Hometown California

Episode 26- The Early Days of the 117th Congress

April 02, 2021 Rural County Representatives of California (RCRC) Season 2 Episode 26
Hometown California
Episode 26- The Early Days of the 117th Congress
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In this episode of Hometown California, recorded in Washington D.C., our host, Paul A. Smith, sits down with Sheryl Cohen and Chris Israel of American Continental Group (ACG), to give listeners a deeper look at the early days of the 117th Congress.  Together they discuss a myriad of issues, including

  • the politics of the recovery package;
  • the twin priorities of infrastructure and climate;
  • politics under the dome: leadership, bipartisanship, and looking ahead to 2022; and
  • the differences and similarities in the White House under the Biden Administration.

Find ACG Advocacy online.
Website: https://www.acg-consultants.com/
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INTRO: [00:00:00] Welcome to Hometown California, a production of the Rural County Representatives of California, advocating for California's rural counties for nearly 50 years. Hometown California tells the rural story through the eyes of those who live, work, and play in the rural communities of the Golden State.

PAUL: [00:00:26] This is Hometown California. I'm your host, Paul Smith. Today, we are recording from Washington, D.C., where we are revisiting some discussions that we had starting last September and October about things going on at the national level. Listeners may recall that we did a number of podcasts and a series about the elections. We also did a podcast about Congress and the winding down of the Congress that expired last year, the one hundred and sixteenth. And we did that interview and discussion with some professionals here in Washington, D.C. that know this town very well, both the politics, the policy and everything that comes with us. So we again are here in Washington, D.C., speaking with two folks from American Continental Group (ACG). They are RCRC's federal lobbyists and they do a lot of advocacy work on our behalf here in the nation's capital. So we thought we would revisit those discussions from the old 116th Congress as now we are in full swing with the 117th, and going to discuss some of the things that are occurring already with a new Congress, new administration. So, with me today again is Sheryl Cohen. She is the senior partner here at ACG, long involved in the nation's capital with the politics and policy, having worked for a number of U.S. Senators on Capitol Hill. So good morning, Sheryl. How are you today? 

SHERYL: [00:01:50] Good morning, Paul. Happy to be with you. 

PAUL: [00:01:52] Yes. And joining her is Chris Israel, another partner here at ACG, who we are looking forward to hearing his insights today, kind of balancing out some of the thoughts and perspectives that Sheryl has with what's going on. So I want to welcome you, Chris, and appreciate both of you making some time for us today. 

CHRIS: [00:02:10] Thanks, Paul. Great to be here. 

PAUL: [00:02:12] So let's go ahead and get right into it. We are about a hundred days in from the beginning of the 117th, a little more than halfway through the Biden term. Maybe talk to our listeners about, kind of, what the last few months have been, where you think things are headed both on Capitol Hill, and with the administration, both about what's on their to do list, and noting that we're still in a pandemic. And there are obviously restrictions on what Congress can do, what the administration can do, and then, of course, what role advocates play here in D.C. So maybe just start it off. 

SHERYL: [00:02:47] Sure. So, you know, I think that, you know, getting close to the first 100 days, priority one, two, three and four for the Biden administration has been the recovery package. The president was clear about that before being sworn into office and once being sworn into office, kind of immediately set that priority forward. And really, I think what's interesting in terms of the politics, if you think about this first couple of months, is that the passage of the Recovery Act really represents largely where Democrats were back last June, beginning of the summer after the passage of some of the initial recovery packages in terms of Democratic priorities. And if you remember back then, the passage of a next iteration of a recovery package was fairly stalled along party lines, with some disagreement with Republicans around state and local funding on the structure of how and scope of education resources, as well as priorities. Republicans had Leader McConnell specifically on areas around liability. And so really what you see in this recovery package is a lot of what Democrats have been prioritizing. Last June, when the House passed their bill, which was another tranche of stimulus, extended unemployment insurance, additional money for testing vaccine development-- well, actually, some of that's been increased because obviously since that initial package, we now have the vaccine, thank goodness. But some of those key areas are really what you now see. The recovery package became absent some of the things that had been some Republican priorities, like liability. And, obviously Democrats using the reconciliation process to get that done along a simple majority vote in the Senate. So I think that that was the clear priority from the Biden administration as well as leadership in the House and Senate. On the Democratic side, it's very rare that you see things move as swiftly as we did. Literally within about two months, we had this 1.9 trillion dollar package with some of those priorities that I mentioned, and obviously additional money for vaccine manufacturing as well as distribution, which kind of became the key issue in January and February. Once we had the development of the vaccine, the priority became how quickly can we start the manufacturing to meet need and demand, and how do we have a distribution system in place to get that vaccine into arms? And I think that all of those were priorities. And, the recovery package, which was Biden's priority, which is now passed. 


PAUL: [00:05:28] So gathering what you're talking here, Sheryl, is that this is a signature moment for the president and obviously the Congress-- namely the Democrats in that Congress- who pushed this through. Chris, do you see it the same way that the president got a big victory right out the gate? It seems that the Democrats are, quote unquote, "doing their job on the Hill", regardless of what you think of this package, it got done. 


