Sen. Al Franken did not have long to revel in his re-election victory last night before reality sunk in, or rather was forced upon him.
Franken met with reporters at the DFL election night party shortly before midnight and the first question to him set the tone: was he ready to start his second term in the minority? He said he was, and he has hope that the Senate will be able to get some things done, either in the lame duck session or under GOP control starting in January.
“There are lots of things that we have to work on that really shouldn’t be partisan,” he said. “We have to do a transportation bill, that’s usually not been terribly partisan. We’re going to be debating an authorization to use military force in Syria, the airstrikes there. I hope that we’ll be taking up immigration and I hope that we’ll be able to convince our colleagues on the other side that it’s in their interest to do that going into 2016. We need to address that and I’m hopeful we can get progress on that. We’re probably going to be taking up an NSA surveillance bill … so we’ll take these one by one.”
Franken and Sen. Amy Klobuchar both said they had talked on the phone with GOP senators throughout the day about the term ahead, and that they were conciliatory about its prospects for progress.
“I already talked to five of my Republican Senate colleagues today, who are expected to win their elections, from [South Carolina’s] Lindsey Graham to [Texas’s] John Cornyn, and they all pledged a strong willingness to want to work together,” Klobuchar said. “We talked about tax reform, about the ways to bring the overseas money back to our country, we talked about specifically infrastructure and immigration reform.”
You’ll have to pardon politicians for some optimism on election night. Franken is right that traditionally bipartisan bills, like a military authorization and a (must-pass) transportation bill, stand a fair-to-good chance of getting through the Senate, a House where Republicans bolstered their majority Tuesday, and a Democratic White House.
But on big issues, Republicans and Democrats will need to work together to pass legislation, and that’s so much easier said than done.
Take immigration reform. A group of Republicans helped craft and pass the Senate’s immigration overhaul last summer, but a majority of GOP senators opposed it, and conservatives in the House rebelled against it to the point that it never got close to the floor for a vote. The desire to moderate before a presidential election might be a factor for the GOP next Congress, but imagine the stink Republican presidential candidates will raise if lawmakers move on immigration during a primary campaign.
Tax reform has long been a goal for both parties in Congress, and a rash of corporations moving overseas has intensified that focus. But it’s such an unwieldy beast of a proposition that nothing ever gets done. An early bipartisan, bicameral listening tour by Congress’ top tax writers last year yielded nothing, and even House Republicans, with their majority, scrapped plans for a tax code overhaul. That’s not to say it’s not possible, just that it’s never seriously gotten off the ground before.
Incoming Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already outlined a bit of what he’s hoping to do with the majority. He told Time magazine last night that he wants to pass a Keystone XL pipeline authorization bill, repeal the Affordable Care Act’s medical device tax, and try to find common ground with Obama on tax reform and trade bills, even while looking to earn concessions from him through the appropriations process. He promised no full repeal of the ACA, and no government shutdowns.
At this point, Democrats have a major adjustment to make: they’ve set the agenda in the Senate since 2007 but they ceded that power to McConnell last night. Neither party was going to win the 60 votes needed to pass bills on their own, so it’s not like there was going to be a groundswell of legislating next year anyway. But Republicans get the say as to what comes to the floor, and whatever is subject to bipartisan compromise will be on their terms now.
But on election night, at least, Democrats held out hope for something resembling compromise and progress over the next two years.
“It’s going to be different,” Franken said. “But I’ve also received a couple of calls from Republican colleagues saying let’s work together.”
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry