The new White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, later dismissed the notion that Mr. Biden’s opening policy initiatives have not lived up to his unity promise, arguing that unemployment insurance, reopening schools and speeding up vaccine distribution are not partisan issues. She added that Mr. Biden’s commitment is to listen to Republicans and treat them seriously, not necessarily to agree with them on every point.
“They will say they’re not looking for something symbolic,” Ms. Psaki said. “They’re looking to have engagement, they’re looking to have a conversation, they’re looking to have dialogue and that’s exactly what he’s going to do.”
Republicans complained that there was no dialogue before Mr. Biden unveiled his proposed immigration legislation to provide a path to citizenship for 11 million people in the country illegally while simultaneously halting many deportations and suspending construction of Mr. Trump’s border wall. Civility, they said, was not the same thing as unity.
“Bipartisanship isn’t tone. It’s policy,” said Josh Holmes, a longtime adviser to Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader. “And I think he figured out the tone. But that’s not unity. If you’re nicely doing radically partisan things, unity is not sure to follow.”
Democrats scoffed at the Republican grousing given what they consider Mr. McConnell’s extensive track record of obstructionism, maintaining that the onus was also on Republicans to meet Mr. Biden halfway. Moreover, they said, unity does not require unilateral surrender of the promises Mr. Biden made during the campaign.
“If they’ll work with him, he will work with them,” said John D. Podesta, a former White House chief of staff under Mr. Clinton and counselor to Mr. Obama. “But it doesn’t mean throw out your core program. And if he says, ‘I think you went too far in cutting taxes on the wealthy,’ and they say, ‘Well, that means you’re not serious about unity,’ that’s just a joke.”