A former senator from Delaware, Biden had been colleagues with McConnell for decades prior to his election as vice president in 2008. “I think the American people expect us to look for areas of agreement in a divided system while setting aside for debate the things we don’t agree on,” McConnell said.
McConnell’s remarks in the interview were some of the most substantive statements he has made yet regarding his working relationship with the incoming administration, which has been the subject of intense speculation since Election Day and is likely to shape the dynamics of Washington for at least the next two years.
The earliest known post-election conversation between Biden and McConnell took place last week, after McConnell acknowledged Biden’s win. “I called him to thank him for the congratulations,” Biden told reporters. “I told him that while we disagree on a lot of things, there are things we can work together on. We’ve always been straight with one another. And we agreed to get together sooner than later. And I’m looking forward to working with him.”
The first real test of Biden and McConnell’s governing partnership will come when the Senate considers the various Cabinet designates the president-elect has rolled out in recent weeks. Although Senate Republicans have made complaints about several of Biden’s choices, they have mostly acknowledged that his picks for key posts have skewed toward seasoned bureaucrats and have not come from the left wing of the Democratic Party, as some GOP lawmakers feared they might.
Nevertheless, the president-elect’s transition team is already anticipating fierce partisan brawls over his Cabinet selections, and preparing for Republicans’ possible slow-walking of his nominees by focusing on naming candidates for government roles that do not require Senate approval.
Biden has urged the Senate to promptly hold hearings for his nominees so that they are ready to begin work as early as Inauguration Day, while Democrats have pointed to the raging pandemic and economic crisis as reasons to ensure the swift confirmation of the president-elect’s Cabinet.
Ultimately, the success of those nominations could hinge on the outcomes of the two Senate runoff races in Georgia scheduled to take place Jan. 5, which will determine party control of the chamber. But many Republicans signaled following the election last month that they would be largely supportive of Biden’s picks, saying the president-elect has the right to choose his Cabinet.
Still, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wy.), the third-ranking Senate Republican, warned Sunday that Biden’s nominees will be forced to “run the gauntlet” and that the confirmation process is “not going to be a garden party.” And McConnell’s new commitment in his interview Monday is unlikely to convince Democrats who recall his stonewalling of former President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland in 2016.