We’re fast approaching President Biden’s 100th day in office and already Congress has passed a massive $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid package; helped usher in Biden’s history-making Cabinet picks; and approved a measure in the House that would give undocumented immigrants, including those currently with temporary protections under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, a pathway to citizenship.
Why House Democrats probably won’t pass their reparations
To understand just how much of the president’s agenda is getting through Congress and the extent to which various members of Congress support that agenda, we’re once again tracking how often representatives and senators agree with Biden and how that compares with our expectations, based on Biden’s 2020 vote margin in the member’s state or district. (If this sounds familiar, it’s because we did the same for former President Trump.) We’ve also added a number of new features to help illustrate how members of Congress vote relative to one another and identify the outliers in each party. (Hint: Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Krysten Sinema of Arizona might not be the only thorns in Biden’s side for the next several years.)
A member of Congress’ “Biden score” is just a simple percentage of how often a senator or representative supports the president’s agenda. (We calculate this by adding the member’s “yea” votes on bills that Biden supported and “no” votes on bills Biden opposed, then divide that by the total number of bills on which that member has voted and we know Biden’s position.) As we did during the Trump administration, we’re relying on the Office of Management and Budget’s “statements of administration policy” to determine the administration’s stance on a bill. To read more about what types of measures we’re tracking, check out our detailed methodology post from 2017 — it’s about Trump-era congresses, but the same rules still apply. And, as a reminder, these ratings will update through the 117th Congress.
related: Does Your Member Of Congress Vote With Or Against Biden? Read more. »
It’s early yet — we have just 13 votes that aren’t related to the confirmation of Biden’s Cabinet,1 but there are two interesting trends we’ve noticed at the margins so far:
Republicans are not unilaterally voting against Biden’s agenda
After Biden was elected last year, story after story predicted that Republicans would thwart his agenda as control of the Senate remained in limbo and that Trump retained an ironclad grip on the party. And while the latter is still at least partially true, it’s also not yet entirely clear the extent to which they’re impacting the GOP’s ability to compromise. Republicans, for instance, haven’t entirely stymied Biden’s agenda.
Sure, no Republican in the House or Senate voted in favor of Biden’s COVID-19 relief bill. But in the Senate, many have backed his Cabinet picks, and in the House, Republicans and Democrats have found common ground on bills like reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act and allowing farmworkers a pathway to legal immigration status.
Now, it doesn’t mean these bills featured overwhelming bipartisan majorities, but 140 different House Republicans have voted at least once for something Biden supported. And for some members who fall in this category, the choice appears to be a matter of political caution. Pennsylvania Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith and Michigan Rep. Fred Upton — two of whom represent districts Biden either won in 2020 or was competitive in — are so far the GOP members backing Biden’s agenda most frequently.
|Representative||District||2020 vote margin||biden score||plus-minus*|
|Brian Fitzpatrick||PA-1||D+ 5.8||76.9%||-2.1|
|Carlos A. Gimenez||FL-26||R+5.6||46.2||+16.4|
|John Katko||NY-24||D+ 9.0||46.2||-42.3|
|Jeff Van Drew||NJ-2||R+2.9||46.2||+6.2|
|María Elvira Salazar||FL-27||D+ 3.2||41.7||-26.0|
|Don Young||AK at-large||R+10.1||40.0||+20.8|
But not all House Republicans are interested in backing Biden’s agenda. About one-third of members — 72 total — have completely opposed everything on Biden’s agenda so far. This includes Biden’s coronavirus stimulus package, but also things like increasing the waiting period for background checks on gun sales, expanding unionization and collective bargaining rights and an omnibus police reform bill named after George Floyd. (Only a handful of Republican representatives supported these measures.)
One thing we found surprising, though, is that even some of the most pro-Trump House members, according to our tracker of Congress and Trump, have supported at least one item on Biden’s agenda. Take Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, for example, the House’s No. 2 Republican who ended Trump’s term with a 98.2 percent Trump score rating overall. He was among the 121 House Republicans who approved a special waiver to allow retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin as secretary of defense. (Austin’s appointment required this waiver because he had only been retired from the military for four years, instead of the seven years required by law.) Even House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — who supported Trump’s agenda 97.3 percent of the time — supported the same waiver. Granted, this is the only Biden-supported bill that they’ve backed; as such, both Scalise and McCarthy still rank very low in terms of backing Biden’s agenda with a Biden score of 7.7 percent so far.
Why serious changes to policing are unlikely to happen
In the Senate, every sitting member has supported Biden at least once (yes, even Sens. Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and Mitch McConnell). An important caveat here, though, is almost all of the Senate votes so far — save for the COVID-19 aid package — were on or related to Cabinet confirmations.
