- Joe Biden will need powerful allies in Congress once he's sworn-in on January 20 if he expects to score some big legislative wins on issues like economic recovery, healthcare, climate change, and police reform.
- He'll start off with a vast network of political connections forged during 36 years in the Senate and eight years in the Obama White House.
- Vice President-elect Kamala Harris brings her own network of Capitol Hill allies, including members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and from the Congressional Black Caucus.
- Everyone will be watching Biden's relationships with key lawmakers like Mitch McConnell, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and possible swing-vote Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.
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Joe Biden will need powerful allies in Congress to help him chalk up big legislative wins now that he's headed to the White House.
Lucky for the president-elect, he'll be starting his first term with a vast network of political connections forged during his 36 years in the Senate and eight years in Barack Obama's White House.
But his resume will also only get him so far. Biden left Congress more than a decade ago to become vice president. During that intervening time, the faces and political factions on Capitol Hill have changed dramatically.
Biden's agenda is ambitious. Apart from responding to the coronavirus pandemic and the dramatic US economic slump, Democrats are eyeing meaty and expensive legislation designed to tackle everything from infrastructure and climate change to health care, election security, and racial justice.
To help out a new administration, Biden can claim to have powerful friends in the ranks of the House and Senate leadership teams and allies from his home state. He can also lean on Vice President-elect Kamala Harris who brings her own network of congressional allies from her tenure on the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Congressional Black Caucus. Biden's team also has tried to make inroads with some more progressive Democrats whose support will be critical for passing big-ticket bills.
Some of Biden's top allies in Congress are also considered contenders for White House or Cabinet jobs. He's for instance already picked Louisianna Democrat Rep. Cedric Richmond to become a senior adviser and director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.
But it's unclear how much more Biden would be willing to pluck from either chamber where Democrat's House majority shrunk after a poor showing in the November elections, and from the Senate where whoever ends up in the majority would govern with a razor-thin margin.
Here's Insider's list of 19 people in Congress whose relationships with Biden will be critical after his swearing-in on January 20.
Rep. Jim Clyburn, House majority whip
Democratic insiders mention Clyburn first when asked to size up Biden's friends on Capitol Hill.
That's because the South Carolina Democratic congressman is widely credited with helping to resurrect Biden's then-flailing presidential campaign from the brink of demise with his critical endorsement in late February.
Clyburn, now in his 14th term, is also expected to be critical in advancing Biden's agenda in the House. He's the majority whip, a position that means he's No. 3 in the Democratic leadership and the primary person responsible for counting floor votes before anything comes up for a final roll call.
He's also a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus who commands broad respect among his colleagues.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
The first woman ever to be elected House speaker is ready to stick around for a Biden presidency.
She'd be the one truly in charge of shepherding Biden's policy agenda through the House, a job that has its own big challenges given GOP opposition and her own Democratic caucus being all over the ideological spectrum.
In recent years, Pelosi has managed to keep her party unified in passing bills that carry more symbolic messaging than actual attempts at making law knowing she didn't have the support in the Senate.
But her job will get much more complicated if Democrats end up controlling all the levers of power in Washington — after Georgia's Senate runoffs — and the House speaker returns to a strategic position where she is actually cobbling together the votes to send bills for signature up to the president's desk.
Pelosi and Biden have a long track record. She had her current job when then-Vice President Biden served as the Democratic administration's point person on the sweeping economic stimulus package that Obama signed into law just a few weeks after his inauguration. They also worked together on the Affordable Care Act and later in thwarting subsequent GOP efforts to repeal it. Going way back, Pelosi signed on as an original co-sponsor of the Violence Against Women Act that Biden authored and President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1994; they worked together years later on the 2013 reauthorization.
Sen. Chris Coons, Delaware Democrat
The Delaware Democrat has been dubbed "the Biden whisperer" in the Senate. He's known Biden for three decades. He's extremely tight with the Biden presidential campaign and he stands ready to become a White House point man on Capitol Hill now that his Senate predecessor has won the presidency.