CHRIS: [00:05:52] Oh, yeah, definitely. I mean, I don't think there's any way you can look at it and call it anything other than a big victory for President Biden. I think it was a victory of organization and proactivity from Democrats on the Hill. Right? I mean, I think if you if you know-- and Sheryl and others-- I mean, if you know how these things are put together and constructed, you don't just put a package like that together in a few weeks. I think they kind of moved it from, you know, the process looked as though it moved very quickly and went from beginning to end in a matter of a matter of weeks or a couple of months. But I mean, the elements of that bill in that package had been kind of constructed and developed over months. Right. So I think big victory for certainly for President Biden. I think also for congressional Democrats. I think, you know, you see a little bit of a return to focus and discipline in Washington. I mean, after four years of kind of the polar opposite to that, you see a very what seems to be a very disciplined administration, a very disciplined White House, a very kind of workman-like approach, I think, on the Hill to get the votes necessary to kind of keep the Democratic Party coalesced around this package. You know, you saw what I think Bernie Sanders, Senator Sanders called the most progressive piece of legislation in his lifetime. I forget the exact quote, but something along those lines. 


PAUL: [00:07:13] Chris, talk to us about the Republicans here because there was one Republican vote. Critics of the president will say, "you stood on the steps of the Capitol and said bipartisanship, working together during your inaugural address. And with the exception of a meeting by some of those more centrist Republican senators a week or so later after the inauguration, it just appears Democrats and the president cut Republicans out and said, we're just going to do it this way". Talk to me about the politics of what happened in the dome, if I'm correct. And do the Republicans actually see the passage of this as victory because they can use it in campaigns next year? 


CHRIS: [00:07:46] I think they see it that way now. It'll be a question-- in my mind. It's just a question of are they going to effectively be able to approach it that way and convince voters of that? I mean, I see right now a Republican Party kind of in disarray, right? To the extent that the Democrats are, in my mind, you know, kind of purpose driven right now, I think the Republican Party is largely personality driven right now. And they, they spent a lot of time over the last couple of months instead of, in my mind, really trying to substantively address some of the elements of that piece of legislation and, you know, offer some meaningful criticism of how, you know, how big it is, the targeting, where it's going, the types of programs that are in there. You know, they're talking about things like cancel culture, which to me, that's not the message I think that most voters want to hear. I think they want to hear, you know, if you've got critical analysis to this piece of legislation, you think it's the wrong approach, offer an alternative, right? So I do think there's a risk to the Biden Administration of undercutting that inaugural address, the message of unity, the message of bipartisanship. But I also think if the impression of most voters is that the Administration is very pragmatic and is getting things done, I think that's a powerful message, too. And I think they did not want to take three, four, five months and try to negotiate something on the margins with the Republican Party. I think they wanted to get something done quickly and definitively and they succeeded in that. 


PAUL: [00:09:20] Yeah. So let's turn to what we think the next challenge, both on Capitol Hill and with the Biden Administration. And that appears to be an infrastructure package president appears to commit now that the next big step is an infrastructure package, one point nine dollars billion is gone. How is this going to come together? How is it going to get paid for? Is this the right move by the president and potentially Democrats in Congress? And can Republicans get on board on this one? 


SHERYL: [00:09:47] So I'll jump in, Paul. You and I have talked about this. I mean, I think that the uniformity and swiftness that we saw around the COVID package that Chris and I both alluded really had been months and months in discussions prior to, the infrastructure package is going to be bigger and more complicated, in my opinion, to pass. There's a much broader a range of issues that fall under kind of that macro header. And really, when we say infrastructure, we from the Democratic side, we probably should be calling it infrastructure climate because Democrats sort of see both the issue and the opportunity as linked so that there are a number of things that they want to do on the infrastructure side that they also see tied to addressing some of the urgent climate needs. You know, the most obvious and easiest one to point to to show the linkage between the two would be the president's focus and priority-- he talked about it during the campaign-- certainly be part of the proposal he puts forward on the electrification, creating building out the electrification grid across the country for electric vehicles and sort of moving to the lower carbon form of energy. And so that's an example of both hitting the dual purpose of both an infrastructure need and a climate need. And I think you'll see Democrats looking where possible to pair those twin priorities, if you will. But the challenge is, of course, there's much less agreement there, much more broad agreement on what needed to be done to conquer the pandemic. I think there's much less agreement-- just among Democrats I'm talking about, never mind the lack of agreement among Republicans-- on some of the climate solutions and sort of the prioritization. So that's number one. It's going to be bigger and harder. 


