Washington says it’s hungry for bipartisanship, but it’s split on what exactly bipartisanship means and whether there’s enough of it.

“The narrative on bipartisanship today is it’s this widget that we’re after,” said James Wallner, a senior fellow at the R Street Institute and editor of Legislative Procedure, which covers how congressional procedure impacts policy outcomes. “Like, if you look at how Biden talks about it, it’s like, we have to have bipartisanship. Well, maybe, maybe not, it depends on what we’re talking about!”

For Republicans, President Joe Biden isn’t bipartisan enough. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the top House Republican, told “Fox News Sunday” that Biden pulled a “bait-and-switch” by saying he would be bipartisan then governing “as a socialist.”

In a video statement released Wednesday after Biden’s address to Congress, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said Biden’s calls for unity are for naught unless he reaches out beyond progressives. “You’re not going to unify America if you’re only appealing to the liberal wing of his own party,” Romney said.

For the White House, Biden’s bipartisanship isn’t confined to Congress. They say it’s demonstrated by support from Republican voters, like the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package he signed in March that received zero votes from Republicans in Congress but was supported by 41% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, according to Pew. It’s a different definition of bipartisanship then the one we’re used to.

“If you looked up ‘bipartisan’ in the dictionary, I think it would say support from Republicans and Democrats,” senior Biden adviser Anita Dunn told The Washington Post. “It doesn’t say the Republicans have to be in Congress.”

This bipartisan group in the House doesn’t like how Congress operates, and they let Pelosi and McCarthy know about it
Republicans are outnumbered now more than at any time in nearly a decade
How social media and ‘attention economy’ politics are redefining power in Washington

Democrats and Republicans might have to agree to disagree, which happens to be a good first step in building bipartisan consensus. There is no need for compromise without disagreement. A truly bipartisan Washington is one where you don’t always get everything you want and you don’t always see eye to eye, but you get the bill passed, nonetheless, in cases where something is better than nothing. In fact, that’s how a lot of legislation gets passed.

As University of Utah associate professor of political science James Curry wrote in an opinion piece for the Deseret News last year, most of the parties’ policy wins occur when they work with the minority party, like criminal justice reform in 2018, an expansion of the Violence Against Women Act in 2013 and a federal minimum wage increase in 2007.

“This Republican versus Democrat, red versus blue polarization narrative really clouds our ability to see how a process playing out over time in this space allows for bipartisan outcomes to appear,” said Wallner, the Legislative Procedure editor.

While Washington is far from being the haven of bipartisanship it so often claims to aspire to, that’s not to say lawmakers aren’t trying to get things done. Here are some of the actual bipartisan things that have happened so far in Biden’s first 100 days:

  1. Lawmakers unanimously passed three bills — Of the 11 bills the 117th Congress passed into law, three were passed unanimously: 1) the SAVE LIVES Act, which expanded COVID-19 vaccinations for veterans and their families; 2) the COVID-19 Bankruptcy Relief Extension Act of 2021, which extended debt relief provisions through March 2022; and 3) a bill that retroactively extended Social Security disability benefits for Americans with ALS.
  2. They permitted the remains of Brian Sicknick, the Capitol Police officer who died after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, and William Evans, the Capitol Police officer who was fatally struck by a car earlier this month, to lie in honor in the rotunda — The resolutions were both passed without objection in the Senate and by unanimous consent in the House.
  3. The Senate passed an anti-Asian American hate crime bill with just one vote against — The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act aims to fight hate crimes against Asian and Pacific Islander communities, and it passed 94-1 in the Senate, with Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., voting no. It now heads to the House.
  4. A bipartisan bill meant to tackle student debt was introduced — Romney and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., introduced the Earn to Learn Act to establish a college matched-savings program that contributes $8 from state and nonprofit organizations to every $1 a student contributes.
  5. A bipartisan bill was introduced to handle the increased number of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border — The Bipartisan Border Solutions Act would establish four new regional processing centers in high-traffic areas along the southern border, create pilot programs to make more efficient asylum decisions and strengthen protections for unaccompanied migrant children. It was introduced by Sinema, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, and Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas.
  6. Democrats and Republicans are meeting with Biden on infrastructure — Biden has held multiple meetings at the White House with members of both parties about his proposed $2.3 trillion infrastructure bill, and senators are in early talks about a more limited bipartisan proposal.
  7. Biden said he wants police reform done before the anniversary of George Floyd’s death, and he wants Republican support — During his address to Congress Wednesday, Biden called on the Senate to pass police reform before the anniversary, which is in May, and he said he welcomed Republican input. “I know Republicans have their own ideas and are engaged in productive discussions with Democrats in the Senate,” Biden said. “We need to work together to find a consensus.”
  8. Both parties are talking about child tax credits — Child tax credits have been part of Biden’s proposals, including his COVID-19 relief package and the American Families Plan. And Republicans are calling for them, too. In February, Romney introduced the Family Security Act, which would give families child allowances, and Hawley introduced his own child tax credit proposal in April.
  9. There’s a bipartisan movement for wildfire preparedness, management and recovery — In February, a bipartisan group of Western lawmakers created the Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus, and earlier this month, the Making Access to Cleanup Happen, or MATCH Act, was reintroduced. The proposal would push for watershed rehabilitation and was first introduced last year by Reps. John Curtis, R-Utah, and John Garamendi, D-Calif., and Sens. Romney and Michael Bennet, D-Colo.
  10. There are bipartisan groups in the House and Senate — The bipartisan 56-member House Problem Solvers Caucus was founded in 2017, and today it has 11 policy areas on its agenda. “The Problem Solvers Caucus is tackling issues that are top priorities on both sides of the aisle, including vaccine distribution, a return to regular order in the House, and — most recently — infrastructure,” said Rep. Blake Moore, R-Utah, a caucus member, in a statement to the Deseret News. In the Senate, there’s a bipartisan group of 20 lawmakers, including Romney and Sinema, hoping to find solutions on issues like the minimum wage, immigration and infrastructure.
Mitt Romney talks with media following a debate for the GOP Senate candidates in Provo in May 2018. “I think Mitt Romney has created a very careful balance as an elected official,” said Jason Perry, director of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, following Romney’s first year as senator. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News