Coons is also a candidate to be tapped for a senior role in a Biden administration — perhaps a Cabinet job. For a new Democratic president, the calculation there may be whether Biden wants to lose a Senate ally who has better ties than him to the current members of the upper chamber.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer
No one on Capitol Hill will be more important for Biden's administration than the New York senator poised to become the next majority leader if Democrats manage to win control of the chamber.
Any bill that makes it to Biden's desk would need to get through the Senate, and even if the Democrats win the majority, their margins would likely be slim. Biden has already signaled he'd be open to Schumer getting rid of the 60-vote threshold required to break a filibuster, a dramatic procedural shift that would reshape Washington's power dynamics and could pave the way for big-ticket liberal policy priorities and adding more seats to the Supreme Court.
Schumer has said that "nothing's off the table" on the filibuster front. He'll need to ultimately consider whether such a move is worth it knowing Republicans can win back the Senate majority and with it have the same less formidable path to changing US laws.
For Schumer and Biden, the relationship goes way back. They served in the Senate together for a decade starting in 1999 when Schumer moved from the House to the Senate. When Biden was vice president, Schumer held a Democratic leadership slot helping corral the caucus on confirmations, the stimulus package, Obamacare, and other top items.
Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, Delaware Democrat
Biden relied on a small group of allies, including Rochester, a Delaware congresswoman, to vet his potential vice president picks.
Rochester will now be Biden's Delaware connection in the House and on the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, with a broad jurisdiction that includes energy and environmental policy, healthcare, and technology.
The Blunt family and the Bidens have known each other from Delaware political circles for decades. Blunt Rochester's father Ted Blunt has a long career in local politics, including serving 16 years as Wilmington city councilman and eight years as the council's president. During a campaign stop in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in February, Biden said the Blunts had been important to him his whole career.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer
Biden's secret weapon on Capitol Hill could very well be Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democratic leader behind only Pelosi who has a big say in both the shape of legislation and the timing for when it hits the floor.
The two men are both creatures of Congress and friends for more than 50 years. They also have a long history of working together on legislation during their decades-long careers that culminated during the Obama era when Biden was vice president.
Sen. Tom Carper, Delaware Democrat
Biden's other home-state senator is in an important position if Democrats win control of the Senate.
Carper sits next in line to chair the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, a panel that oversees environmental and infrastructure issues central to an incoming Biden administration's priorities.
The two men also go way back. They've known each other for four decades, and Carper served as the junior Delaware senator alongside Biden for seven years before the Obama administration took power.
Carper was also one of Biden's first Senate endorsements in April 2019.
Sen. Joe Manchin, West Virginia Democrat
The West Virginia Democrat represents a red state and often votes with Senate Republicans. That makes him a crucial make-or-break voice on many items inside the ambitious agenda Democrats plan to pursue if Biden wins the White House and they also control both chambers of Congress come 2021.
"I've known Joe Biden for a long time … he's a good man," Manchin told Insider in early August. "We may agree to disagree on many things, but we have a lot in common."
Manchin is also positioned to influence a number of critical issues in a Biden administration should Democrats win control of the Senate and the three-term lawmaker becomes the chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
He's said he would not vote to nix the filibuster, making it nearly impossible that such a move would happen even if Democrats are able to win the majority in January.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, Arizona Democrat
Like Manchin, Sinema is also likely to be a key Senate swing vote that Biden will need to get his agenda turned into law. Since she joined the Senate in 2019, Sinema has been among the Democrats most likely to break with her party to side with Trump on major votes.
Back in March, Sinema endorsed Biden, calling him a "pragmatic, practical leader best positioned to get things done for everyday families." She added in her statement: "We certainly don't agree on every issue; I always vote for Arizona first."
