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Moderates vow to 'be a force' under Biden

Moderates in both chambers are hoping to grow their influence and cut deals under the Biden administration. 

Staring down at least two years of a narrow Democratic majority in a 50-50 Senate where Vice President Harris will be the tie-breaking vote, centrist lawmakers are eager to help break Washington’s most well-known habit: a penchant for gridlock. 

In the Senate, 16 lawmakers, many of whom were involved in last year’s coronavirus negotiations, have formed a bipartisan gang with an eye on looking for potential areas where they could cut a deal. 

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“The numbers are so tight. All of us want this place to work. We’ve got a golden opportunity to make it work, we really do. And our bipartisan, bicameral group is going to be a force, and when I say a force, we’re going to try to find that middle,” said Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenate Democrats negotiating changes to coronavirus bill Murkowski says no decision after Tanden meeting Ocasio-Cortez: wage only 'socialist' to those in 'dystopian capitalist nightmare' MORE (W.Va.), the most outspoken Senate Democratic centrist.

Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoPassage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the first step to heal our democracy Biden's unity effort falters Capito asks White House to allow toxic chemicals rule to proceed MORE (R-W.Va.), another member of the group, said their objective was to “try to get results and avoid a lot of the stalemates that we’ve had in the past.”

In the House, the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus added 16 new members, bringing its total to 56 members. 

“With Congress now narrowly divided in both chambers, bipartisanship will be key to enacting meaningful legislation," said Rep. Josh GottheimerJoshua (Josh) GottheimerBipartisan lawmakers call for immediate vote on COVID-19 vaccine distribution package Lawmakers say they are 'targets,' ask to boost security New Jersey lawmakers press for SALT cap repeal in next relief package MORE (D-N.J.), a caucus co-chair. 

The groups could be a potent force in a closely divided Washington, particularly in the Senate where Democrats need the support of at least 10 Republicans to pass most legislation unless they get rid of the legislative filibuster. 

And they are hoping they’ll have an ally in President Biden, a former longtime senator who is known for cutting deals and who came up through the party’s center lane. 

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“We’re working through everything, we’ve been having good conversations with the Biden transition,” Manchin said. 

Sen. Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungSenate mulls changes to .9 trillion coronavirus bill Graham: Trump will 'be helpful' to all Senate GOP incumbents Biden signs supply chain order after 'positive' meeting with lawmakers MORE (R-Ind.), another member of the Senate group, added that he had “made it known” that he “thought there would be opportunities to identify common ground on a whole host of different issues” with the Biden administration.  

“So I’ve been in touch as it relates to a lot of consequential policy issues,” he said. 

Their first task is likely going to be similar to the last big legislative fight many got involved in: figuring out if there’s a bipartisan deal to be had on another round of coronavirus relief. 

Both members of the Problem Solvers Caucus and many senators involved in the bipartisan gang, tentatively named the Common Sense Coalition, were a part of the group credited by leadership in both parties for breaking the stalemate late last year on another round of coronavirus relief. 

That’s building hope that they could be a viable path for cutting deals between the Biden administration and an increasingly partisan Congress. 

Sen. Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsKhashoggi fiancée: Not punishing Saudi crown prince would be 'stain on our humanity' GOP says Ron Klain pulling Biden strings Pompeo: Release of Khashoggi report by Biden admin 'reckless' MORE (D-Del.), a close ally of Biden’s, isn’t in the group, but he pointed to last year’s work on coronavirus legislation as reflecting the potential for moderates to be a force in deal-making.

“After eight months in which there was no movement in the Senate on a COVID relief package, a bipartisan group ... actually pulled together the deal that was actually able to overcome Majority Leader McConnell’s obstruction,” Coons said. “I do think this is a moment where constructive working relationships both within our own caucuses and across the aisle are going to be more important than ever.” 

The 16 senators held a call on Sunday with National Economic Council Director Brian DeeseBrian DeeseBiden makes inroads with progressives The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Republicans squeeze Biden with 0 billion COVID-19 relief alternative Biden's push for stimulus checks sparks income eligibility debate MORE to try to get more specifics on Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus proposal and find out how the money from previous packages is being distributed. 