However, the top Senate Republicans backing Biden’s nominations so far shouldn’t come as much of a shock, considering many were long seen as potential Senate swing votes or are members of the so-called G-10 — a group of 10 deal-making moderate Republicans who reportedly want to negotiate with Biden and other Democrats. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine leads the pack with a 91.3 percent Biden score. She’s followed by Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski (90.9 percent), Ohio Sen. Rob Portman (87 percent), Utah Sen. Mitt Romney (87 percent) and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (78.3 percent).
|Senator||State||2020 vote Margin||Biden Score||plus-minus*|
|Susan Collins||ME||D+ 9.1||91.3%||-1.4|
|Lisa Murkowski||AK||R+ 10.1||90.9||+18.9|
|Rob Portman||OH||R+ 8.0||87.0||+12.3|
|Mitt Romney||UT||R+ 20.5||87.0||+29.3|
|Lindsey Graham||SC||R+ 11.7||78.3||+8.7|
|Shelley Moore Capito||WV||R+ 38.9||77.3||+40.6|
|Richard Burr||NC||R+ 1.3||75.0||-7.6|
|Chuck Grassley||IA||R+ 8.2||73.9||-0.5|
|Mitch McConnell||KY||R+ 25.9||73.9||+22.7|
|Mike Rounds||SD||R+ 26.2||73.9||+23.0|
To be sure, a lot of what we’re seeing now among Republicans is pretty small in the grand scheme of things (i.e., supporting Cabinet nominations isn’t that surprising when Republicans don’t have enough votes to block them). Perhaps we’ll get a better sense of which GOP senators want to work with Biden via Democrats’ big infrastructure proposal, but if Democrats move to pass that via budget reconciliation, we still might not have a sense of who those senators are, as Democrats won’t need their votes. At this point, it’s unclear how many real opportunities for bipartisanship there will be, especially if Biden tries to push items forward that are consistent with what Republican voters want, but aren’t necessarily in line with what their GOP representatives want.
Democrats who don’t side with Biden are in the minority
Meanwhile, most Democrats support Biden 100 percent of the time.
In fact, the only time Senate Democrats have bucked the president’s agenda was when 14 of them voted against granting Austin’s waiver. This wasn’t a major flashpoint in the party, as Austin’s confirmation was never really in jeopardy. Instead, it mostly mirrored what happened when Congress approved a similar waiver in 2017, as many of the same Democrats expressed opposition to making a similar exception for Trump’s former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.
At this point, the two senators who have arguably received the most attention as being potential roadblocks to the president’s agenda — Manchin and Sinema — haven’t actually voted against any of the things Biden supports. Now, this is in large part because, again, almost all of the Senate votes so far were on noncontroversial Cabinet confirmations. And any controversial policy proposals both objected to, like raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, have been cut from the final bill. So the two senators are still exerting their power to block legislation in ways that aren’t captured by our data. That’s why we should keep an eye on these two members — and others from the more moderate wing of the party — going forward, especially when it comes to their votes on Biden’s infrastructure and climate proposals.
related: What Have We Learned From Biden’s First 100 Days? Read more. »
In the House it’s much of the same: Representatives who don’t vote with Biden 100 percent of the time are the exception, not the rule. Even members from competitive districts that Biden lost — Iowa Rep. Cindy Axne, Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos, Pennsylvania Rep. Matt Cartwright and New Jersey Rep. Andy Kim — are completely supportive of the president’s agenda.
There have been some defectors in the lower chamber, though. And those members fall into two main categories: Progressive Democrats who were against supporting the Austin waiver and lawmakers from competitive districts.
Let’s examine the latter category first. Maine Rep. Jared Golden, who won one of the most competitive House districts, only has a 53.8 percent Biden score — the lowest among all House Democrats. Why? Well, Biden lost his district by nearly 8 points last year and Golden only barely wrested his seat out of Republicans’ grip in 2018.
So far, Golden has voted against Austin’s waiver, legislation allowing farmworkers to get legal immigration status, increasing the waiting period for federal gun background checks, requiring background checks for all gun sales and the coronavirus stimulus package, among other things. Beyond Golden, other members in competitive districts to watch are Wisconsin Rep. Ron Kind (76.9 percent Biden score), Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar (92.3 percent) and Texas Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (92.3 percent). Biden either lost their districts or won by fewer than 5 points in 2020, so we can likely expect for them to continue to deviate from Biden’s agenda.
Progressive Democrats have long criticized establishment members of their party as too centrist and cautious, but so far the measure that the largest number opposed was also the Austin waiver. Excluding that, the most liberal Democrats — including New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Missouri Rep. Cori Bush, Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley and New York Rep. Jamaal Bowman — have supported Biden 100 percent.
So, to recap: Democrats in both chambers are, so far, largely unified, with some more interesting splinters in the House among members facing competitive reelection bids in 2022. And in the Senate, we’ll likely see more fissures among Democratic members as Biden moves to pass more controversial agenda items. At this point, though, it’s hard to know what the progressive wing will do with Biden’s later proposals since they don’t really have the votes to bring legislation to the floor on their own and their main power will be — similar to Manchin and Sinema — in blocking bills.
There’s definitely not enough data to make sweeping statements about how senators and representatives are taking to Biden’s presidency. But at this early juncture, it’s fair to say Republicans might not be completely against compromise and most Democrats will be in lockstep with the president. We’ll continue updating our interactive as more votes are recorded along with publishing stories about the most interesting trends we see as the administration gets to work.