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York Democrat
Few other lawmakers in Congress will be more closely scrutinized than AOC once Biden moves into the White House.
The New York Democrat is the face of the progressive wing of her party. In the 2020 primaries, she backed Bernie Sanders but after he dropped out she said she'd vote for Biden.
What comes next is anyone's guess. The 30-year old lawmaker — she'll be 31 next year— will generate countless headlines no matter what she says or does in Congress. Biden's campaign tapped her, for example, to help it develop its climate change policies alongside John Kerry, the former secretary of State and Massachusetts senator who was part of the last big but ultimately unsuccessful legislative attempt to address global warming back in the early days of the Obama administration. Biden's team has picked Kerry to become its international climate envoy.
Ocasio-Cortez authored the House version of the Green New Deal resolution and has said she wants bolder policy ideas out of Biden, who distanced himself from the plan during his first debate against Trump. She tweeted support for Biden after the debate, saying, "Trump doesn't even believe climate change is real."
Rep. Karen Bass, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus
Biden may have helped propel his own legislative agenda by publicly offering up an expansive and diverse list of vice presidential prospects that included Bass, the current chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Come 2021, Bass stands ready to lead a voting bloc in the CBC that boasts having more than 50 members, the largest in its history.
In an interview this summer, Bass said she had a long list of priorities she expects a Democratic administration to pursue if Biden defeats Trump in the 2020 elections.
"You name it: small business, homeland security, education, financial services," the California Democrat told Insider in July when asked about the areas of influence her group would have over a new administration.
Bass is considered a contender for a Biden cabinet job, but it's unclear if and when he'll pick her.
Sen. Dick Durbin, Senate Democratic whip and contender for Judiciary Committee leadership
All eyes would be on the leader of the Judiciary Committee if Democrats win the Senate majority after Georgia's January runoffs.
It's become one of the most high-profile committee jobs in the Senate because it includes vetting judicial nominees for the Supreme Court and other openings on the federal bench.
It's not clear who would become the chairperson of the panel next year, but Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin appears to be the most likely contender to replace 87-year-old Sen. Diane Feinstein as the top Democrat on the panel.
Feinstein, the committee's current ranking member, has announced she won't seek the top job on the panel next year if Democrats take charge. Her decision came after criticism from progressives and other Democrats of her handling of the confirmation of now-Justice Amy Corney Barret, Trump's Supreme Court nominee.
Senate Democrats' rules that assign committee leadership roles based on seniority would mean Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy is next in line to replace Feinstein. But Leahy is also poised to become chairman of the Appropriations Committee should Democrats win the majority. He's given no indication that he'd want to pass up on leading the panel that control's the government's purse strings.
Durbin, who is second in line on the panel has said he will seek the job of Judiciary Committee chairman — or ranking member — depending on the outcome of the Georgia runoffs.
That would put him at the center of a fight over whether to kill the filibuster and add seats to the Supreme Court, which many on the left are demanding after Trump added a third conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the high court. Several Democrats have made it clear they don't want to ax the legislative filibuster, which would be a prerequisite for packing the court.
Durbin, who worked with Biden for years in the Senate, endorsed him for president in March even before he'd won the Democratic nomination.
Hakeem Jeffries, chairman of House Democratic Caucus
The New York Democrat may be especially important to Biden's presidency on the other end of the 2022 midterms. That's because the high-ranking House Democrat is a likely contender for the speakership if Pelosi sticks to a commitment she made publicly back in late 2018 to step aside after serving in the leadership position for another four years.
Of course, Democrats would also need to maintain their House majority in the next off-year election cycle and overcome the historic trends that usually equate to losses for a first-term president's party.
Jeffries is in position to make a difference on a more immediate front too. Among the issues expected to be on top of the Democratic wish list next year with Biden in the White House is criminal justice and police reform legislation. Harris has championed those bills as a senator, and Jeffries said he's worked closely with the vice president-elect on them too.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat
Warren's relationship with her former presidential campaign rival is another big one to watch during a Biden administration.
For starters, the Massachusetts senator is among the top prospects for a Cabinet post like Treasury secretary, but Democrats are well aware that her appointment would open the door for Massachusetts' GOP Gov. Charlie Baker to name a Republican to replace her in the Senate.
If she remains in the Senate, Warren is expected to be a leading voice pushing Biden from the left just like she did on myriad policy issues during the 2020 primaries.
Warren has laid out in a Washington Post opinion piece what she thinks the Biden-Harris administration should do on its first day. They include progressive priorities such as canceling student loan debt, raising the federal minimum wage, and declaring the climate crisis a national emergency.
Sen. Berni Sanders, Vermont Independent
Should Democrats win control of the Senate, Sanders is favored to become chairman of the Budget Committee where he'd be in a position to vet Biden's White House budget proposals. Sanders has said he wants a "fair" federal budget that "puts millions of Americans back to work in decent-paying jobs and ensures profitable corporations and the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share."
After Sanders bowed out of the presidential race, he said he planned to move Biden in a "more progressive direction."
The Vermont senator and other progressives joined forces with the Biden campaign to forge an agenda that includes some of the progressive policies that the Vermont senator has long pushed for. Expect him to continue to push for a budget that reflects progressive goals from his perch in the Senate.
Lisa Murkowski, Alaska senator
Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski has been one of the most consistent GOP centrists in the Senate. She's unafraid to break with her party and to speak out on contentious issues.
Murkowski was among the first few GOP senators to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden even as many in her caucus either stayed quiet or supported President Donald Trump's baseless challenges of the election results.
In a Senate that's sure to have a very slim majority, Murkowski could be a decisive vote on some of Biden's nominees, or on issues in which she disagrees with her own party such as climate change and reproductive rights.
Susan Collins, Maine Republican senator
The Maine Republican faced a difficult reelection race under pressure from Democrats. She eventually beat her opponent Sara Gideon with a larger margin than predicted.
Collins and Biden are friends who worked together for more than a decade in the Senate. He called her when she won reelection in November for a fifth term. She's certain to be another crucial vote to help — or hurt — his agenda. And she's signaled she'd vote for Biden's nominees, but would also willing to oppose those she disagreed with.
Collins has found herself at the center of many controversial votes facing pressure from both Democrats and Republicans to vote their way. She'll continue to be a crucial vote in the new Senate regardless of which party takes control after Georgia's January 5 runoffs.
Mitt Romney, Utah Republican senator
The first-term Utah senator was among the first few Republicans to congratulate Joe Biden and has said he'd vote for Biden's nominees.
Romney has been one of the most vocal opponents of Trump and has irked some in his party with his opposition to a number of their priorities. Along with Murkowski and Collins, he could help Biden or at least stand in the way of some GOP priorities in the new Congress.
In an interview with CNN shortly after the November elections, Romney called for the country to "get behind" Biden, and added that Republicans have "no choice" but to work with the incoming president on policy issues.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
The Kentucky Republican easily won a seventh term in the November elections, and now the Biden-McConnell relationship will be one to watch in 2021 — even if Democrats take control of the chamber.
Biden has a reputation for working across the aisle in the Senate where he spent more than three decades. But touting those bipartisan credentials has a tendency to inflame the left, and the Democratic presidential nominee has already come under fire for saying he could work with McConnell and make the Republican turn "mildly cooperative" if Trump left the White House.
Rage on the left over McConnell's move to confirm Barrett to the Supreme Court just a few weeks before Election Day will make it even harder for Biden to negotiate deals with the Senate's top Republican.
For his part, McConnell three years ago described Biden as "a real friend" and "trusted partner" during a farewell speech paying tribute to the outgoing Democratic vice president at the end of the Obama administration.
But McConnell has remained quiet on Biden's election win even as Trump continues to challenge the results.
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