SHERYL: [00:11:36] The second thing--two other points I would make that I think are important to shaping the discussion around this is clearly the president indicated he'd like to do this on a bipartisan basis. Bipartisan basis is going to be 60 votes in the Senate. It's not going to mean everybody coming under the tent, but it's getting enough Republicans to agree. And toward that point, there's kind of a new informal working group in the Senate kind of went public over the last week or so, 20 Senators, 10 Democrats, 10 Republicans, 10 obviously being the key number on the Republican side, because that's the number you're going to need, right, to get to past a filibuster. And they've agreed to meet every couple of weeks and they've sort of said they don't have a formal agenda. The auspices is supposedly just really to begin to figure out how they get the Senate working again, how you get bipartisanship working again. But obviously, infrastructure will be a key part of those conversations. 


SHERYL: [00:12:35] And the second point to bring up is that the Congress, the 117th Congress, is looking to bring back what used to be called "earmarks" and is now being called "congressionally directed spending". Democrats in the House first brought it up in there with their caucus in terms of the shape and what that would look like. Senator Leahy, chair of Appropriations, the Senate has indicated his intention to do the same in the Senate. And just this week, the Republican caucus voted in support of that as well. So, assuming that that all goes forward, you've got the layer of infrastructure, earmarks, congressionally directed spending, if you will, which, as you know, Paul, traditionally in the past has been a major way that legislation has gone through the Congress because there was a little something for everybody sort of sprinkled through. So as we talk about infrastructure bipartisanship in this next wave, I think the initiatives in the Senate to find those 10 Republicans, as well as the introduction of congressionally directed spending, if you will, now are two things that are going to shape the ability for that to get done on that bipartisan basis. 


PAUL: [00:13:43] It looks like this is going to be an interesting showdown because on one hand, you're going to have progressives both in the Senate and in the House who are going to want a very ambitious climate agenda, et cetera, environmental agenda, a new way of thinking about transportation, new way of thinking about broadband, water, all of those big infrastructure things that the nation needs. But yet, most Republicans will never go for that. They want some goodies, as Sheryl just alluded to, in terms of old earmarks, who blinks here? 


CHRIS: [00:14:13] I just think it's going to be really hard to get a bipartisan infrastructure package the size that is in the minds of the White House and most Democrats on Capitol Hill. I think, you know, we just spent one point nine trillion dollars. It's coming on the heels of, I think, several trillion last year. So I think by summer, I think if you're the Republican Party looking at GDP growth in the United States, some are predicting six, seven percent. You look at jobless rate down to maybe four something percent, which a lot of economists are saying is quite possible. People are going to be going back to work. The economy is going to be, at least in relative terms, coming out of where we've been. Sheryl alluded to the success and, you know, give the Biden administration a lot of credit for this out of the vaccination effort to date. If a lot of people are vaccinated, the economy is doing really, really well and a lot of people are going back to work, I think it's going to be really hard to convince even 10 Republicans in the Senate that we need to spend another three or four trillion dollars, even if there are some things in there that they like. Because I do think the majority of the things that will be in that type of a package will be things that they are going to at least question. Right? I think there's a sense, and we saw it kind of in this $1.9 Trillion package, you saw people like Governor de Santos in Florida holding press conferences, kind of doing the math, looking at where is the money going? And Republicans are good at that too. Republicans from big square states are very good at saying, "well, a lot of this money is going to go to New York or to California, to states where, you know, big urban centers. And so is that something we're going to be want to be supportive of?" So I think it's going to be really difficult. I think another layer of complexity gets added in. When you say if the proposition of a bill such as that, a package such as that, is we want to try to pay for at least some of it and we're going to pay for it by a large increase in the corporate tax rates and personal tax rate increases for, you know, wealthy Americans. So I think you lose every Republican when you start talking about that. There might be some moderate Democrats for whom that gets difficult as well, particularly when you look at the corporate tax rate and if we're starting to grow out of this thing. So I just think, you know, the package itself is going to be hard. The price tag is going to be hard. The situation that the country is in, and the idea that we need to have another massive infusion, trillion dollar infusion, at that time is going to be kind of a difficult environment in which to win that debate. And I think if you know, the part B of it is, "oh, yeah. And we're going to probably, via a reconciliation package, push through major tax increases to pay for this." That's a bundle that I think a lot of Republicans are going to have a very hard time getting their heads around. 


PAUL: [00:17:07] So probably an A for the Biden administration and Democrats as it comes to getting the rescue package through. Jury's kind of out on an infrastructure package or whether it can come together and successfully pass. What else do we see on the congressional agenda here in the next weeks and months that's got to get done and that is a priority, particularly for the majority parties in both houses?


