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Bipartisan Group Of Lawmakers Promises To Put Country Ahead Of Party

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A memorable phrase of President Biden's inaugural address was his call to end this uncivil war.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Politics doesn't have to be a raging fire, destroying everything in its path. Every disagreement doesn't have to be a cause for total war. And we must reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured.

INSKEEP: What do Republicans make of that proposition essentially to debate disagreements based on facts? Republican Congressman Tom Reed of New York co-chairs a bipartisan group in Congress that is known as the Problem Solvers Caucus.

Congressman, welcome back to the program.

TOM REED: It's great to be with you, Steve. Thank you for having me on.

INSKEEP: Do you agree with the new president's diagnosis that people are elevating basic disagreements into total war and then backing up their views with fantasy claims?

REED: You know, we've been working at this in the Problem Solvers Caucus we founded four years ago. And I so appreciate what President Biden said yesterday. We are four years strong based on a commitment of 56 members of Congress, equally divided, to debate the issues just like President Biden articulated. We base it in a civil discourse. We base it on trust. And when we get to a consensus in the Problem Solvers Caucus, we will vote as a bloc of 56 members. And I will tell you, bringing that number of members to the floor of the House influences the agenda. We've changed the rules of the House before, changed policy. And I will tell you, we're going to be influencing with a two-seat majority or a four-seat majority in the House. I will tell you, we're going to be right in the middle of influencing policy and process in the House...

INSKEEP: Oh, you're noting that Democrats have the majority, but only a few votes to spare. So people in the middle have some influence. But we are just coming out of this period, as you know, Congressman, where most of your party in Congress voted to object to the election that Biden obviously won. And they backed up President Trump's lies that he won. Is that a signal for the way that a majority of your party intends to approach this new administration?

REED: And I think what we have to do there, Steve, is recognize that we can't stereotype groups, and you're stereotyping the entire Republican Party. That - you reference 140, but there was 70-plus of us that voted not to object to the Electoral College. And that's only one vote. And I can tell you, there's many good men and women in the Republican Party that are willing to sit at the table. And that's us in the Problem Solvers Caucus leading the charge and discussing these issues based on fact, based on our way we think of issues, way we want to lead the nation and come to a consensus when we can. And so, you know, I reject the stereotypical labeling of the Republican Party as a whole. And I'd rather look for the good men and women on both sides of the aisle to do the business of the people.

INSKEEP: Congressman, just to be very clear, I'm not stereotyping; I am counting. And I am being clear that you did not vote to object to the election that had been certified by all 50 states.

But it's not just one vote, is it? Aren't we in a situation where Republicans opposed President Obama for years and years and years on almost everything? And you can characterize President Trump's administration as largely a kind of culture war on the other side. What - does your party need to reckon with that?

REED: Oh, I think that goes both ways. I mean, I was a - been involved in the Trump administration, trying to get things done. And we were able to get things done like criminal justice reform and others. And we found opposition on the other side routinely each and every day. And so that's a symptom of a gridlock in Washington, D.C., a dysfunction in Washington, D.C. And it's also a reflection - remember, Congress who represents the nation. Our nation is deeply polarized right now. We are us-versus-them type of mentality. And I want to do whatever I can as a proud Republican - and I'm working with proud Democrats - to bring people together to try to win hearts and minds based on ideas and influencing them from policy perspectives. And that's where we need to go forward.

But to say that this is an us-versus-them D.C. is just, I think, is a true statement based on both sides of the aisle reflecting a polarized nation. And that's why I was so glad to sit and watch the inauguration yesterday. And President Biden's message was well-received by me. It's time to unite and heal this country. And me, as Tom Reed, leading the Problem Solvers Caucus and hopefully a new Republican Party that's willing to engage in this ground (ph) working with Josh Gottheimer, a proud Democrat who's leading the Democratic Party in this fashion, that is a - bringing the parties together in a better way that President Biden articulated last night.

INSKEEP: One thing that the president wants is almost $2 trillion in additional spending to fight the pandemic and the economic effects of the pandemic. Do you think that's something that a lot of Republicans in your caucus can support?

REED: Well, you know, we just did in the Problem Solvers Caucus in working with our now 16 members in the Senate and then what we call the 908 Coalition, the Common Sense Coalition. We just did $900 billion of COVID relief that the Problem Solvers Caucus got recognized as being a linchpin of getting that deal done. So before we go down the path of 1.9 trillion - and we're working and talking already. The group is already talking with the administration and the other side about, what can we do immediately? I think there's some of that 1.9 trillion that we can potentially find some immediate common ground on, like vaccine distribution and development and testing, additional resources. And those conversations are already going, maybe something on the checks - the $1,400 stimulus is something that maybe we can bridge the differences on. But a large $1.9 trillion in the next two months when we just put 900 billion - and really that money hasn't even gone out the door of Washington, D.C., yet - is something that's a larger conversation, a longer conversation.

INSKEEP: I'm glad you mentioned 16 members of your caucus in the Senate because, we should note, it's divided 50-50. Vice President Harris can cast the deciding vote. But actually you need, under the rules, 60 votes to move ahead with most legislation. Do you think there can be sufficient bipartisan consensus for both the House and Senate to function here when people can find common ground with the administration?

REED: That's exactly dead on. That's where - 60 votes is necessary to get things done and 218 in the House. And that's why, four years ago, we put the Problem Solvers Caucus together. And now it's a mile wide and a mile deep, and it has the intestinal fortitude to do what is going to be necessary to get these deals done. And so I'm hopeful. And I'll tell you, if you get 60 votes in the Senate and 218 votes in a bipartisan fashion in the House, you have better legislation. You start healing the country 'cause you have to bring both sides together. And I will tell you, that's only done with open and honest debate. And it's time in America we do that. And I was glad to hear President Biden. I'm an open door to that message that President Biden articulated yesterday.

INSKEEP: A few seconds, Congressman, are the incentives still wrong? Conflict, however dishonest, gets you media attention and money in politics - in American politics?

REED: Your mouth to God's ears, yes, absolutely. That is one of the fundamental problems. And that's why I think the silent majority of Americans are waking up. I've been watching it, listening to it, especially the last two weeks. American people are going to demand this change that enough is enough. Stop acting like kids. Be the adults in the room, and lead. And I'll tell you, the Problem Solvers Caucus is answering that call.

INSKEEP: Congressman, it's always a pleasure talking with you. Thank you for joining us once again.

REED: It's great to be with you. Thanks so much, Steve.

INSKEEP: Tom Reed of New York co-chairs the Problem Solvers Caucus in Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOE'S "BOYO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.