Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware, was hurrying to a vote through the Capitol’s cavernous underground tunnel system on a recent Thursday when his phone rang. It was Pete Buttigieg, the secretary of transportation, calling for a quick briefing before an infrastructure meeting he had scheduled with a group of Republican senators.
Mr. Coons brushed off the reporters trailing him, propped his computer tablet against a railing next to the Senate subway track, and began typing away, taking notes, as he lowered his voice to share the skinny on the Republicans.
“These are Republican senators he doesn’t know,” Mr. Coons said of Mr. Buttigieg after the two hung up. “So it’s just sort of tactical advice about specific members. What are their interests? What’s the background? Do you think there’s room for progress?”
Before the end of the day, Mr. Coons’s phone would ring several more times, with various White House officials on the other end — seeking counsel, scuttlebutt and insight that President Biden needed to navigate his agenda through the Senate.
To trail Mr. Coons on Capitol Hill is to witness how he operates as an extra pair of eyes and ears for the Biden administration in Congress, a kind of consigliere trusted by both the president and the senators — many of them Republicans — whom Mr. Biden needs to succeed.
It is a far less prestigious job than the one that Mr. Coons — who interned for Mr. Biden three decades ago, became his mentee on the New Castle County Council, campaigned for him in Iowa and now holds the seat that once belonged to him — initially sought in the Biden administration, where he had hoped to serve as secretary of state. But it can demand the same kind of shuttle diplomacy and high-stakes negotiation.