SHERYL: [00:17:28] I just want to come back to the infrastructure for a second before pivoting to that, because I definitely agree with Chris that if Democrats think they're going to put forward a three, four trillion dollar package that has left of center, far-left-of-center, climate pieces to it, I agree with him on the analysis that that's not going to go. I think what remains to be seen is just the traditional negotiating process. You know, as Chris mentioned before, everyone's kind of been in their corners for quite a while. And, while that hasn't gone away in terms of some of the politics, you do have some adults in the room. You have in President Biden, a 40-year veteran of both the Senate, the Congress and, frankly, the executive branch from his eight years, right, in shepherding through the stimulus package after 2008. I mean, he brings to the table that sort of very that knowledge base, if you will, of what people need to get something done. And I say that from my own personal experience, watching him in the Senate when I was a chief of staff in the Senate working for my old boss, who was very close to Senate, then Senator Biden as well. And so there's a there's the news headlines and the Twitter-verse, if you will, that kind of, you know, is up here on high, that sort of reporting something and raging on something every day. And then there's the kind of quiet conversations among adults that haven't happened for a while. And I think you have the temperament in President Biden with that. And then, you know, you have the temperament of several people in the Senate, you know, talking about that bipartisan group again, on the Republican side, Romney, Murkowski, Collins, you know, Portman, some members who are retiring. And that's not to diminish in any way the significance of the challenges on the other side. And the only way I see it happening is if they truly do, Democrats are going to have to carve back the size and scope and some of the perhaps more controversial pieces of what they expect. And President Biden and the Administration will have to do a significant amount of work trying to bring people on board with what can be done. And you're going to have to find some common areas where Republicans are. You know, there's a reason infrastructure has become a bit of a running joke in terms of it's, you know, under the Trump administration, they joked it's infrastructure week again. But, you know, this issue goes back, certainly, through all of eight years of the Obama Administration that also wasn't able to get this ball over the finish line. And I think what's underlying that-- and Paul, you and I know it from our work on behalf of RCRC-- is that people are living every day crossing a bridge, you know, that gets a D or an F, right f from the engineers. And they're living in their communities and they're going through airports that they see are outdated and from fifty, seventy five years ago on the traditional infrastructure side. And, certainly people in rural communities on broadband. You know, they're living this not only in terms of it's not about entertainment, it's about, you know, first responders and business and commerce and being able to do remote learning and so many issues. And so I think this is not a new song to people. They've been they've been talking-- they live it in their lives every day. And they've been hearing the government talk about it, really in this case, for decades. I agree on the economy and the stimulus side. I think that this package, as it moves forward, may not necessarily be able to be pitched on the stimulus and the economic need, but it may be able to be pitched on the generational change that  is needed to create an infrastructure that works for the 21st century economy. And I think Biden has a chance to do that. So I just wanted to kind of circle back on that because I'm still a little bit more optimistic that, while it's big and hard and all of the reasons we talked about, that there are some adults in the room that I think may have the capacity to navigate some of the challenges from the left and the right. And that's what we'll see. On your on your broader question on sort of and by the way, that that's going to suck up a lot of the oxygen for the next eight months. 


SHERYL: [00:21:32] And so getting that that pivots to your question, which is given that that's going to suck up a lot of oxygen, you know what else can get done? What else should get done? One thing that has to get done is appropriations. I know we've been living on, you know, continuing resolutions year after year. But one thing that's worth noting is that this is the first year that the budget caps are lifted. And so, you still have to get 60 votes in the Senate for a budget, but appropriations have to get done. And again, we talked about earmarks and congressionally directed spending and the role that that might play in helping get some things through. And then I think there are a lot of important issues that will get raised and discussed, but it's hard to see the vehicles by which they get passed and by those, I would say things on criminal justice reform, immigration, even a lot of that may be more by executive order and things like that than necessarily Congress. Those are two big ones that come to mind. 


PAUL: [00:22:27] And then you have an elections bill also passing the House. Thoughts on that? 


CHRIS: [00:22:30] Yeah, I know. I mean, look, I think Sheryl covered a lot of issues. I mean, I think go into her and I agree with her on the point about certainly about, you know, is there a middle ground to be had on something even as big and complicated as is infrastructure? And I think definitely so. Right. I mean, I think we've got a surface transportation bill that she alluded to needs to get done. I think if you're landing spot, if you're President Biden is really something, you know, in the several hundred billion, trillion infrastructure and you're truly talking about, you know, kind of classic infrastructure projects, roads and bridges and broadband-- we've seen how important that is through this pandemic-- I think you do get Republicans in the room who are going to want to work with you on that. I think when you, you know, start talking about things-- and I and I understand they're now kind of putting their most aggressive objective out there with the goal, I assume, of kind of working backwards from that. You know, I think when Republicans hear things like, you know, getting rid of gasoline cars in 10 years and things like that, that's when you know, obviously a lot of people get up and kind of walk out of the room. And I think even on, you know, on the tax front, there's some small increases in, you know, a smaller tax bill here and there. You might have some people who are willing to listen. So I do think to her point that there's some conversations and she's right. I mean, you know, President Biden was an extremely effective senator for a very long time. I think he's got a lot of a lot of trust on Capitol Hill, even from senators who tend to probably disagree with him a lot on policy. It's a completely different way of doing business than they've seen in the last four years. And I don't think you can undercount even, you know, a lot of Republican senators who may not have said a lot publicly about President Trump. It just was a toxic relationship, you know, almost across the board. And you've seen that, right? So and I think, you know, kind of going forward on the things we're going to see worked on in the next few months. Senator Schumer has talked about addressing some things vis a vis the China relationship. You seen the Biden administration kind of come out with a pretty muscular approach towards China. So I think there's some, you know, some international policy issues to discuss. I think immigration is something that there could be some common ground on. You know, there's kind of been you know, Sheryl alluded to the working groups. I mean, there's been these kind of immigration gangs, as they call them in previous years. We've had folks like Marco Rubio and others who have been, you know, I think willing to sit down and try to, you know, work on some reasonable ways to approach the immigration issue in the United States and worker-visas and things like that. So, yeah, I think, you know, there are some opportunities to collaborate on that, too. 


