Key Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock

Key Senate Republicans say they can see themselves working with Joe BidenJoe BidenPerry delegation talking points stressed pushing Ukraine to deal with 'corruption' GOP senator airs anti-Biden ad in Iowa amid impeachment trial Biden photobombs live national news broadcast at one of his rallies MORE if he is elected president, bolstering the centrist Democratic candidate's claims that he would be able to break through legislative gridlock in Washington.

As the former vice president has slipped in some polls compared to liberal firebrand Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenBiden on whether Sanders can unify party as nominee: 'It depends' Overnight Health Care — Presented by Philip Morris International — HHS has no plans to declare emergency over coronavirus | GOP senator calls for travel ban to stop outbreak | Warren releases plan to contain infectious diseases Biden lines up high-profile surrogates to campaign in Iowa MORE (D-Mass.), he has emphasized his track record working with Republican colleagues to pass bipartisan legislation.

Biden earlier this year proclaimed that Republicans would have “an epiphany” and start working more with Democrats once Trump left office.

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Other center-left presidential candidates, including Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharSanders opens up 15-point lead in New Hampshire: Poll Poll: 56 percent of Democrats say billionaire politicians more likely to cater to special interests Support for Biden, Sanders ticks up nationally: poll MORE (D-Minn.) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegBiden on whether Sanders can unify party as nominee: 'It depends' Biden lines up high-profile surrogates to campaign in Iowa Hill.TV's Krystal Ball: Failure to embrace Sanders as nominee would 'destroy' Democratic Party MORE (D), have similarly touted their willingness to work with Republicans.

They see it as a way to draw a contrast with Warren and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersNew campaign ad goes after Sanders by mentioning heart attack Biden on whether Sanders can unify party as nominee: 'It depends' Steyer rebukes Biden for arguing with supporter he thought was Sanders voter MORE (I-Vt.), who want to provide universal health care coverage and free college education by ramping up taxes on the wealthy — proposals with virtually no GOP support on Capitol Hill.

It’s also a way to resonate with swing voters who are sick of partisan bickering in Washington and want the president and Congress to spend more time and energy on solving problems.

So far the 116th Congress has been a legislative wasteland, with few bills moving and the annual spending process deadlocked as the year’s end rapidly approaches.

A Gallup poll released last week showed a growing number of Americans, 47 percent, say the government should do more to solve the nation’s problems — an 11-point increase compared to 2010.

Yet Biden's willingness and ability to work with Republicans could also be a drag on his campaign with at least some Democratic voters, who don't see a willingness to compromise with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump allies throw jabs at Bolton over book's claims GOP confident of win on witnesses Collins Senate bid threatens to spark GOP rift in Georgia MORE (R-Ky.) or Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP confident of win on witnesses GOP Foreign Affairs leaders join pushback against potential troop drawdown in Africa Republicans signal renewed confidence they'll avoid witness fight MORE (R-S.C.) as desirable.

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Biden himself acknowledged earlier this year that he gets "criticized for saying anything nice about a Republican."

When he described Vice President Pence as "a decent guy" he was ripped by the progressive activist and actress Cynthia Nixon, who said Pence was the nation's "most anti-LGBT elected leader." Biden then amended his remarks. 

Biden’s claim that he could achieve a breakthrough in bipartisan productivity if elected president has also been met with skepticism.

But key Senate Republicans say they feel more optimistic about working with him compared to other Democratic presidential candidates.

“I think Joe Biden has the ability to work across party lines, absolutely I do,” said Graham, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman who was one of the authors of the bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill the Senate passed in 2013 but that later died in the House.

Graham said he’s not so sure whether Warren or Sanders would be as effective. 

“I don’t know,” he said when asked about the chances of compromise with Warren and Sanders. “That’s going to be the challenge of the next president, whoever they are. Biden’s track record is real.”

Graham also expressed his warm regard for Biden, which is shared by a variety of Republicans who worked with him on Capitol Hill.

“I very much like Joe Biden. I think he’s one of the most decent people I’ve ever met. He suffered tremendous tragedy,” Graham added, referring to the death of Biden’s then-wife and 13-month-old daughter in a 1972 car accident and the 2015 death of his son Beau at age 46 of cancer.

Graham said he’s “all in for Trump” but could see working with Biden “on a lot of things” if he winds up in the White House in 2021.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiGOP confident of win on witnesses Republicans signal renewed confidence they'll avoid witness fight Trump's team rests, calls for quick end to trial MORE (R-Alaska), a key moderate who voted with Democrats against repealing ObamaCare in 2017, said she also sees Biden as someone who could work effectively with Republicans.

