As hundreds of House members slogged through yet another round of voting for Speaker on Wednesday, failing again to select a leader for the chamber amid intense GOP infighting, 500 miles away in Kentucky, the Democratic President and the top Republican in the Senate drew a contrast in civility.
Senator Mitch McConnell was waiting at the Cincinnati Northern Kentucky International Airport in Hebron as President Joe Biden landed in McConnell’s home state, and the two rode together in the presidential limo to the banks of the Ohio River. The pair then happily appeared on a stage together to tout a $1.6 billion investment in the Brent Spence Bridge, which connects Covington to Cincinnati and has become a chokepoint for 3% of all U.S. economic traffic.
“I asked permission if I could say something nice about him,” Biden joked about McConnell when he took the stage. “It wouldn’t have happened without your hand; it just wouldn’t have gotten done. I wanted to thank you for that.”
This moment, McConnell said, is “a time when the country needs to see examples like this, of coming together and getting an outcome.”
The camaraderie on display between the two leaders provided a striking split-screen to the gridlock gripping the House, where members of Congress have yet to be sworn in as Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the GOP leader, fails to draw enough votes from within his own caucus.
“We have to find common ground to get major legislation done in any circumstance ever,” Biden said, “but particularly the circumstances in the last four or five years have been less than cooperative.”
Biden didn’t mention how McConnell himself has often been the main roadblock to Biden’s efforts since he became President. In May, McConnell told reporters that 100% of his focus was on standing up to the Biden administration. That campaign has included styming Biden on two of his priorities as President: restoring an assault weapons ban and protecting access to abortion. McConnell has served as a wrench in Biden’s agenda long before his presidency. When Biden was Vice President, McConnell famously blocked a vote on President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland—now Biden’s attorney general—for nine months, paving the way for Donald Trump to come in and fill the seat with Neil Gorsuch and cement a durable conservative majority on the court.
Yet the two men came together late last year to pass a massive $1.7 trillion investment in the country’s infrastructure. Now the money’s moving out the door and projects are starting up, and the two leaders are promoting the historic spending package as an example of how Washington can work.
“Leader McConnell and I disagree on a lot of things, but here’s what matters. He’s a man of his word. When he gives you his word, you can take it to the bank. You can count on it, and he’s willing to find common ground to get things done for the country,” Biden said.
McConnell, for his part, also wanted to seize the moment as an example of how two parties, often at odds, can tackle a major problem. “I always feel, no matter who gets elected, once it’s all over, we ought to look for things we can agree on and try to do those, even while we have big differences on other things,” McConnell said.
As Biden was leaving the White House earlier in the day, he told reporters that the inability of House Republicans to choose a speaker and swear in the new Congress was “a little embarrassing” and expressed concern that the impasse was making the U.S. look bad on the global stage.
“How do you think it looks to the rest of the world,” Biden said, over the sound of the Marine One helicopter on the South Lawn. “We’re finally coming out of—you know, the first time we’re really getting through the whole issue relating to January 6—things are settling out, and now for the first time in 100 years, we can’t move.”
“It’s not a good look,” the President continued. “It’s not a good thing. It’s the United States of America, and I hope they get their act together.”
When a reporter asked Biden what the impact would be if the House was unable to select a speaker for a week or a month, preventing the new Congress from getting any work done, Biden opened his arms in a shrug and turned toward the waiting helicopter.
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