PAUL: [00:25:06] Let's move away from, kind of, the policy agendas that are out there. Let's talk about the politics under the dome, particularly with the leaders. We'll start in the House and we'll start with the Democrats. Obviously, this is going to be Speaker Pelosi's last Congress where she is speaker. What's that going to mean for House Democrats? And how they behave this year and as they head into the elections for next year, yeah, that's a good question. 


SHERYL: [00:25:30] I mean, I think amidst all these other huge pressing issues, there's not been as much talk about what happened in the 2010 elections in terms of the expectations in the House. I mean, they lost more than a dozen seats where they thought they were going to pick up 10 to 15. So that was one of the real surprises, I think, on the Democratic side and one that has caused a lot of soul searching as they head into 2022 and is certainly going to be an overarching frame, you know, as they look at their agenda. I mean, there's only an eight-seat advantage right now. And you certainly saw that, I think in terms of Minority Leader McCarthy strategy, as you know, his focus is on becoming majority leader, speaker again and winning back the House. So, I mean, I think that the House dynamics in terms of the 2022 elections broadly for the Congress are where a lot of folks political attention is going to pivot. We can talk about the Senate as well, obviously, in terms of the 50/50 split and looking at the lay of the land for the 2022 open the Senate races as well. On the leadership side, you're right. I think that all eyes and expectations are that Congressman Hakeem Jeffries from New York is likely seen as the successor to Speaker Pelosi. Obviously, none of that is done until it's done and a lot can change over a period of a couple of years. The House leadership, present House leadership, has been in place a long, long time, right? So not only Speaker Pelosi, but Congressman Clyburn, Congressman Hoyer, you know, I think (I may be wrong in this) I think all of them are in their 80s or right around there. So it's been a long time since there's kind of been a generational change in the House in terms of the leadership. And I think both Congressman Jeffries as well as look to people like Katherine Clark from Massachusetts, who's now in the assistant-speaker role sort of for that next generation of folks who will likely step up, you know, after 2022. 


PAUL: [00:27:29] So real quickly there, Sheryl, and then I'll turn it over to Chris on the House Republican side. Do you see a civil war in the process of selecting a new speaker where Blue Dog conservatives kind of have their candidate or their caucus and leverage, but yet the progressives in the House having theirs? And then, of course, you have a lot of centrist Democrats who just want to get things done and do their thing. This impacts the ability, particularly next year, to stay cohesive and still advance the policy agendas that House Democrats want?


SHERYL: [00:28:00] Yeah, there's no question that Speaker Pelosi has-- probably much to the chagrin of others, but in my opinion-- she's done a pretty phenomenal job of keeping her caucus together among all the challenges that you laid out. And so if the successor to her has that same authority and sort of standing to do it in the way that she's been able to do will definitely be a challenge that we'll have to see. I think it's still TBD as to, you know, challenges and other fissures. One of the things about Congressman Jeffries, he's done a really good job of he appeals to a lot of different factions within the party. And I think that's why you're seeing a fair amount of coalescing around support for him for a number of reasons. You know, he kind of is one of those people who has that ability to move in and out of many of these different parts of the party, quite frankly, does it with a fair amount of humility. And by being a good listener and being sort of measured in, he tends to--he's one of those members, I think that you see, he's just a really good listener, which is an important skill in a leader, so that when he does say something, he's really taken into account and has an understanding of where the caucus is. So I would say right now we don't see those fissures yet. Post 2022 when we see the results of the elections, are Democrats still in the majority? Are they not? All of those-- how many seats are won and lost? All of those things will come into play as people start to think about that. 


PAUL: [00:29:24] And so on the Republican side, it appears that from afar that Mr. McCarthy, the leader of the Republicans, is got a firm grasp on it. I have a feeling that's more visual than reality. And what probably is his most unifying theme is, "we're only five seats away, guys. Let's keep this thing together and let's get the majority back." 


