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What’s bipartisanship and why does Joe Biden care so much about it?

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When President Joe Biden emerged from the White House Thursday to announce that a deal had been struck on a national infrastructure plan, he was tailed by an unfamiliar sight: a group of smiling senators, half of them Democrats and the other half Republicans. 

The compromise on a plan to update the country’s deteriorating transportation and public works systems — made among the president, 11 Republican senators and 10 Democratic senators — was lauded as a long-awaited return to bipartisanship. 

“This reminds me of the days when we used to get an awful lot done up in the United States Congress,” Biden said Thursday. 

‘We have a deal’: Biden makes infrastructure compromise with senators

Biden and other Democrats will seek separate legislation in hopes to pass family and climate changes that Republicans are opposing.

Associated Press, USA TODAY

The president has aimed to make unity and compromise central to his time in office. But not everyone in Washington is sold on the effort.  

Here’s a look at Biden’s relationship with bipartisanship and why it matters. 

It’s hard to pin down a one-size-fits-all definition for the term “bipartisanship.” In some contexts, like that of the infrastructure plan, a deal is bartered among several members of opposing parties, leading to vast compromise on both sides. In others, it might just mean one or two votes from across the aisle. 

President Joe Biden
This reminds me of the days when we used to get an awful lot done up in the United States Congress.

But in most scenarios, it can be boiled down to cooperation between two typically opposing political parties — a feat that many Americans fear is unreachable on a large scale. 

A study conducted by Pew Research Center after the 2020 election found that just 21% of Americans believe relations between Republicans and Democrats would improve this year. Still, that figure has more than doubled since the 2018 midterm election, when about 9% of Americans thought relations between the two parties would improve, according to the study. 

Biden has remained more hopeful than most that the two parties will find common ground. He ran his presidential campaign on promises of unity, often romantically calling the search for compromise part of a “battle for America’s soul.” 

“Democracy requires consensus,” Biden said Oct. 12 during a campaign speech in Cincinnati. “I’m running as a proud Democrat, but I will govern as an American president. There will be no blue states and red states with me. It’s one America. I’ll work with Democrats and Republicans.”

Biden’s nearly 50-year political career reflects the rhetoric of meeting people halfway he used throughout his presidential campaign. 

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