FLASHBACK: In 2001, Media Instructed GOP to Compromise with Liberals

A new President taking office after a disputed election, an historically narrow majority in the House of Representatives, and a Senate split evenly between the two parties: That’s not just an accurate description of the hold on power Democrats will have after January 20, but virtually identical to the advantage Republicans held in January 2001.

The difference is that twenty years ago, the liberal media preached that incoming President George W. Bush should seek “compromise” and eschew conservative nominees and policies so as to forge better ties with Democrats. But this year, there’s been an almost complete absence of media voices urging President Joe Biden to jettison his liberal campaign agenda in favor of bipartisanship.

A notable exception: CBS’s Lesley Stahl, who schooled House Speaker Nancy Pelosi back on January 10 of this year that she had no mandate for a liberal policy agenda: “In the election in November, someone said that the mandate that the Democrats won was not about issues because you lost so many seats; that the mandate was for tone, and attitude, and a strong desire for compromise.”

This year, the Senate is evenly divided, 50-50, with incoming Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris set to break ties in favor of her party. The House currently stands at 221 Democrats vs. 211 Republicans, with three vacancies (expect two more Democrats to soon resign to join the Biden administration, narrowing the margin even further).

The new Congress sworn in on January 3, 2001 had a GOP majority of 221 seats vs. 211 for the Democrats, plus two independents, one of whom caucused with each side. Then as now, the Senate was 50-50, with incoming GOP Vice President Dick Cheney the tie-breaker in favor of the Republicans.

Yet while the numbers are virtually identical, the media message is vastly different. This year, the media want Democrats to use their narrow advantage to push divisive liberal policies; twenty years ago, the media lobbied Bush to reach out to Democrats and ignore the conservatives who helped elect him:

■ “Americans did not vote for a partisan mandate in this election. That’s why the results were so excruciatingly close for President, for Congress, and even in the states, where we’re seeing the closest balance in state legislatures since 1952. No evidence there of a partisan mandate.”
— CNN’s Bill Schneider on Inside Politics, December 13, 2000.

■ Anchor Peter Jennings: “Who is the new President going to have more difficulty with, Democrats or Republicans?”
Correspondent Linda Douglass: “My prediction is he’ll have more trouble with the conservatives….”
— Exchange during ABC News prime time coverage of Gore concession speech and Bush acceptance speech, December 13, 2000.

■ “George W. Bush is promising to work in bipartisan fashion with the Democrats….[But] his biggest headache may come from within his own party.”
— Co-host Matt Lauer on NBC’s Today, December 14, 2000.

■ “Would you advise an incoming President George Bush, as he looks to the Senate, to look to the centrist coalition rather than to the conservative agenda of the extremes of his own party?”
— Bryant Gumbel to GOP Senator John McCain on CBS’s The Early Show, December 15, 2000.

■ “I think his hardest problem really is that the Republican Party is only going to really survive and prosper if it doesn’t stiff the moderate wing of its party.”
— National Public Radio’s Nina Totenberg on Inside Washington, December 16, 2000.

■ “There are two ways to deal with the right here. One is he can let himself get dragged down by them and essentially have what little chance he has of success fail because he kowtowed to the right, or he can use the right as a foil, push off against them, go to the center and get something done.”
— Newsweek Assistant Managing Editor Evan Thomas on Inside Washington, December 16, 2000.

■ “He [President-elect Bush] is nominating thoroughbred conservatives to his Cabinet instead of appeasing Democrats with moderates, and is vowing to take his campaign platform to Capitol Hill undiluted, even though his allies there are urging him to start with chewable bites.”
— Washington Post’s Mike Allen in a December 31, 2000, front-page story headlined: “Bush’s Choices Defy Talk of Conciliation: Cabinet Is Diverse, but Not Politically.”

■ “A cornerstone of his campaign was his promise of bi-partisanship. But now his advisers say he’ll try to govern as if he had a strong mandate.”
— Moderator Bob Schieffer on CBS’s Face the Nation, December 31, 2000.

■ “Accommodating the right has long been a burden of the Bushes….”
— Newsweek’s Evan Thomas and John Barry, January 8, 2001 edition.

■ “With a 50-50 Senate and a tiny margin in the House and a majority in the country who actually voted against President Bush he’ll be able to fulfill that central promise of unifying the country only if he’s willing to compromise on some of the big issues….”
— ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on World News Tonight, January 20, 2001.

■ “The Bush White House packaged, in its first week, an image of the President as a uniter, but Mr. Bush’s message has often been at odds with the mission: the Ashcroft nomination, new restrictions on abortion counseling, plans for school vouchers — an in-your-face attitude that has Democrats reluctant to let down their guard.”
— Correspondent John Roberts on the January 26, 2001 CBS Evening News.

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