CHRIS: [00:29:43] Yeah, I think if the view of Minority Leader McCarthy is that he's got a firm grip on things in his caucus, he'd be pretty happy with that, because I do think it's you know, it's a much it's probably a much more rocky situation behind the scenes. I mean, it's been, you know, and it's been a pretty tumultuous and I think fluid few months for him and the House republicans. As Sheryl mentioned, you know, they kind of came out of the elections with a little bit of unexpected momentum. You know, they kind of, there was the expectation on the on the coattails of a Biden victory that there would be more Democrat pickups, and the House Republicans did surprisingly well. It's a diverse group of new members. I mean, there's always so much turnover in the House. I mean, it's hard to even kind of keep track of some of the, you know, the members and the real kind of feel for that for either parties' caucus, because there's so much turnover. You kind of see the established members at the top. But you forget there's, you know, dozens of members who are probably only been there for two or four years, right? It's actually a pretty you know, some of the freshmen House Republicans, it's actually pretty diverse and some impressive folks in that in that group. But I do think, you know, he's dealing with the challenge of of leading from the minority, which is difficult. I think it's much harder to get your members to coalesce and be united and, even if you've got disagreements within your group, stay disciplined and stay focused when the best you can do is lose every time, right? I mean, so that's a harder pitch to make to all your members is, "if we, you know, if we all stay together and we do this, you know, do the right way and we're focused, we're still going to pretty much lose every time." You can't really affect much change from that position. But, you know, you've kind of got your eyes on now 2022 so House members are always running for reelection. But I do think it's, as I mentioned earlier, I mean, my sense is it's still kind of a very personality-driven party. And he's just got a lot of in that situation where, you know, as a group, you're probably not going to have many legislative victories. A lot of members think, OK, well, what's my personal objective then? You know, do I want to be a leader on a particular issue? Do I want to be you know, you've seen the intraparty dispute, you know, Liz Cheney and the some of the members who had the reaction to her and her statements. And she's, you know, I think, to her credit, remain very focused on the message that she has and the belief that she has, that some pretty tragic mistakes were made between the November election and what led up to January 6th and even, you know, coming out of that. So to me, the challenge for Leader McCarthy is with that mix of challenges and what has seemed to be focused mostly on more political messaging type objectives like, you know, the speech issues in the cancel-culture and these types of things. Where do you find your actual substantive agenda? What are you really going to be focused on? What are you going to try to get voters to think about you for over the next 18 months? Is it protecting the deficit, fighting the deficit? Is it, you know, some other major agenda item that people really care about? You know, he's got a he's got the challenge of, I think, looking at the places where that made the difference for in the presidential elections, you know, the suburbs of Atlanta, the suburbs of Dallas and Phenix and, you know, places like San Diego and other places in California where, you know, the Republicans are losing their prominence in those areas, right? And he's got to go make sure he protects House members in those districts and figures out where you can go win some back that you lost last time around. And what appeals to those voters? I mean, it's probably not, you know, some of these more, you know, aggressive conservative Trumpian-type ideas. It's good education policy, getting schools back open, you know, getting the economy back up and running, you know, workers getting back, getting back to work, keeping the vaccines moving. I mean, those are the types of things in my mind those voters care about. 


PAUL: [00:33:52] Let's turn to the Senate. So we'll start with the Senator McConnell, who's right now the minority leader. I think the big question is, is can he keep his caucus together knowing that every day it's 50/50 and the first thing you do in the morning is make sure there wasn't a tragedy overnight in the Senate with a with a member, which would change the dynamics in a 50/50 Senate. Can he keep it together? And what chances does he have or what chances does he think he has to taking back the Senate in 2022? 


CHRIS: [00:34:19] My sense is, you know, he's still-- and there's been some public reports of this. I mean,--he's still putting the pieces back together after Georgia. Yeah. I mean, I think there's a definite recognition that that was, you know, that was that was blown, not lost. All right. So, yeah, I mean, he's got a tough map again in 2022. He's a very disciplined and focused leader, as everyone knows. I think he's you know, he's been outspoken recently. And I think, you know, there is a concern that there could be changes to the filibuster process. So I think he's focused on some of the process elements of the operation of the Senate and try you know, and it's a little unclear where Leader Schumer may in the president may go with some of those things. So, yeah. And a 50/50 split. You obviously think you've got a, you know, you've got an extremely good chance of winning back the Senate. I think he's going to be in that situation, try to focus and try to portray the actions that the Democrats are taking as overreaches as extreme. I mean, so that to him, I think is what he what makes the difference in the few races that he needs to win back is trying to portray. And that's typically where the party in power trips up when they go into the midterms. As you kind of overplay your hand, it's the classic overplay your hand strategy. He's got several retirements that have been you know, you've got Senator Toomey, Senator Portman, number of others. So you've got to now go defend and, you know, states that he may not have expected to need to defend a few months ago. So you're going to have some recruitment challenges as well. So a lot of moving, a lot of moving parts for him. But, you know, very, very experienced hand for sure. 


PAUL: [00:36:01] So unlike maybe the house where there's probably some people waiting in the wings, there doesn't seem to be another Senate Republican that could, quote unquote, "take Senator McConnell out" if things go crazy. At least that's the view outside of the Beltway. 