“Think about some of the initiatives Biden has worked with, whether it’s Leader McConnell or just worked on a bipartisan basis. The fact that he has legislative, congressional experience and had to work in a legislative body and then worked with President Obama as one within the administration working with a legislative body does give him a level of experience that’s useful,” Murkowski said.

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Murkowski made reference to three of Biden’s biggest accomplishments as vice president, when he worked with McConnell to extend expiring tax cuts after the 2010 midterm elections, raise the debt limit in the summer of 2011 and avoid the so-called fiscal cliff at the end of 2012.

Biden also played a key role in recruiting three moderate Republicans, Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGOP confident of win on witnesses Republicans signal renewed confidence they'll avoid witness fight Trump's team rests, calls for quick end to trial MORE (Maine) and then-Sens. Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Arlen Specter (Pa.), to support the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which stimulated the economy after the 2008 financial crisis.

Murkowski also singled out Klobuchar as a Democratic candidate who would likely work effectively with Republicans. 

But Murkowski doesn’t hold much hope for working on a bipartisan basis with Warren or Sanders.

“All you need to do is look at their approach to legislating,” she said of her two colleagues.

“I have worked on a few initiatives with Sen. Warren — I think some of the health care things we’ve done jointly focus on rural health outcomes. But in terms of one who is known for building those bridges with the other side legislatively, neither one of the two of them have in their Senate careers really focused on that,” she added.

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Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOvernight Energy: Democrats unveil draft climate bill | Plan aims for carbon neutrality by 2050 | GOP senators press IRS on electric vehicle tax credit GOP senator: John Bolton should go public with what he knows GOP senators press IRS on enforcement of electric vehicle tax credit MORE (R-Iowa) cited Biden’s talks with McConnell at the end of 2012 to avoid the fiscal cliff.

“He did very definitely make a breakthrough. He and McConnell more or less negotiated not having a shutdown of government that year. And then you know what? The Democrats didn’t like him doing it and Obama didn’t let him do it anymore. So yes, he does have a track record,” Grassley said.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynHillicon Valley: UK allows Huawei to build 5G in blow to Trump | Lawmakers warn decision threatens intel sharing | Work on privacy bill inches forward | Facebook restricts travel to China amid virus Republicans signal renewed confidence they'll avoid witness fight Lawmakers warn US, UK intel sharing at risk after Huawei decision MORE (R-Texas), an adviser to the Senate GOP leadership who served with Biden on the Judiciary Committee, said Biden “has that experience” and “everybody who’s worked around Joe Biden has liked him.”

But Cornyn questioned whether Biden can win the Democratic primary.

“His party has shifted so far to the left,” Cornyn said.

Indeed, liberal activists such as Robert Borosage, the co-founder of Campaign for America’s Future, are leery of the prospect of Biden working with Republicans in 2021 and beyond.

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Borosage said “history would make you dubious of the proposition” that Republicans would have an “epiphany” under a President Biden because of how Republicans “treated Obama” during his two terms.  

“The places where [Republicans] would work for Biden are places we would not want to have happen, like the grand bargain that Obama tried to pull off with BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerA time for war, a time for peace — and always a time to defend America Esper's chief of staff to depart at end of January Soleimani killing deepens distrust between Trump, Democrats MORE,” Borosage said, referring to a deficit-reduction deal Obama attempted to negotiate in 2011 with then Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerA time for war, a time for peace — and always a time to defend America Esper's chief of staff to depart at end of January Soleimani killing deepens distrust between Trump, Democrats MORE (R-Ohio).

“The places where there would be cooperation would be places we would rather not have move forward,” he added.

Biden has a track record of working with Republicans to pass major bills during his long Senate career.

He worked with former Republican Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchKey Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock Trump awards Medal of Freedom to racing industry icon Roger Penske Trump holds more Medal of Freedom ceremonies than predecessors but awards fewer medals MORE (Utah) in the early 1990s to pass the Violence Against Women Act, which he later called his proudest legislative accomplishment. The bill established a new federal crime of interstate domestic violence, making it tougher for abusers to evade prosecutor by crossing state lines.

He was also an author of the broader 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which stiffened federal prison sentences and provided for new prison construction and more cops on the streets. It also included the assault weapons ban and funding for firearm background checks.

Some liberal critics have since blamed the bill for contributing to mass incarceration in the late 1990s.

Jim Kessler, the executive vice president for policy at Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank, says voters want to see the pragmatic problem-solving skills that Biden says he will bring to the White House.

“There is a longing for someone who is going to try their best to do this,” he said. “Even if voters think it may not succeed, they want somebody to try. A lot of them want somebody to try because they want an end to what seems like Washington warfare.”