Will Biden’s ‘Excellent Meeting’ Bear Fruit?

Biden takes a stab at bipartisanship, but Democrats in Congress aren’t holding their breath. It’s Tuesday, and this is your politics tip sheet. Sign up here to get On Politics in your inbox every weekday.

Where things stand

“I feel like I’m back in the Senate,” President Biden declared yesterday as he met with lawmakers in the Oval Office, sounding heartened by an early display of bipartisanship from a group of 10 Republican senators.

The lawmakers had come to the bargaining table around Covid-19 relief, offering a counterproposal that was less than one-third the size of the $1.9 trillion package proposed by Biden.

Republican lawmakers also expressed satisfaction with what they called a friendly two-hour meeting. “I think it was an excellent meeting, and we’re very appreciative that as his first official meeting in the Oval Office, the president chose to spend so much time with us in a frank and very useful discussion,” Senator Susan Collins, the moderate Republican from Maine, told reporters.

But at a news conference earlier in the day, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, indicated that the president would be looking to pressure Republicans to come up on their offer.

The measure proposed by the Republican senators doesn’t include a federal minimum wage increase to $15 an hour, which Biden had included in his plan, and it would cut down his proposal to send $1,400 checks to many Americans.

Democratic leaders in the House and the Senate yesterday afternoon laid the groundwork to move ahead with the Biden plan through the process of budget reconciliation, which would allow them to pass legislation without any Republican support. They will be waiting to see what happens between Biden and the Senate Republicans before pushing forward with it.

On social media, meanwhile, critics on the left have been worrying aloud that he won’t deliver on his campaign promise to send out $2,000 checks.

Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, is dancing a dangerous tango with the right wing of his party. Yesterday for the first time he implicitly denounced Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, who was recently elected in a rural Georgia district, calling her “loony lies and conspiracy theories” a “cancer for the Republican Party.”

“Somebody who’s suggested that perhaps no airplane hit the Pentagon on 9/11, that horrifying school shootings were pre-staged, and that the Clintons crashed JFK Jr.’s airplane is not living in reality,” he wrote in the statement, first reported by The Hill.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez used an Instagram live chat last night to recount in close detail the events of Jan. 6, when rioters inside the Capitol building went hunting for her. “I thought I was going to die,” she said. “I have never been quieter in my entire life.”

Explaining how “trauma compounds,” Ocasio-Cortez also revealed that she had previously survived sexual assault, adding that she had not mentioned it to many people until now. Her decision to disclose the experience drew a wave of support from followers online.

In terms of presidential politics, Ohio has become pretty red in recent years. But with Senator Rob Portman, a Republican, planning to retire after the 2022 elections, Democrats are looking to flip the state’s second seat blue. (The liberal Sherrod Brown is Ohio’s other senator.)

Enter Representative Tim Ryan, a moderate Democrat who briefly ran for president in 2019. He hasn’t officially announced his intentions, but he is planning to move ahead with a run for the seat next year, as our national political correspondent Jonathan Martin reports.

A moderate from Niles, Ohio, outside Youngstown, Ryan represents a district rich with the kinds of blue-collar white voters that Donald Trump flipped from Democrat to Republican in 2016.

Perhaps no agency better epitomizes the differences between Trump’s brand of Republicanism and the views of the majority of the nation than Immigration and Customs Enforcement: It has consistently received the lowest approval rating of any federal agency, but under Trump, Republican support for it has remained sky-high.

On the way out the door, a senior Trump official at the Department of Homeland Security found a way to leave Biden’s hands tied when it comes to making changes at the immigration-control agency, according to a whistle-blower complaint filed yesterday.

The official, Kenneth Cuccinelli — who served in a variety of senior positions at the department, but whose end-around appointment by Trump was contested in court — signed an agreement that gives the ICE officers’ union, which endorsed the president in 2020, an uncommon level of influence over department policy.

The contract Cuccinelli signed forces homeland security leaders to obtain the union’s “prior affirmative consent” in writing before making changes to policies affecting agents. It also appears to allow the ICE union to argue that it can reject changes like Biden’s recent order to focus on violent criminals in immigration enforcement.

Immigration rights advocates are pushing Biden to address the impact of Trump’s family separation policy, which pried apart more than 5,500 migrant families crossing the southwestern border.

Today the White House is expected to announce a task force to begin looking into demands for recompense, including restitution payments, expanded mental health services, the readmission of deported parents to the United States and legal residency for families affected by the policy.

Members of the Trump administration acknowledged that they had pursued family separation in order to make it too emotionally punishing for migrant families to try to cross into the United States. More than 1,000 children who made it into the country are thought to still be separated from their parents.

Photo of the day

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris met with Republican senators yesterday about the coronavirus stimulus plan.

Arizona’s senators could be on a collision path with the Democrats who elected them.

With Congress lurching into gear on coronavirus relief, and Senate Democrats eyeing legislation on a range of other priorities in the months ahead, Arizona’s two first-term senators have drifted into the spotlight.

Both Kyrsten Sinema, who was elected in 2018, and Mark Kelly, who was just sworn in during December, campaigned on promises to reach across the aisle and favor pragmatism over progressive purity. In a new article, our reporter Jennifer Medina took a close look at the role they’ve been playing in the coronavirus relief talks, and what role they’re shaping up to play as the Democrats seek to govern with the narrowest of majorities.

The last time Arizona was represented by two Democratic senators was in the 1950s. But in the past few years, both Sinema and Kelly won hard-fought Senate races, flipping both of the state’s seats blue. How did they do it?

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Sinema and Kelly used the same playbook for victory — they ran as moderates, emphasized their independence and drew together a coalition of older voters, white women and young Latinos. They each had a large army of Democratic and progressive activists campaigning on their behalf, but they probably would not have won without support from some independents and moderate Republicans.

Is it fair to say that in the two years that Sinema’s been there, and the two months that Kelly has, they’ve leaned into their identities as moderates?

Absolutely. Last month, Sinema reiterated her support for maintaining the filibuster, which gives the G.O.P. more control over what legislation can and cannot pass in the Senate, which Democrats control by the narrowest possible margin. Kelly has made fewer headlines, but is part of the bipartisan group of 16 senators who met with White House officials to talk about the administration’s coronavirus relief package.

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    How much of a role is being played by college-educated white voters who had long supported the Republican Party but were ultimately turned off by Trump? Are Sinema and Kelly catering in particular to their views because of how decisive they’re seen as being in statewide elections?

    A longtime Democratic activist recently told me something that really stuck: “So many things went into Kelly and Sinema’s victory that no one effort can take credit, but also everything was necessary, so nothing can be sacrificed.”

    In other words, college-educated white voters who once supported Republicans are playing a big role, but so are newly activated young Latino voters who want to see both senators embrace more policies from the left, particularly on immigration.

    Both Sinema and Kelly seem to genuinely relish their independence, and Arizona has a long history of mavericks. As candidates, both of them invoked John McCain on the campaign trail, and Kelly often reminded voters that he had been a registered independent for most of his life.

    How is all this affecting the ongoing Covid relief negotiations, in which both Arizona senators have played an active role?

    Both Kelly and Sinema are probably going to play huge roles in those negotiations.Their importance is why Vice President Kamala Harris gave interviews with The Arizona Republic’s editorial board and a TV station in the state last week, portraying the administration’s relief package as a matter of life and death.

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