CHRIS: [00:36:13] I think Senator McConnell is one of the last people you'd want to try to try to take out, you know, the classic line about, you know, trying to take out the king, right? But, you know, you look to people like Senator Cornyn from Texas, you look to people like Senator Thune, who, you know, kind of been steady hands and leaders, deputies of his for a number of years now is the likely kind of next generation of leadership in the Senate. But I think that I think the decision and the timing on that is in Senator McConnell's hands. 


PAUL: [00:36:43] So, Sheryl, let's talk to the last component of Congress, and that is the Senate majority leader. That is obviously Chuck Schumer from New York. Again, the visual is that he's got a more diverse caucus than perhaps Senator McConnell. Probably the most diverse of the four caucuses. And he's got a very, very progressive left. And yet he has a very visible, I would say, not just centrist, the last conservative Democrats, which, you know, obviously Joe Manchin from West Virginia and perhaps Krysten Sinema from Arizona. How does he keep it together and what's his approach? 


SHERYL: [00:37:13] Yeah, I actually think the caucuses are quite similar. You know, you've got on the Republican side all the way from the, you know, Ted Cruz's and Mike Lee and Josh Alley side to the Portmans and Romney's, right? So that's sort of the full conservative to more moderate. And then same thing on the Democratic side, you've got the Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders all the way to the left. And as you pointed out, the Jon Tester from Montana and Sinema and others that are more moderate. So I think the dynamics are pretty similar. I think Senator Schumer, like McConnell, is just a very skilled old hand who's been around, understands floor procedure better than anyone. And so they both know what they're doing. And I think Chris' point about the party in the majority, overplaying is always the risk, and I totally agree with him on that. And again, I think the infrastructure bill is a great example of that, that if they tried to push through, let's say they tried to push through, you know, a three trillion dollar infrastructure bill with fairly radical climate, you know, new things and they raise taxes, right? And they did that all in one fell swoop. I would not argue that that's probably a great message going into 2022 with, as we noted, five seats in the House and a 50/50 Senate. So and that's the back story, right? When you're negotiating with an Elizabeth Warren or others, is the back story in these conversations is how much each side, each wing kind of has to give to get something that is in the end somewhere in a in a sweet spot in the middle that is both good on policy, but also good on politics. And I think Majority Leader Schumer, like McConnell, has a strong group of deputies as well. He's done a really good job of broadening out leadership roles that bring in both voices for the progressives and the moderates to kind of be in the leadership circle and kind of having those intraparty disagreements, if you will, within the family, within the leadership caucus to sort of sort that out as opposed to kind of having fights in public. I think he's done an incredibly great job with that so far this year. That will be tested as we get into the thornier issue around infrastructure. But like Leader McConnell, I don't see any challenges to him. And I think he likewise is a very skilled and deft Senate leader who understands his caucus and understands how to bring it together and where they need to be. 


PAUL: [00:39:43] Sort of our remaining minutes. Let's get outside the Capitol Hill. Let's go down the street. We obviously have a new president, very different from the old president in the sense of President Biden and President Trump. From both of your perspectives, where do you see the differences between Biden and Trump, which I think is going to be pretty glaring, but I don't think a lot of people really appreciate that. There's a lot of similarities, particularly in some aspects of policy. I think you alluded to, Chris, the policy about China, where there doesn't seem to be a lot of daylight from the two administrations. Maybe guys can both comment. And what you see what's changed in the last 200 days per say and what's not? 


CHRIS: [00:40:20] Well, you know, maybe I'll just I mean, China is is a good one, I guess. And maybe one of the few similarities you can find. There are some meetings, I think, just this week with a couple of President Biden's key national security leaders, Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense, meeting with their counterparts, their Chinese counterparts and it, I guess per press reports, got off to a pretty rocky start. So, I mean, they took a very aggressive I think both sides took a very aggressive tone into that meeting. So I think, you know, President Trump took that relationship and put it on a a very combative. Stance both from a military posture and, you know, a security posture where the cybersecurity and some of these other issues with Taiwan and an economic posture and my sense is that President Biden will remain in more or less that posture on both those fronts and take a very hard line when it comes to things like the security threats that China presents, whether it's cyber security or regional security. You've seen him meet with and start to, I think a difference in approach, however, with President Biden is very clearly he sees value in allies. It's good to have friends. And I think, as Sheryl said, that probably goes back to the fact that he's operated that way in the Senate and when he was Vice President for a very long time. It's good to have friends and allies. The United States is trying to shore up relationships with companies like countries like Japan and India and Australia, the Europeans, and align our kind of shared interests in addressing some of the threats that China faces and economic threats for sure, right? You have not seen President Biden move away from President Trump's tariff infrastructure with China as well. So I think at some point he probably starts to moderate bits of that. He's going to look at ways in which he's going to look at industries where that's actually kind of backfired in the United States, some of the steel and aluminum and things. I think he will recalibrate that. But I don't think anyone expects him to just kind of, you know, holistically say we're going to wipe that tariff infrastructure away. So that's one way. I mean, you know, in terms of differences and, you know, Sheryl could speak to this better than I. It's night and day, obviously, just in terms of the return to what I think is going to be is a much more disciplined White House and more disciplined staff. I think you got to a point with the Trump administration, particularly towards the end when he was unable to attract really any I don't say anyone, because some of the folks stayed for a long time. But it was a real challenge. And at a time when he needed world class capability and talent to come in and work for him to address COVID and these other things, he was pushing world class talent away. I mean, so that was a just a very, I think, unfortunate thing clearly for the country. And clearly, I think with President Biden, you see the opposite of that. He's got a great staff, a great team. A lot of his cabinet officials have been kind of moving pretty effortlessly through their confirmations. There's been some hiccups, but that's to be expected. So it's bad, you know, and to the extent Trump was kind of an open book, would wake up every morning and tweet exactly what he was going to do that day, it's for folks like us who are trying to, you know, kind of work with and figure things out. And the administration has been pretty, pretty quiet. I mean, they play their cards in my in my estimation, close to the vest. They're not, you know, very open with things. They like to have message discipline and be focused on what they're doing. And that's a huge change, obviously, too. 


