President Joe Biden's address to Congress last week wasn't merely a sobering recitation of the nation's most profound wounds and weaknesses, and it wasn't only a summary of the specific proposals he has made in his first 100 days to confront them. It was an old-fashioned call for bipartisanship by one who came of age in a different, better time. It was grounded in the premise that in the past, at least, national crises have moved enough partisans to suspend their partisanship that crisis didn't have to turn into catastrophe. And it came naturally to a president whose long life has positioned him to take the long view, who has experienced far more than a fair share of personal pain, and whose innate disposition is to find common ground.
Biden bent over backwards to thank congressional Republicans and extend an olive branch to them, even though there was little factual basis for doing so. He applauded Republican senators who had at least put forward an infrastructure package, saying, "I'd like to meet with those who have ideas that are different — they think are better. I welcome those ideas." On police reform, so necessary to address the no-longer-ignorable racism marbled throughout our criminal justice system, he said, "I know Republicans have their own ideas and are engaged in the very productive discussions with Democrats in the Senate."
But perhaps the most obvious example of giving credit where none was due came when the president praised both parties for providing the desperately needed COVID-19 relief afforded by the American Rescue Plan, which every single Republican in Congress opposed. Lockstep Republican opposition to the plan, of course, has not stopped Republicans from telling their constituents that they are responsible for its benefits. So it goes in "Crazytown," former House Speaker John Boehner's memorable term for the Republican caucus.
The fact that congressional Republicans uniformly opposed the relief America needed so badly in order to recover from the pandemic says everything one needs to know about the chances that Biden will receive cooperation from the GOP, a party that is one part hapless, three parts hallucinogenic. Last week, yet another poll found that 70% of Republicans believe that Donald Trump, not Biden, won the election. This is a reflection of the grip held on the GOP by Fox News, aptly described by CNN's Jim Acosta as a "B.S. factory," though he did not confine himself to the initials. Last Monday, Fox News was forced to admit that it had erred in claiming that Biden is trying to restrict Americans' red meat consumption. On Tuesday, the New York Post, Fox's Manure Inc. affiliate, had to revise an article that falsely claimed Vice President Kamala Harris' book was being distributed to migrant children. The reporter who wrote it resigned, apologizing that it was "an incorrect story I was ordered to write and which I failed to push back hard enough against."
Sen. Mitt Romney, a rock-ribbed Republican with the integrity to vote twice to impeach Trump, narrowly avoided a censure by Utah's state Republican convention, whose delegates peppered him with cries of "traitor" and "communist." After she walked a few steps to simply greet the president of the United States as he made his way down the aisle toward the House rostrum to deliver his address, Rep. Liz Cheney, the third-ranking House Republican, was targeted with a fresh round of vitriol from her colleagues, many of whom have vowed to boot her from Republican leadership. Buoyed by the empirical likelihood that it will pick up seats in the 2022 midterms and knowing that it will not take much of a pickup to reclaim control of Congress, the GOP is committed to opposing Joe Biden, not helping him. If that means that Americans are the losers, so be it. The president will get no bipartisanship from Republicans, which is a sad thing for a nation that deserves better.
Jeff Robbins, a former assistant United States attorney and United States delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, was chief counsel for the minority of the United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. An attorney specializing in the First Amendment, he is a longtime columnist for the Boston Herald, writing on politics, national security, human rights and the Mideast. To find out more about Jeff Robbins and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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