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GOP leader vows to make Joe Biden a 'half-term president'

With his "half-term president" rhetoric, Barrasso is giving away the game: the GOP doesn't want to govern; it's desperate to stop Democrats from governing.

In 2010, as the nation slowly recovered from the Great Recession, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) reflected on his party's top priorities.

"The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president," the Republican leader declared. McConnell added, "Our single biggest political goal is to give our nominee for president the maximum opportunity to be successful."

More than a decade later, another Senate Republican leader, Wyoming's John Barrasso, has articulated an eerily similar vision -- except now, limiting a Democratic president to one whole term is apparently too generous.

"Mitch McConnell's come under a lot of criticism for saying, at one point, he wanted to make sure that Barack Obama was a 'one-term president,'" Barrasso said last Thursday at an event hosted by the Ripon Society, a centrist Republican think tank, which posted the remarks Tuesday. "I want to make Joe Biden a one-half-term president."

It's worth noting that the conservative chair of the Senate Republican Conference did not appear to be referring to a plan to remove Biden from the White House prematurely. Rather, in context, Barrasso was suggesting that if Republicans can retake Congress, the GOP can shut Biden down for the second half of his first term.

At face value, I suspect some will find reports like these mundane. After all, Barrasso is a conservative Republican. Of course he's eager to stand in the way of Democratic governance. It's the same perspective that led McConnell to declare last month that "100 percent" of the Republican Party's focus "is on stopping" the Biden administration.

But let's not lose sight of the larger political landscape. We've been told repeatedly in recent months that Democrats have a responsibility to sit down with the Republican minority, offer concessions, make compromises, and earn GOP buy-in on everything from infrastructure to voting rights, immigration to criminal justice reforms.

It's a perspective rooted in the idea that Republicans care about governing and are prepared to work in good faith with Democrats in pursuit of meaningful policy goals.

Barrasso and McConnell have effectively admitted that this is a sham. Republicans don't want to help Biden succeed; they want to make every possible effort to ensure his failure. They don't want to govern; they're desperate to stop Democrats from governing.

GOP officials don't want to take control of Congress in order to get things done; they intend to reclaim Congress in order to bring Biden's presidency to a halt -- for two full years.

This is the Republicans' vision. They're not trying to hide it. None of this is a secret. With Biden in the Oval Office, the GOP has a guiding principle: Failure is the goal.

As we've discussed, Republican leaders have prioritized positioning their party to retake the Senate majority after the 2022 midterms, and then elect a Republican president in 2024. Working constructively with a Democratic White House would do little to advance these objectives, which is precisely why he will choose a maximalist partisan course: because focusing on making Biden a "half-term president" will give McConnell and Barrasso more of what they want.

Democrats can and should learn from their candor. Democrats like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema genuinely seem to believe that GOP senators are sincerely interested in crafting bipartisan compromises. It's precisely why McConnell's and Barrasso's comments deserve so much attention: the Senate's Republican leaders are telling Democrats to stop trying.

It's a clarifying moment for every relevant player. And with that clarity should come a shift in legislative strategy: Democrats have the procedural wherewithal to advance popular and important legislation without Senate Republicans' input, and Senate Republican leaders are practically inviting the Democratic majority to do exactly that.