SHERYL: [00:44:10] Yeah. Chris and I are really aligned, I think, in our judgments on that. I mean, you know, look at the strength of our democracy is about addition, not subtraction. And that's true of politics as well. And I think President Biden has spoken to that, both during the campaign and as President, trying to find ways to find our common ground and bring us together. And I think, as he's noted, I mean, when you're asking kind of about his style and temperament, the tone, I mean, he's kind of threaded that needle to say, listen, where we're going to need to stand on principle and agree to disagree. We're going to stand on principle, but we're always first going to try to find out-- we're going to listen and we're going to try to see if there's a way to work together. And so despite the fact that the recovery bill ended up moving on a partisan basis, I think that that's the template from which he starts. And again, it's that's not something new to him that, you know, is starting in 2020. That's really how he's always operated and it's how you get things done. And I guess part of that is, you know, knowing the Senate, you know, you can't do things on a on a simple majority. So most effective senators, just if you sort of take out the last four years or even a little bit longer to that. To be fair, some of the fissures have been there below the surface before President Trump. We just sort of saw that sort of blown up larger than life and kind of exploited in in those four years. But most members who've worked in the body have always understood that, you know, it's been about getting to 60 and that's always meant working on a bipartisan basis, finding a Republican to introduce your bill with, finding common ground. And that's really the tradition that President Biden, since he was a very young man, a young senator, you know, that's what he that's his what the area has grown up in, right? That's his mantra. So I think that that's the style he's bringing to the White House. I think it's desperately needed. And, you know, he's going to have some wins and he's going to have some losses. That approach isn't always going to work. And so but he knows that, too. I mean, you can just there's a there's a having been around the block a time or two calmness, I think, in the way when he speaks about these things, he's seen these negotiations before. So it's not an emotional roller coaster ride. It's kind of a more steady because there's, you know, the ups and downs of this. And I think when Chris mentioned the Biden world, you know, they're not tweeting every morning. They're not sort of showing their hand. That's a reflection of that because they they're talking to people behind the scenes, Democrats and Republicans. One of the underreported stories of the of the efforts with the passage of the Recovery Act was really the skill of the White House staff in their negotiations and talks with senators, making sure they knew exactly what every senator was concerned about, what every senator needed in the crafting. And that's just kind of old school. It's kind of how it was done. And it's generally the model that's successful. So I think that, you know, that's a bit of a breath of fresh air for a lot of folks in Washington in terms of trying to understand, frankly, getting back to some of our focus, how you get policy things through the Congress that meet the objectives of the people we work with, which are problems on the ground that they have. That's good for everybody. So I think that the I think that the styles are fundamentally different. I think that that different style has been well received in large portions of both sides of the aisle, even where there are policy disagreements. 


PAUL: [00:47:36] Well, this has been a great discussion. Appreciate your time. It is a busy time here in Washington. Despite the pandemic and an issues going around. There's a lot of work behind the scenes that's going on a daily basis, on an hourly basis. So, Sheryl and Chris, thanks for your time and your insights on this. We're going to try to continue this conversation throughout the year as we do some check ins on the 117th and obviously the new administration that, by the time we do the next podcast, it won't be so new. But again, Chris, Sheryl, thank you today for your time. And we look forward to hearing you again soon. 


SHERYL: [00:48:08] Thank you for having us Paul. 


PAUL: [00:48:10] You've been listening to Hometown California, a production of the Rural County Representatives of California. Subscribe now so you don't miss an episode. Be sure to rate and review this podcast. I'm your host, Paul Smith, and thanks for listening. 


The Early Priorities: The Recovery Act
The Early Priorities: Infrastructure (and the intersection of Climate)
What's next?
Politics under the dome: The House of Representatives
Politics under the dome: The U.S. Senate
Differences and Similarities of President Biden and former President Trump