Hillary Clinton's agenda would rely on help from the middle

By John T. Bennett, Roll Call
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton addresses the crowd July 30 in Pittsburgh. If she wins the presidency, she would have to rely on bipartisan support to push her agenda should Republican maintain control of Congress. Photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton addresses the crowd July 30 in Pittsburgh. If she wins the presidency, she would have to rely on bipartisan support to push her agenda should Republican maintain control of Congress. Photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI | License Photo

A point Hillary Clinton regularly hammers home on the campaign trail is that after congressional Republicans nixed the healthcare overhaul she promoted as first lady, she worked with them to craft a children's health insurance plan that became law.

The Democratic presidential candidate argues that finding common ground was preferable to partisan gamesmanship -- an approach she vows to bring to the Oval Office if she can defeat GOP nominee Donald Trump.


"How are you going to break through the gridlock in Washington?" she asked rhetorically during her Democratic National Convention acceptance speech last month. "Look at my record. I've worked across the aisle to pass laws and treaties and to launch new programs that help millions of people. And if you give me the chance, that's what I'll do as president."



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A Clinton victory on Nov. 8 could revive the art of coalition-building and legislating. If she looks for partners, here are some members who might answer the call:

The unlikely allies

If Clinton wins and Republicans keep control of at least the House, she will be first incoming Democratic president whose party would lack full control of Congress since Grover Cleveland, in 1885, said Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, who works on social policy issues at Third Way, a centrist think tank.

So Clinton is wise to talk often about her bipartisan past. There are enough staunchly conservative House GOP members -- many of them even more staunchly anti-Clinton -- that she will have difficulty finding agreement with a big majority of the GOP caucus. But veteran Washington observers say there are signs she could build an impressive and enduring coalition of moderate House Democrats and Republicans, and forge ties with a GOP leadership team eager to show they can get things done.

That means Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and members like Deputy GOP Whip Tom Cole of Oklahoma.


"I've been very impressed with Tom Cole," said William Galston, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton who is now with the Brookings Institution. "He's a very thoughtful guy who is interested in passing legislation and making laws. He's someone she would probably want to talk to."


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Outspoken Iowa Rep. Steve King raised eyebrows last weekend when he said Clinton was "somebody I can work with" (though he is voting for Trump). "If Steve King said that, there might be 200 more House Republicans who feel that way," Galston said.

The usual suspects

Clinton could likely count on most of the Democratic caucus to back her, experts say. But that pesky 60-vote threshold needed to advance legislation in the Senate means she would likely need the support of around the same number of Republicans as has President Barack Obama over his tenure.

The list would be much the same, unless some of its members are voted out. The deal-minded Sen. Susan Collins of Maine tops experts' lists.

"I think there are some people in the Senate who are already prepared to be interlocutors -- and it's quite a list," Galston said.


Clinton would certainly want to be on good terms, he added, with Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee, Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch of Utah, as well as Jeff Flake of Arizona and Kelly Ayotte, if the latter wins her re-election bid in New Hampshire. Corker recently told Roll Call he is "a policy guy, not a politician," and he was courted by Obama several times as the parties tried -- unsuccessfully -- to strike a fiscal deal.


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Third Way's Erickson Hatalsky also added Tennessee's Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, to the list. He is eager to build on momentum around last year's bipartisan work toward a rewrite of the No Child Left Behind Act, she noted.

The senior senator

Charles E. Schumer is expected to replace the retiring Harry Reid of Nevada as Senate Democratic leader, and he just might be the agenda-setting majority leader. And he just happened to be the senior senator from New York when Clinton served as junior senator. He is close to his former colleague and hit the campaign trail intensely on her behalf in their home state during the Democratic primary season.


"He's always been a person who wants to get things done. Put he and Clinton together, and add in Ryan, and I think that's a good combination for getting some things done," Erickson Hatalsky said. "Schumer has moved a major immigration package and other things. He would be a huge part of moving her agenda."

The role players 

And then there's Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, Clinton's running mate. He is respected by members on both sides of the aisle, and is expected to be something of a high-level congressional liaison should he become the 48th vice president. Also in this cohort is Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, whose close relationship with Kaine could "give him an open door into the administration," Erickson Hatalsky said. And there is New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, who she says will play a big role in winning crucial Republican votes for any criminal justice policy legislation Clinton might push next year.

Contact Bennett at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @BennettJohnT .
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