Politics

Biden pushes for elusive unity at annual National Prayer Breakfast

President Biden told lawmakers on Thursday they need to spend more time with each other — even if it’s over lunch — to overcome deep political divides and deliver on his push to unify Washington at a time when partisans seem to be drifting farther apart.

“We don’t spend as much time with each other as we used to,” Mr. Biden said at the National Prayer Breakfast.

Mr. Biden said the lunchroom was the most powerful place in the U.S. Capitol when he joined the Senate in the 1970s. The late Sen. Edward M. “Teddy” Kennedy practically dragged him there, the president said.

“He said, ‘You’ll learn more there than anyplace else,’” Mr. Biden told attendees at the Capitol Visitor Center, adding that Kennedy would speak to others on the other end of the political spectrum. “They didn’t agree with each other, but they treated each other with respect, even.”

Mr. Biden, who ran on unity but has struggled to deliver on the promise, said coming together means finding sufficient agreement on the common good. He said having a meal together or discussing each other’s families during overseas congressional delegations would be good ways for the parties to come together.

“Unity is elusive, but it’s really actually necessary,” he said. “Unity doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything.”

The National Prayer Breakfast is an annual tradition held on the first Thursday in February. It is hosted by members of Congress on behalf of The Fellowship Foundation, a Christian organization, and allows lawmakers and other leaders to pray together.

Mr. Biden tried to find optimism in new tools against the coronavirus pandemic and incremental job creation, though he said the presidency will remain challenging for years to come.

“We pray for our nation as we face an inflection point in our history,” Mr. Biden said. “The world is changing, the world is changing.”

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell offered readings from Scriptures during the event.

Underscoring the bipartisan nature of the event, Mr. Biden called Mr. McConnell — a primary impediment to his Democratic agenda — a “friend.”

“You’ve always done exactly what you’ve said. You’re a man of your word, and a man of honor,” Mr. Biden told the Republican leader.

The prayer breakfast also focused at times on resilience in tough times. Mr. Biden lost his first wife, Neilia, and their daughter, Naomi, in a car crash in 1972 and his son, Beau, to cancer in 2015.

“We’ve all gone through very difficult times. I had an overwhelming advantage, I had a family that was there for me every solitary moment,” Mr. Biden said.

Other people “don’t have anybody,” he said. “They put one foot in front of another, and they do it. They’re the people who deserve our recognition and our credit.”

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