Midway through his nearly-two-hour-long news conference on Wednesday, President Joe Biden dropped a very interesting nugget.
In talking about his struggles to bring bipartisanship back, Biden recounted that: “I’ve had five Republican senators talk to me, ‘bump into me’— quote, unquote — or sit with me, who’ve told me that they agree with whatever I’m talking about for them to do. ‘But, Joe, if I do it, I’m going to get defeated in a primary.’”
Which, well, intriguing, right?
So who are the Biden 5? Well, Biden wouldn’t name them – a reporter asked – but we can probably make a few educated guesses. (For the purposes of this thought experiment – which is purely speculative and not based on any inside information – I am assuming Biden was telling the truth about candid but unreportable conversations with GOP senators.)
Start with the seven Republican senators who voted to convict Donald Trump at his impeachment trial for his actions (and inaction) on January 6, 2021 – since they’ve already shown some unhappiness with the former President.
That’s Richard Burr of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
Toomey and Burr are retiring, so it’s not either of them. Murkowski is up in 2022 but a) Trump has already endorsed a Republican running against her and b) Alaska has an all-party primary, meaning that Murkowski won’t face off against her Trump-backed challenger head to head.
That leaves us four senators: Cassidy, Collins, Romney and Sasse. I think it’s a very good bet that any of these four could be part of the Biden 5. With the exception of Collins, the group represents overwhelmingly Republican states where the only danger to their reelection chances is in a primary.
Of course, none of the four are up for a new term in 2022. Romney is up in 2024, the rest in 2026 – which is a very long way away. It should also be noted that Sasse hasn’t been shy about criticizing Biden publicly.
Who else could be part of the group? Could John Thune? Yes, he’s the second most powerful Republican in the chamber, but he also is a) definitely not on the Trump train b) up in 2022 and c) sitting in a ruby red state where Trump has urged a primary challenge (none has materialized).
Other options: West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, who is much more closely aligned with the Mitch McConnell wing of the party than the Trump one, who voted for the bipartisan infrastructure package and who sits in an increasingly Republican state? Or Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, an old bull whose Midwestern sensibility doesn’t line up with Trump but who is also running for another term this November? Or even South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, who, prior to the Trump takeover of the Republican Party, was a voice of moderation within it?
The Point: Biden isn’t talking about who the five senators were (and are). And it does none of them any good to talk about conversations with the Democratic President in which they were critical of the leader of the Republican Party. This looks like another unsolved Washington mystery.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article listed the wrong state for Sen. Mitt Romney. He represents Utah.