WASHINGTON: Talkers both, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders stayed for an hour in the Oval Office, just two former rivals for the White House now acting as potential partners, negotiating a compromise both could live with.
The centrist president listened as the liberal senator spoke. Sanders passionately made his case that Bidens big infrastructure investment should go even bigger and include his own longtime goal of dental, hearing and vision benefits for older Americans on Medicare. The president gave his full backing, according to a senior White House aide and another person familiar with the private session, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe a private meeting.
The deal was the product of mutual trust and common interest notably to help the working class, but also to show that government can work and perhaps to restore some faith in democracy after the turbulent Trump era.
We are making progress in moving forward with the most consequential piece of legislation passed for working people since the 1930s, Sanders told The Associated Press a few days later, as Biden made his way to Capitol Hill to rally senators on the plan.
Theirs is an unlikely yet understandable partnership, a president who won over American voters with a calmly reassuring nod to traditional governing, and a democratic socialist senator who twice came close to winning the presidential nomination with what was once viewed as a wildly idealistic agenda. Sanders is now chair of the Senate Budget Committee.
Together, they are trying to unite the political factions of progressives and centrists in the sprawling Democratic Party, which controls Congress by only the narrowest of margins in the House and a 50-50 Senate, with no votes to spare around the presidents $3.5 trillion national rebuilding proposal.
In their sights is a legislative feat on par with Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal or Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. For two political leaders in the twilight of decadeslong careers, it is the chance of a lifetime and the stuff of legacies.
We’re going to get this done, Biden said Wednesday as he entered the private lunch room at the Capitol.
Biden encouraged the senators to think of the good they could do for people across America, investing in places like Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he was born, who feel that the party is not in touch with working peoples pain.
The president gave a nod to Sanders, who noted their past rivalry and yet spoke with similar urgency about the moment before them how the future of democracy rests with how well they can connect with people who feel the government has forgotten them.
When it came time for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to call on senators who had raised their hands to speak, there were no pointed questions or objections, only enthusiasm, according to a person in the room who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting.
Senators emerged enthralled by the possibility of doing something big for the country.