In real estate, a buyer who offers one third of the seller’s asking price is likely to get the door slammed in his face. President Joe Biden has not rejected Senate Republicans’ COVID-19 relief proposal with quite so dramatic a flourish, but he nevertheless seems to have discerned a similar message. When Republicans offered $618 billion, they showed they were not serious. And the new president rightly determined to forge ahead without the GOP.

Cognizant that President Biden enjoys significant popularity at this point, 10 Republicans, including North Carolina weathervane Thom Tillis, extended an offer of compromise to the new administration. They used guarded rhetoric. Unwilling to commit fully to a good-faith negotiation, they peppered their statements with caveats. Finally, they made Biden an offer he couldn’t not refuse, and the sham collapsed.

Progressives may have been nervous that Biden would draw out his negotiations in an effort to score bipartisan support. After all, in 2009 President Obama allowed Republicans like Olympia Snow to string the administration along on healthcare until the Affordable Care Act had suffered significant blows to its image. Given Biden’s strong promises of compromise, it was understandable that the left wing of the party would feel a sense of dread when the Republican “Gang of 10” signaled their disingenousness.

Biden avoided the trap. As he definitively put it, “I’m not going to start my administration by breaking a promise to the American people.” This resolve indicates that Biden has a focused and determined plan to keep his promises, and that although he genuinely believes in bipartisanship, that commitment has not blinded him to the need to serve the people first. He is less naive about the Republicans than some progressives feared.

Difficulties remain in putting together and passing a large COVID relief bill. Moderates like Joe Manchin are insisting on targeted checks rather than universal relief, a bad idea that Biden finds distasteful, but that disagreement can be worked out. With or without the Republicans, Biden will do the right thing. And yet again Thom Tillis will be proven less clever than he so desperately wants to think.


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