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Former Sen. Bryan: Biden's Experience In Congress Will Help His Presidency

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President-elect Joe Biden waves to reporters as walks out of The Queen theater Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, in Wilmington, Del.

Few people have known President-elect Joe Biden as long or as well as former Nevada Senator Richard Bryan. The two Democrats met on the campaign trail in the 1970s. Then they served together in the U.S. Senate from 1989 to 2001. 

Bryan told KNPR's State of Nevada that Biden was well-liked by people on both sides of the aisle when he served in the Senate.

"Admittedly, the Senate of the United States, the Congress and the country is much more polarized today, so I’m not suggesting that there will be a kumbaya moment where: ‘Joe welcome back! We’re delighted to have you here. How can we work with you?’ That’s not going to occur," he said.

But the former Nevada governor and senator said that Biden's understanding of the institutions and the process will help him govern. In addition, Bryan believes the president-elect's personality will be an asset.

“Many were critical on the campaign that he didn’t have more electricity and excitement and didn’t energize people," Bryan said, "I think with all the tumult, the drama that we’ve had over the last four years that may be a good thing.”

Bryan said he wasn't suggesting that all sweetness, light and happiness will suddenly engulf the Capitol on January 21, the day after the inauguration, but he does believe Biden's moderate approach to issues will benefit the country.

“Maybe a more rational, thoughtful even-handed approach, don’t insult people who disagree, look for the middle ground: ‘Is there something we can agree upon? Let’s set aside those things that we can’t.’ That’s Joe Biden,” Bryan said.

The former senator is hopeful that Biden will bring back the idea of compromise to Congress.

“The idea that somehow compromise is the surrender of principal is very dangerous,” he said.

Joe Biden is coming into office in a difficult time. The country is still in the middle of a pandemic and the economic fallout from it. Plus, the shadow of the riots on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6 still hangs over Washington, D.C. and the country.  

Bryan expressed disbelief at the insurrection at the United States Capitol. 

"That is something that is beyond comprehension!” he said.

The former senator placed the blame for inciting the rioters at the feet of President Trump.

“The president, obviously, incited them with his speech the morning of the event, ‘go march on the Capitol,’ even suggesting, as I’ve listened to a replay of that, that he was going to join them. I think many of them thought that he was going to join them,” he said.

He also had strong words for the Capitol Police.

“This is a shocking failure on the part of law enforcement,” he said.

Bryan also said that some people involved had been planning to attack the Capitol for weeks.

While he blames President Trump for inciting the rioters and the Capitol Police for not doing enough to prepare for it or stop it, he doesn't absolve the actual insurrectionists for what they did.

“These were people who were trying to overthrow the United States, the Congress, and the people’s vote that was cast last November,” he said.

Besides the obvious divides in the country, Bryan believes Biden will also have to address the divides in the Democratic Party.

“I think one of the greatest challenges that Joe has is: he put together a very fragile majority,” he said.

Bryan said the progressive wing of the party supported Biden for president, but they'll also want to see some of their agenda items addressed by his administration.

However, Bryan says many of those agenda items are much further left than the majority of Americans. For example, Byran pointed to the idea of defunding the police.

He said most Americans don't agree with that idea. In fact, he places part of the blame for Democrats not doing as well down-ticket in the election on the rhetoric of defunding the police.

That being said, Bryan does believe more funding could be moved to services that police should not be dealing with like mental health. 

As for some other issues important to Nevada, Bryan believes Biden will be helpful. For instance, when it comes to addressing climate change, he thinks the president-elect will re-engage in the Paris Accord and put addressing climate change as a top priority.

“Clearly, climate change is real. The impact is real," he said, "The potential damage that it could do to our economy is real. We need to address it and address it aggressively. Biden is going to do that.”

He also believes Nevada likely has an ally in the fight against a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, which is 90 miles north of Las Vegas.

Bryan said when he brought Nevada's position on the repository to his colleagues in the Senate, Biden was "always supportive." Even with the support of the president, Bryan said Nevadans need to stay "vigilante" because there will always be people who want to advance the plan.

“We’re in the bullseye,” he said.

During the campaign, many Trump supporters questioned whether Biden could actually do the job of being president at his age. Former Senator Bryan did not mince words.

“I think Joe can handle it," he said.

Former Senator Richard Bryan

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With deep experience in journalism, politics, and the nonprofit sector, news producer Doug Puppel has built strong connections statewide that benefit the Nevada Public Radio audience.