Decline in Senate ‘Odd Couples’ Reflects Political Polarization

  • Hill leaders head to White House to discuss debt limit
  • Senate votes on nominee; House debates science bills

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NEWS OF THE DAY: The four top congressional leaders trek to the White House this afternoon for a talk no one expects to be easy with President Joe Biden to try for progress on the debt limit. Under threat of the country defaulting on its debt in just over three weeks, the four men will sit down for the first time in person. More on that below, but first:

Progressive Tammy Baldwin and conservative Ron Johnson make an odd pair representing Wisconsin in the Senate.

Turns out, more than half the chamber used to be this way.

The 2024 elections could decimate or even wipe out entirely instances where a Democrat and Republican in the Senate come from the same state, pairings known as “odd couples.” That could unravel one of the last remaining strands of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill in an era of increasingly tribal politics.

Just five states are represented in both the Democratic and Republican caucuses — an all-time low since the beginning of the direct election of senators more than a century ago.

“A tragedy,” former Sen. Al D’Amato (R-N.Y.) called it. Former Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said the institution as a whole suffered for it.

The explanation for the slide is obvious to Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who has only ever served alongside an Ohio Republican since he came to the body 16 years ago.

“The world is more polarized, clearly,” he said in an interview. “And people are probably more likely, for whatever reason, to vote a straight ticket.”

That will be tested next year, when every Democrat who shares their state with a Republican will face re-election. Most of them — including Brown — are in the most competitive races on the map, where the Republican nominee for president will likely carry their state on the same ballot.

Sen. Jon Tester (D) is also in that group in Montana, where NRSC Chair Steve Daines (R-Mont.) would like Big Sky represented by two Republicans in the Senate.

Tester couldn’t resist a dig at Daines when asked about the effect of the state’s dichotomous identity.

“They get damn good leadership and production,” Tester said of his constituents, “out of the Democratic member.”

Read more: 2024 Elections Threaten to Wipe Out Last Senate ‘Odd Couples’

Here’s what you need to know to get ready for Biden’s meeting with congressional leaders.

  • The meeting is scheduled at 4 p.m. and will include Biden, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.).
  • Biden and McCarthy have spent months digging in, prompting anxiety in markets and among business groups who have stepped up calls for them to quickly forge an agreement. Today’s meeting bringing them face to face marks a key milestone but expectations for a breakthrough are low, Josh Wingrove and Erik Wasson report. McCarthy insists on spending cuts and deficit reduction in exchange for raising the debt limit, while Biden wants it increased as a condition for any fiscal talks.
  • The Bipartisan Policy Center adjusted its “X date,” giving two possible ranges — early June or as late as early August — in a new analysis. An earlier window would force negotiators to strike a deal within the next few weeks to avoid a default. On the other hand, an influx of tax receipts could give them nearly three months before the actual deadline. Jack Fitzpatrick leads today’s BGOV Budget Briefing with more.
  • McConnell told Bloomberg yesterday he has no “secret plan” and won’t come to Biden’s rescue on the debt limit by breaking a partisan deadlock as a catastrophic US default looms.
  • Congressional Democrats have floated plenty of options to avoid the cuts Republicans have tied to raising the debt limit, but each of them has drawbacks. Fitzpatrick walks through the dream scenarios unlikely to gain traction.
  • Read the latest BGOV OnPoint with various proposals from Republicans and Democrats, key players to watch in negotiations, and background on the debt limit.

The Senate meets at 3 p.m. and is set to vote at 5:30 p.m. on whether to invoke cloture, or limit debate, on L. Felice Gorordo’s nomination to be US alternate executive director of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

The House returns at noon for morning hour and 2 p.m. for legislative business, with votes postponed until 6:30 p.m.

Three measures are scheduled for debate today dealing with ocean acidification (H.R. 676; see BGOV Bill Summary), research to advance weather and climate prediction (H.R. 1715; see BGOV Bill Summary), and illicit drug research (H.R. 1734; see BGOV Bill Summary). They’ll be taken up under suspension of the rules, which requires a two-thirds majority for passage.

For more on the bills announced for floor action this week, see the House Agenda for the Week of May 8 prepared by Bloomberg Government’s legislative analysts. Click here for the schedule from Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.).

The House Rules Committee meets to set the terms of floor debate on House Republicans’ border security package (H.R. 2; see BGOV Bill Summary) and another bill (H.R. 1163) that would offer incentives to states to recoup fraudulent overpayments of pandemic and regular unemployment benefits.

The pharmacy portion of the Veterans Affairs Department’s recently “reset” electronic health record modernization program will be reviewed by a House subcommittee. Mike Sicilia, executive vice president for global industries at Oracle, is among those set to testify (read his testimony).

The House Ways and Means Committee holds a field hearing on securing supply chains and protecting workers in Staten Island, NY.

For a list of the week’s hearings and markups, click here. Follow nomination votes and bill markups here.

To contact the reporter on this story: Zach C. Cohen in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: George Cahlink at; Loren Duggan at; Giuseppe Macri at

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