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Bridging the partisan divide: VP's chief of staff is 'Mr. Fix-It'

Bruce Reed, chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden, has a reputation for getting along with both parties, and often plays a key role in pushing the Obama administration's agenda.

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And when Obama's most senior advisers meet every morning at 7:40 to set the day's agenda, Reed is there. These mornings, it's Reed who keeps Obama's team up to date on one of the administration's top priorities: gun control.

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When the president tasked Biden with crafting a series of proposals to respond to a scourge of mass shootings, the role of chief architect fell to Reed, who cut his teeth on gun issues as Clinton's domestic policy adviser. The ensuing proposal includes broadly supported measures like universal background checks, but also a controversial ban on assault weapons.

It quickly became clear the ban would face near-insurmountable obstacles in Congress. That led many to question whether the White House proposed the ban to placate those demanding tough action, but was ready to drop it if necessary to strike a deal. A Senate panel plans to vote on the ban Tuesday, though it has virtually no chance of passing the full Senate. While Biden and Obama say the ban deserves a vote, both have avoided describing it as a must-have.

"Nobody needed to tell me. I saw Bruce's fingerprints all over it," said former Clinton adviser William Galston, who met Reed in the late 1980s working on Al Gore's first presidential campaign. "Bruce is not afraid of the politics of aspiration, but he has a healthy awareness of the distinction between the best and the attainable. He will not counsel people to fall on their sword."

So far, there have been few outcries from the left over the prospect that the White House will abandon the assault-weapons ban — perhaps because even many Democrats are on the fence and fear being cast as infringing on lawful gun ownership.

On other issues where Reed has sought consensus with Republicans, the backlash has sometimes been quite public.

Credited with coining the phrase "end welfare as we know it," Reed bore the wrath of liberals when he helped Clinton in 1996 secure a welfare overhaul — negotiated with Republicans — that ended some guarantees for poor Americans. A handful of Clinton officials resigned in protest.

Still, even those on the losing end of policy disagreements say Reed somehow manages to keep it from getting personal. Peter Edelman, one of the officials who resigned, said even when consensus proved elusive, Reed treated his adversaries with respect.

"In all the years I worked with him, I only saw him lose his temper once at me," said Paul Weinstein, an economist who has worked for Reed in various roles since the 1980s. The rare outburst came in 1992, near the end of Clinton's campaign, when Weinstein told Reed he needed to step away from the campaign to finish his Ph.D. "Bruce just lost it on me," Weinstein said. "When I tell people I saw him lose his temper, they practically fall over backwards because they don't believe it."

Democratic strategist Kiki McLean, who has known Reed for more than two decades, said his sense of humor is striking considering his unobtrusive manner. "Bruce is not the guy who will stand on the table and sing, but he is the guy who will lean over and whisper something so you have to hold your sides to keep from bursting out laughing," she said.

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