Ten Republican senators will meet with President Joe Biden Monday to discuss a coronavirus relief package counterproposal in response to Biden’s $1.9 trillion plan.
The meeting comes after the group issued a joint open letter to the president on Sunday, echoing Biden’s calls for unity and urging Biden to work in “a bipartisan manner to combat the COVID-19 virus and provide continued support to families struggling during the pandemic.”
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Biden’s staff quickly confirmed he would meet with the group, underscoring his interest in negotiating a bipartisan deal. The president and Congressional Democrats, however, have made clear they prefer a fast-acting, larger package.
“With the virus posing a grave threat to the country, and economic conditions grim for so many, the need for action is urgent,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said of a potential deal, noting “the scale of what must be done is large.”
The Republican group, which represents one-fifth of the GOP Senate caucus, spans the ideological spectrum from moderates to ardent conservatives. Some, like senators Susan Collins and Mitt Romney, have been open to criticizing former President Donald Trump while others in the group, including senators Thom Tillis and Todd Young, have been closely associated with the former president.
The Republican group’s $618 billion proposal likely will be a non-starter for many Democrats who see such a deal as far too small to respond to the ongoing public health and economic crises.
Given the stakes of the negotiations, much depends on the personalities in the room and whether either side can be convinced to move closer to the other’s proposa. Otherwise, Democrats have signaled they could march onward without them.
Here are the Republican senators convening with Biden Monday evening and how their past with bipartisanship may influence negotiations.
Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana
Cassidy comfortably won reelection in November. He was an advocate of bipartisan COVID relief in the first months of the pandemic and denounced both the Capitol riot and Trump’s claims of election fraud. Cassidy has, however, been an otherwise strong supporter of the former president.
“I voted for President Trump, but Joe Biden won,” Cassidy said on Twitter after Biden’s win was called. “The transition should begin for the sake of the country.”
Sen. Susan Collins of Maine
Still fresh from victory in her 2020 reelection campaign, Collins comes into the 117th Congress as one of the most influential moderate senators. Known for a history of pragmatism, Collins at times struggled to navigate the Republican Party under former President Donald Trump, where her impulse to reach across the aisle was largely out of vogue.
In the Biden era, Collins is likely to play a pivotal role on legislation as one of the Republicans most likely to work across the aisle in the evenly divided Senate. During previous talks with a bipartisan group of senators, Collins said another coronavirus relief package should be “focused on the public health and economic crisis at hand.”
Collins has expressed doubt about several provisions Democrats have prioritized in the bill, including a provision that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, which she argued “has nothing to do with COVID.”
“This package should focus solely on the persistent pandemic. It should not be used as the vehicle for a wish list that certain Democrats have,” Collins said last week.
Shelley Moore-Capito of West Virginia
In the 2020 election, Moore Capito became the first Republican Senator to be reelected to a second-term from West Virginia in over a century.
In her first term to the Senate, Moore Capito was often a conservative but pragmatic voice in an increasingly polarized Senate, expressing possible support for infrastructure legislation and limited gun control measures.
“We should all pledge to one another, and to the country, that we will do better. We will work better with each other and prevent the politics from infecting every decision,” Moore Capito said during December negotiations over the previous round of coronavirus relief.
West Virginia’s conservative shift has evidently not dampened the senator’s desire to strike some bipartisan deals. The senator has, however, called Biden’s orders on climate change a “disaster” for West Virginia, which was the heart of the coal industry.
Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas
Moran is a self-described constitutional conservative who has at times expressed openness to bipartisanship during his time as Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
Moran also expressed anxiety in the aftermath of the Capitol insurrection that Republican objections to the vote would damage American democracy.
“Voting to object to the electoral process without a constitutional basis to do so may be expedient and lead to short-term political benefits for some, but would risk undermining our democracy,” Moran said in his vote to certify Biden’s victory.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska
Murkowski is another moderate Republican in the upper chamber who is likely to be part of any bipartisan legislation passed in the current Congress.
Murkowski is not afraid of bucking her party in crucial moments: She was the first Republican senator to call for former President Donald Trump’s ouster after a pro-Trump mob stormed and ransacked the US Capitol on Jan. 6.
Murkowski in 2017 also voted against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, former President Barack Obama’s signature policy achievement, and voted “present” during the confirmation of now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.
Murkowski was last re-elected to Congress after running as an independent and building a coalition outside an Alaska Republican’s traditional conservative base.
She remains popular in the state heading into her reelection in 2022; her odds of victory also arguably increased after Alaska adopted rank-choice voting and other election reforms that proponents argue will decrease partisanship.
Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio
Portman recently announced he would not be seeking reelection in 2022, so he has less politically to lose by working across the aisle. He has been an open critic of some in the freshman GOP class, like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., for comments calling for the execution of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other high profile Democrats.
After the 2020 election, Portman cast aspersions on Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud, noting that there was no substantive evidence of widespread voter fraud that might overturn the election result.
“Pulling this out of politics a little bit and having a bipartisan group that is more independent look at the issue is a good idea,” Portman said at the time, denouncing the “partisan poison” being discussed at a Congressional hearing.
Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah
Despite being at frequent odds with Trump, Romney remains one of the most consistent individuals in conservative politics in the 21st century.
A former Massachusetts governor who failed in his 2012 presidential bid against former President Barack Obama, Romney was the lone Republican senator to vote to impeach Trump during his first Senate impeachment trial in 2020.
Romney has been willing to call out election conspiracy theories from others in his party, arguing that they are perpetuating a “big lie” that Trump actually won the election.
Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota
Rounds won reelection in November, campaigning on bringing “common sense” to Washington, trying to balance running as an incumbent with an outsider pitch.
Rounds said Trump had “tarnished his place in history” after the Capitol riot while also arguing that an impeachment of the former president after he’s left office is unconstitutional.
Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina
Tillis recently reelection in the Tar Heel State after an expensive and bitter contest.
He has the most conservative voting record of the senators convening with Biden, and the ninth most conservative overall, according to the watchdog firm GovTrack.
A vocal supporter of Trump, Tillis has at times expressed interest in bipartisanship, though such calls waned over the Trump era as he faced an increasingly challenging reelection bid.
Sen. Todd Young of Indiana
Young was the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee for the 2020 election cycle, defending several vulnerable Republican senators from Democratic challengers, but still ultimately losing control of the chamber.
Young came under criticism from his constituents for voting to certify Biden’s victory, a decision which he defended on constitutional grounds. He also defended the last round of stimulus signed by Trump from accusations it was too large.
“The number was just the right number in order to get a bill passed. Hoosiers sent me to Washington to get an outcome, and the outcome often involves principled compromise. Hoosiers couldn’t wait any longer,” said Young of his support for the last stimulus package.