and stock ponds.

On Wednesday, Manchin and Donnelly will join centrist Republican Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsI'm furious about Democrats taking the blame — it's time to fight back 'All or nothing' won't bolster American democracy: Reform the filibuster and Electoral Count Act Voting rights, Trump's Big Lie, and Republicans' problem with minorities MORE (Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSchumer prepares for Senate floor showdown with Manchin, Sinema ​​Democrats make voting rights push ahead of Senate consideration Clyburn says he's worried about losing House, 'losing this democracy' MORE (Alaska) in unveiling a proposal to change ObamaCare’s definition of full-time employment from 30 hours per week to 40.

Manchin is also in talks with Sen. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderMcConnell gets GOP wake-up call The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats return to disappointment on immigration Authorities link ex-Tennessee governor to killing of Jimmy Hoffa associate MORE (R-Tenn.), the expected chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee this Congress, about education reform, and has voiced interest in passing immigration reform in the next two years as well.

Also on Tuesday, Heinrich, Heitkamp and Kaine joined Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoMcConnell will run for another term as leader despite Trump's attacks Senate Minority Whip Thune, close McConnell ally, to run for reelection Biden's court picks face fierce GOP opposition MORE (Wyo.), a member of the Senate Republican leadership, to introduce a bill expanding exports of liquefied natural gas. Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetBiden addresses Coloradans after wildfires: 'Incredible courage and resolve' Equilibrium/Sustainability — Mars may start 'terraforming itself' Boulder County picks up pieces after unprecedented wind and firestorm MORE (Colo.), the recent chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, is an original co-sponsor of the measure.

“I’m very much looking forward to working together with the majority to get things done,” said Kaine, who added that he’s excited about the prospect of working with Republicans on an infrastructure bill.

“There’s a lot of discussion about go-to Democrats but I think there’s going to be a lot of interest in collaborating without violating core principles,” Heitkamp said.

A senior Republican aide said McConnell has reached out to Democratic colleagues, but said the centrists also made an early effort to approach him.

After Republicans captured the Senate in the midterm elections, “some of the first calls to McConnell were from Democrats,” the aide said.

Senate sources say the centrist bloc within the Democratic caucus is key to McConnell’s entire legislative agenda.

“If they can stick together and work for reasonable, rational legislation, [centrist Democrats] will control the balance of power in the Senate,” said former Sen. John Breaux (La.), a Democratic centrist who helped Republicans pass the Bush tax cuts of 2001.

Warner, whom Republicans have identified as a pivotal centrist, said for McConnell to be successful he must be willing to pursue compromises that don’t necessarily win the support of the entire Republican conference.

“There are two big challenges. One is, will the new majority be willing to launch efforts without 100 percent unanimity of the caucus, and the second is, does every bill have to be a showdown between each side?” Warner said.

Warner joined a group of centrists including Heitkamp and Manchin, and independent King last year to propose reforms to 

ObamaCare in hopes of attracting Republican support. They called for expanded consumer choice, greater accessibility to tax credits for small businesses and streamlining the reporting requirements for employers, among other changes.

“I have long said there are some good pieces of the healthcare reform law and some pieces that need to be fixed,” Heitkamp said.

That position poses a quandary for McConnell, who must decide whether to give his centrist GOP colleagues freedom to work with Democrats to tweak the healthcare law or to side with conservatives who argue that fixes only undermine the broader effort to remove it root and branch.

Manchin reiterated Tuesday that he supports improving the law but would oppose a repeal effort.

Heitkamp, meanwhile, says she’s interested in working with Republicans on education and tax reform.

“I think that there isn’t any issue that we couldn’t sit down and come up with a bipartisan collaborative response to the problems in America,” she said. “Whether it’s a budget issue, whether it’s an energy issue, whether it’s a healthcare issue, education...”

She said ObamaCare should be addressed comprehensively instead of in piecemeal fashion.

A senior Republican aide said many Democrats are eager to work with McConnell because they’ve felt stifled over the past four years by Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Connected Commerce Council - Biden faces reporters as his agenda teeters Biden hits one-year mark in dire straits 'All or nothing' won't bolster American democracy: Reform the filibuster and Electoral Count Act MORE’s (D-Nev.) tight grip on floor procedure and the legislative agenda.

Behind the scenes, Heitkamp and Manchin were among the most vocal critics of Reid’s leadership style.

“Our party has to come back to where the middle is, where the people want us to be,” Manchin said. “I’m fiscally responsible and socially compassionate, and I can’t change who I am.”