WASHINGTON – When he takes office next month, President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. will face a heavily divided Congress where many Republicans have argued his election was fraudulent.
But Mr Biden on Wednesday expressed optimism that his decades-long mark of centrist negotiation would allow him to move past the bitter partisanship of the past four years and push his agenda forward.
“My influence is that every top Republican knows that I’ve never cheated on them once, ever,” Biden said in a telephone conversation with several columnists, including David Leonhardt of the New York Times. “I will never embarrass them publicly.”
As Vice President, Mr. Biden was at the forefront of eight years of obstruction Republicans waged against President Barack Obama. During his second term, Obama virtually gave up hope of large-scale legislative victories, turning instead to executive action. President Trump took a similar approach as he fought Democrats in the House.
But Mr Biden insisted on Wednesday that his skills and history gave him the opportunity to break the cycle.
He said the country was now in a different place. As an example, Mr. Biden argued that Americans have reached a broader consensus on climate change, with people of all political stripes saying they recognize the need for more aggressive action.
“I’m going to be able to do things about the environment that you won’t believe,” he told columnists. “I couldn’t have done it six years ago.”
Mr Biden expressed similar hope for bipartisan work to address the coronavirus pandemic and restore economic health to a country hit by job losses and business closures.
He acknowledged widespread weariness over coronavirus restrictions across the country, especially during the holiday season. Nonetheless, the president-elect described a broad willingness on the part of Americans to do what is necessary to reduce the transmission of the virus and save lives.
“There is a new sense of urgency on the part of the general public,” he said. “The American public is painfully aware of the extent, the damage and the incredibly high cost of not taking the kind of action we have talked about.
Mr Biden’s optimism will surely be quickly tested once he takes office. Polls show the public is sharply divided, often along partisan lines, over the restrictions on the pandemic. Whichever party controls the Senate after two rounds of voting in early January in Georgia, Congress will be more tightly divided than at any time in recent memory.
And as president, Mr. Biden will have to build bridges to both Democrats and Republicans. Once again, progressives who were hoping for a champion of more liberal policies in the White House feel burnt by the 2020 election. They have already vowed to pressure Mr Biden against making deals with Republicans.
Asked by reporters on the appeal, which also included Gerald F. Seib of the Wall Street Journal and Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post, if he was up to fighting with Republicans and the more combative members of his own party, Mr. Biden bristling.
“I respectfully suggest beating everyone,” he said, noting that he had won the Democratic presidential nomination and seven million votes more than Mr. Trump. “I think I know what I’m doing, and I’ve been really good at being able to handle punchers. I know how to block a left right and do a right hook. I understand well.”
But he added: “I am ready to fight. But one of the things that happens is when you get into one of these types of blood matches nothing gets done, nothing gets done.