The GOP senators in the group are Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate Democrats negotiating changes to coronavirus bill On The Money: Senators push for changes as chamber nears vote on .9T relief bill | Warren offers bill to create wealth tax GOP says Ron Klain pulling Biden strings MORE (Maine), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiMurkowski says no decision after Tanden meeting Green New Deal's 3 billion ton problem: sourcing technology metals The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump teases on 2024 run MORE (Alaska), Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyRomney released from hospital after fall over the weekend Kinzinger: Trump just wants to 'stand in front of a crowd and be adored' Ex-Trump aide Pierson planning run for Congress MORE (Utah), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanRepublican Ohio Senate candidate calls on GOP rep to resign over impeachment vote Sunday shows - Trump's reemergence, COVID-19 vaccines and variants dominate Portman on Trump's dominance of GOP: Republican Party's policies are 'even more popular' MORE (Ohio), Bill CassidyBill CassidyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump teases on 2024 run Trump rules out starting a new party: 'Fake news' Sunday shows - Trump's reemergence, COVID-19 vaccines and variants dominate MORE (La.), Capito, Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranGraham: Trump will 'be helpful' to all Senate GOP incumbents The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden vs. Trump, part II Passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the first step to heal our democracy MORE (Kan.) and Young. 

The Democrats are Sens. Manchin, Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump teases on 2024 run Sunday shows - Trump's reemergence, COVID-19 vaccines and variants dominate Warner: White House should 'keep open additional sanctions' against Saudi crown prince MORE (Va.), Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanSenate Democrats call on GAO to review child care access barriers for disabled parents, kids Biden signs supply chain order after 'positive' meeting with lawmakers Koch-backed group launches ads urging lawmakers to reject COVID-19 relief bill MORE (N.H.), Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenBottom line Senators press Treasury to prioritize Tubman redesign Can Palestine matter again? MORE (N.H.), Mark KellyMark KellyHouse Freedom Caucus chair weighs Arizona Senate bid Koch-backed group launches ads urging lawmakers to reject COVID-19 relief bill Conservative groups seek to bolster opposition to Biden's HHS pick MORE (Ariz.), John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Third approved vaccine distributed to Americans Democrats hesitant to raise taxes amid pandemic The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump's second impeachment trial begins MORE (Colo.) and Dick DurbinDick DurbinFBI director set for combative hearing on mob attack No. 2 Senate Democrat shoots down overruling parliamentarian on minimum wage Senate mulls changes to .9 trillion coronavirus bill MORE (Ill.), as well as Independent Sen. Angus KingAngus KingSenate Democrats negotiating changes to coronavirus bill Biden CIA pick pledges to confront China if confirmed, speak 'truth to power' Top cops deflect blame over Capitol attack MORE (Maine), who caucuses with Democrats. 

Some GOP senators in the group have expressed disappointment with Biden’s proposal and a lack of outreach to them, another sign that Biden likely has his work cut out for him to win over Republicans in the group. 

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Collins said she was “happy to listen” but questioned the size of what Biden is proposing. 

“It's hard for me to see, when we just passed $900 billion worth of assistance, why we would have a package that big. Now maybe a couple of months from now, the needs will be evident, and we will need to do something significant,” she added. 

“My focus is to see where’s the need, and let’s make sure that the numbers are real based upon need, as opposed to simply looking for more stimulus,” said Romney. 

Democrats are also prepping reconciliation text — a budget tool that would allow them to pass a bill with only simple majorities in both chambers. 

Moderates face an increasingly polarized political reality both on Capitol Hill and across the country, which remains on edge after the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. 

Democrats are under fierce pressure, including from some of their own colleagues, to nix the 60-vote legislative filibuster, which would allow them to pass legislation with only a simple majority. 

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Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellJudiciary Committee greenlights Garland's AG nomination This week: Senate takes up coronavirus relief after minimum wage setback Juan Williams: Hypocrisy runs riot in GOP MORE (R-Ky.) warned during a recent Senate floor speech that while Republicans were willing to work with Biden, they were also prepared to block ideas that they disagree with. 

“We’ll use the power the American people have given us to push for what is right,” McConnell said. 

Durbin cautioned that it was too soon to tell how McConnell would operate under a Biden administration but that he expected the bipartisan group to stick together beyond the current coronavirus talks as they try to influence strategy. 

“I don’t think it’s a bad ambition because we’re going to have bipartisanship to have success,” Durbin said, adding that he had already reached out a half dozen GOP senators about trying to find a deal on immigration. 

“They’ve been open to the conversation,” he said. “We haven’t agreed on anything but they’ve been open to it and that’s what it’s gonna take. We just have to try if we can get 60 people together on both sides.”