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The Capitol dome is seen from the Russell Senate Office Building on Dec. 20, 2020.Samuel Corum / Getty Images

A Democratic litmus test: no cooperation with anti-election Republicans

"If you don't recognize our democracy at this point in time, then I don't think you're going to be helpful to successful legislation," one member said.


Let's say you're a member of Congress with an idea for a bill. Naturally, you like your idea and believe it has merit, so you're eager to look for ways to help your prospective legislation pass.

One of the keys to success is breadth of support: the more members endorse your bill, the more likely it is to pass. Similarly, the more members from both parties throw their backing behind your bill, the stronger its odds of success.

Occasionally, that will mean members end up partnering with colleagues they disagree with the vast majority of the time. It may be difficult for you to work with someone you think is wrong about practically everything, but you believe in your bill, and this is just the price of doing business on Capitol Hill.

At least, this is the traditional model. NBC News had an interesting report over the weekend, noting that in 2021, an important exception is emerging.

Freshman Rep. Jake Auchincloss, a Democrat, has begun turning to an unusual source when trying to decide whether he wants to work with a Republican he thinks makes a good point during committee hearings: Google. The Massachusetts lawmaker says he knows his constituents want him to work across the aisle, but he's drawing "a sharp red line" at working with Republicans who voted not to certify the Electoral College results as part of then-President Donald Trump's failed bid to overturn his election defeat.

It's a simple litmus test: Auchincloss is ready to work with his GOP colleagues, just so long as they support democracy. Republicans who voted to reject their own country's election results, siding with Trump in his bid to hold onto power he didn't earn, need not apply.

He's hardly alone. Rep. Ann McLane Kuster (D-N.H.) told NBC News she's only willing to work with Republicans who "recognize the lawful election of Joe Biden." She added, "If you don't recognize our democracy at this point in time, then I don't think you're going to be helpful to successful legislation." Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa) recently filed a bipartisan bill related to expanding eligibility for kidney disease insurance, but she balked at cooperation from her anti-election GOP colleagues.

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) told NBC News he has a basic requirement before he can work with a Republican: "At the fundamental level, I need an affirmative statement that Joe Biden is the legitimate president of the United States and the 2020 election was an honest and fair election."

To that end, the Illinois Democrat has told Reps. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) that he's no longer willing to work with them on projects they cooperated on in the past.

"It's hard to envision going into an administration with a partner who doesn't acknowledge the legitimacy of that administration or is showing a commitment to the truth," Schneider added.

Just as a matter of arithmetic, this approach creates a challenge for Democrats eager to introduce legislation with bipartisan support: a majority of the Republicans in the House voted to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Dems limiting their partners to pro-democracy GOP lawmakers have a limited group of members to consider.

But there's something to be said for accountability. The Republicans who voted 10 weeks ago to reject President Biden's victory may have assumed they could do so without paying a price. They could simply go back to being a member in good standing, as if nothing of historic significance had happened.

Instead, they're finding that some of their colleagues see them as pariahs.