Joe Biden says he'll bring consensus back to Washington's 'broken' politics, but it was nonexistent while he was vice president

  • Joe Biden is selling himself as the man who can bring civility and “consensus” back to Washington, but history suggests otherwise.
  • Biden has presented President Donald Trump as an aberration and believes Republicans will be inspired to work with Democrats after Trump is gone.
  • Veteran Democrats think Biden is being naive as polling shows Americans believe the country will only become more divided in the coming years.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Joe Biden’s big pitch to voters is that he can bring “consensus” back to Washington if elected president, ignoring the hyper-partisan culture that’s dominated Capitol Hill for years – including when he was vice president.

Biden in May said that once President Donald Trump is gone the Republican party will have an “epiphany” and start working with Democrats.

Building on this sentiment, Biden on Tuesday in comments to Washington Post reporter Dave Weigel rejected the notion that the “system” is broken and argued instead that “the politics are broken.”

“I just think we have to be a lot more civil in the way we engage in things,” Biden said.

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“This is dangerous. Our politics are broken. The system is not broken; the politics are broken,” he added. “And the idea that we’ve got to have a new system? The same people that say, ‘We’ve gotta have somebody totally new. We’ve got to change the system.’ Well, guess what? The system’s worked pretty damn well.”

But recent history suggests Biden’s appeal for bipartisanship is little more than fantasy.

The Obama era saw the country become more politically divided, not less

Former President Barack Obama began his tenure with the hope of fostering bipartisan cooperation in Washington. By the time Obama left office partisan divisions had reached historic levels and he’d clearly failed in this endeavour.

In January 2017, partisan divisions in assessments of presidential performance were wider than at any point in the past 60 years, according to Pew Research Center, which at the time also said that partisan disagreements on major issues like immigration were more stark than “at any point since surveys began to track public opinion.”

These divisions were evident on Capitol Hill throughout the Obama era, with record-setting levels of un-productiveness in Congress, a lengthy government shutdown, the GOP leadership’s refusal to hold confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, and constant efforts to undermine Obama’s signature legislative achievement (the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare).

Indeed, the Obama era was typified by Republican and Democratic bickering – and Biden had a front row seat.

In his final State of the Union Address, Obama said one of the “few regrets” of his presidency was that “the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better.” In January 2016, Obama explicitly recognised what Biden is now seemingly unwilling to acknowledge along the campaign trail.

Veteran Democrats think Biden is being naive

Veteran Democrats like Adam Jentleson – ex-chief of staff to former Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid – recently told The Daily Beast that Biden is “either delusional or dishonest” in suggesting Republicans will have a change of heart post-Trump.

Jim Messina, who managed Obama’s victorious 2012 campaign, told The Beast that the GOP’s “eight-year obstruction of Obama” presents many reasons to be sceptical of Biden’s pledge to bring bipartisanship back to Washington.

Similarly, in a tweet responding to Biden’s claim the GOP would cooperate after Trump, former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau said, “I would wager that not even most Biden supporters believe this is true. Or Biden staffers. Or Republicans!”

Correspondingly, a Pew Research Survey from March showed 65% of Americans believe the country will be more politically divided in 30 years, which suggests Biden’s pledge to bring cooperation to Washington might be a tough sell to voters.

After all, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – who spearheaded many of the GOP’s efforts to thwart Obama’s agenda – is still among the most influential figures in Washington. In other words, the game is still the same and so are many of the players.

Biden paints Trump as an enigma, but even Obama has contradicted him on this

Though polls have found most Americans believe Trump has done more to divide the country than unite it, the political polarization plaguing the US government did not begin with him.

Meanwhile, Biden has presented Trump as an aberration. “The thing that will fundamentally change things is with Donald Trump out of the White House. Not a joke,” Biden said in New Hampshire last month.

But as he touts his ties to Obama along the campaign trail, Biden seems to have forgotten what the former president said about his successor less than a year ago.

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During a speech at the University of Illinois in September, Obama said the divisiveness permeating the US political system “did not start with Donald Trump.”

“He is a symptom, not the cause,” Obama added. “He’s just capitalising on resentments that politicians have been fanning for years. Rooted in our past, but also born out of the enormous upheavals that have taken place in your brief lifetimes.”

Biden on Tuesday told a crowd in Iowa he’s not “naive” to believe consensus and finding a “middle ground” is possible. But as Obama pointed out in September, history is not on the former vice president’s side.

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