Friday, February 23, 2024

OPINION: Crapo sees new power for Republicans

| December 7, 2022 1:00 AM

To put it mildly, Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo was disappointed with the outcome of the mid-term elections. But he sees some interesting possibilities when the new Congress convenes in January.

Will President Biden meet Republicans halfway — or even a quarter of the way?

Crapo, who is more interested in the minutia of legislation than the partisan food fights, sees some hope for bipartisan governing. The vote by Congress to avert an economy-crippling rail strike is evidence that bipartisanship may not be dead.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. Well, maybe. Crapo was among the Republicans voting in favor of averting the strike.

“I empathize with those who are struggling as a result of the ongoing railroad dispute,” Crapo said after last week’s vote. “Our essential workers and small businesses are the backbone of the American economy, and I remain committed to repairing the supply chain so they can thrive. It is my hope we can work together toward a common goal of a stronger economy and better quality of life for every American family.”

OK, Republicans and Democrats are a long way from joining hands and singing “Kumbaya.” But Crapo sees some elements in place for at least a bit more collaboration, with Republicans in control of the House.

As Crapo told me, “the president and the Senate leadership will have to negotiate with the House, and Republicans in the Senate will have a stronger negotiating posture as well.”

In other words, the era of reconciliation bills in the Senate — where Democrats ramrod their agenda through by majority vote — is over. At least for the next two years.

As for President Biden, Crapo said, “I do know there is a very strong element in his base that doesn’t want to see him reach out to Republicans, but he campaigned on the basis of being the president of all the people and being able to work with both sides of the aisle. So, I think there’s a chance.”

In theory, a divided government can promote bipartisanship. Crapo says he’s ready to work in that environment.

“I know that I, and my colleagues on the Republican side, are ready to work on bipartisan issues. As a matter of fact, there are a ton of bipartisan endeavors under way in the Senate right now,” he says.

This doesn’t signal that Crapo will become the great compromiser. He’s a vote that Republican leaders can count on when there is a partisan divide, and he’ll stand by certain principles. For instance, don’t expect him to impose a federal same-sex marriage law on his home state, where same-sex marriages are banned.

“I firmly support states’ rights to determine the definition of marriage,” he says.

If there is a shred of bipartisan spirit with the new Congress, don’t expect it to last long. House Republicans, who were fed up with the impeachments and investigations of Donald Trump, appear anxious do something similar to the Biden administration — looking into everything from the withdrawal from Afghanistan to border policy. In the coming months, we could be hearing more about Biden’s son, Hunter, than the president himself.

And then we have the presidential election campaign looming, with no shortage of Republicans preening for attention. Some of these prospective candidates are making hay by taking aim at Trump — blaming him for the GOP’s lackluster performance in the mid-terms and questioning his choice of dinner guests at Mara-a-Lago.

Crapo, not surprisingly, is not joining the fray. He continues to praise the former president for his handling of the economy, national security and illegal entry at the border. “He did a very good job as president.”

The political rumblings are part of “normal” business, Crapo says. “When Trump ran the first time, there were all kinds of concern about whether he would divide the country. But Republicans, like Democrats, have a process called the primaries. There will be conflicts and different perspectives — and not just in the Republican Party. Democrats will be deciding if it will be Biden, or somebody else.”

Crapo reserves the right to take a stand on presidential politics, but don’t look for him to be a TV star on the Sunday morning news shows. He’ll leave it to others to do the grandstanding.

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Chuck Malloy is a longtime Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at