In our lifetime Senate rankings, every Senator who served more than 10 months from 1993 through 2018 is given a cumulative score based on their performance in all of the Congresses in which they served during that period. These rankings include 250 Senators. Bernie Sanders ranks 247th on the list, ahead of just three Senators. Two of those Senators, Roland Burris (D-IL) and Luther Strange (R-AL), were appointed Senators who each served less than two years. Burris was appointed to fill the vacancy created by Barack Obama’s election to the presidency, while Strange temporarily filled the seat of Jeff Sessions after he was appointed Attorney General. The only other Senator below Sanders on the lifetime list was Jim DeMint, the Republican Senator from South Carolina who left the Senate part way through his second term to run the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
Joe Biden ranked in the top 20 percent of the lifetime Senate rankings (47th out of 250). Biden registered only one Congress with a score below 0.00. That was the 105th Congress, when he ranked 57th out of 98 Senators. In the Bipartisan Index, 0.00 represents the average score of a Senator during the twenty-year baseline period (1993 through 2012). Biden scored above the baseline average for Senators in each of his other seven Congresses. Of the seven, his highest ranking was fourth in the 107th Congress. His ranking in the other six Congresses ranged from 16th to 42nd.
Biden’s worst rank for a single Congress was far better than Sanders’ best rank. During Sanders’ six full Congresses in the Senate, his best single-Congress rank was 83rd out of 99 Senators (in the 110th Congress). In the five subsequent Congresses, he never finished higher than 90th. In the last two full Congresses, he had the lowest rank in the Senate (98th out of 98 in the 114th and 100th out of 100 in the 115th).
In the narrowest term, what our rankings show is that, at bill introduction, Senator Biden was frequently seeking out Republican partners, while Senator Sanders was rarely doing so. Biden’s score was significantly above average, while Sanders’ score was lower than any Democrat who has served more than one Congress and lower than any Senator of either party who had served more than four Congresses.
The Bipartisan Index is not the only measure of an elected official’s ability and inclination to work with the other party. But it is a very strong indicator, especially when the sample size is as large as it is for Biden and Sanders.
Frequently, when confronted with questions about their ability to work with the other party, partisan politicians will cite a few examples of their bipartisanship. But virtually every member of Congress, even the most partisan, has such examples. After all, many Senators sponsor or co-sponsor more than 200 bills per Congress. One of the purposes of the Bipartisan Index is to provide a statistical reality check against self-serving anecdotal claims of bipartisanship. By including every sponsorship and co-sponsorship of substantive bills over a 26-year period, the Bipartisan Index is able to establish objective standards for the bipartisan activity of an average legislator. As a Senator, Joe Biden compared very well to these standards, while Bernie Sanders established a historically partisan record.