Feb 11, 2022 - Politics & Policy

The lawmakers behind Congress' bipartisan winning streak

Illustration of a a tower of red and blue building blocks forming a tower and many of the blocks are missing
Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

Congress has been reaping legislative victories lately thanks in large part to a bipartisan cast of 10-15 senators chipping away behind the scenes.

Why it matters: Membership has fluctuated, but senators from both sides have helped deliver coronavirus relief and infrastructure spending. They also were behind the Senate’s passage Thursday of landmark workplace legislation. Elements also are driving a strengthening of the Electoral Count Act, as well as efforts to restrict lawmakers’ trading of individual stocks.

  • "Success breeds success," Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who worked on the COVID-19 and infrastructure packages, told Axios.
  • The formula used recently appears to be the only successful way to move bipartisan legislation these days.
  • Similar centrist spates in Washington have fizzled over time — especially with the approach of elections, as in this midterm year.

Lawmakers interviewed by Axios spelled out the bipartisan streak's history and common denominators.

COVID-19 relief: Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) both recall hopping on a multi-hour, Thanksgiving Day 2020 Zoom call with a group of other senators to discuss coronavirus relief, they told Axios.

  • Nine days before that, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) hosted the pair — along with Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) — for a pasta dinner at her house, USA Today reported.
  • The result? A $900 billion deal brokered by five Republicans, five Democrats and an independent.
  • "Basically, we had to do something because people were losing unemployment benefits and things were running out, and we still didn't know if we had an active vaccine," Manchin told Axios. "We just worked out of desperation to do something, because nothing was happening."

Bipartisan infrastructure: Cassidy told Axios: "When we started working on the infrastructure bill, there was a 'No Labels' conference at the Annapolis Governor's Mansion."

  • "House members and senators [from] both parties came to agreement that we should separate the social spending from the hard infrastructure and energy spending, and at that time, I think people were surprised."
  • Cassidy, a staunch Republican, would later be one of the five Republicans and five Democrats to reach an agreement on a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package to improve roads, water systems and broadband networks.
  • Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) teamed up on an amendment outlining a future I-14 development corridor through five states from Texas to Georgia.
  • "The truth is ... it runs through communities that are red and others that are blue, past churches, temples and mosques," Warnock told Axios.

Electoral Count Act of 1887: Now — less than three months after Collins worked closely with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) on rural broadband provisions in the infrastructure package — they're part of a gang of 10 senators hashing out plans to overhaul the act.

  • President Trump tried to use it to get Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the 2020 election results.
  • "You're able to work with people and you trust each other and you see the ability to make progress in other areas," Shaheen told Axios.
  • In this case, meetings were fueled by Mediterranean CAVA bowls — and wine.
  • "Isn't that the way the Senate is supposed to work?" Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) asked rhetorically when asked about recent bipartisan successes.

The streak continued this week, if for different reasons.

What's next: Collins told Axios she spoke with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) about potential immigration reform legislation.

  • It would provide a pathway to citizenship to DACA recipients and increase border enforcement.
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