Biden Aims For Bipartisanship 04/13 06:07
President Joe Biden has begun publicly courting Republicans to back his
sweeping infrastructure plan, but his reach across the aisle is intended just
as much to keep Democrats in line as it is a first step in an uphill climb to
any bipartisan deal.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Joe Biden has begun publicly courting
Republicans to back his sweeping infrastructure plan, but his reach across the
aisle is intended just as much to keep Democrats in line as it is a first step
in an uphill climb to any bipartisan deal.
Biden's high-profile Oval Office meeting with a bipartisan group of
lawmakers on Monday was just one piece of a fulsome attempt to win over GOP
lawmakers, White House aides said. But even if it doesn't succeed, it could
prove useful -- boxing in Republicans while helping keep the widely disparate
Democrats in line. Some moderate Democrats, notably Sen. Joe Manchin of West
Virginia, have urged an effort at bipartisanship to pass the $2.3 trillion bill.
And while Biden has made clear, publicly and privately, that he wants
Republican support, the White House is also preparing to go it alone, if
necessary, to get the bill passed. That would leave the GOP in the politically
unpopular position of explaining why it objected to investments many Americans
"I'm prepared to negotiate as to the extent of my infrastructure project, as
well as how we pay for it," Biden said during Monday's meeting with lawmakers.
"Everyone acknowledges we need a significant increase in infrastructure."
Biden dismissed the idea his outreach to Republicans is just for show,
proclaiming, "I'm not big on window dressing, as you've observed."
In fact, lawmakers left the White House meeting with the understanding that
Biden was open to discussion and the president's team was headed to Capitol
Hill to meet with them or any other representatives, as soon as Tuesday.
"Those are all the exact words that I wanted to hear going into the
meeting," Republican Rep. Garret Graves of Louisiana, a member of the
Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said in an interview with The
Associated Press. "And so that was really encouraging."
Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., offered, "Nobody stormed out yelling 'no.'"
The White House outreach has been significant, with Cabinet members and
allies meeting with lawmakers and activists while also fanning out across the
country to sell the plan directly to voters. Officials said that Biden would
hold more bipartisan gatherings this month and that top administration
officials have meetings planned with more than a dozen congressional committees
But most Republicans have made it clear they have little interest, for now,
in joining the effort, rejecting the idea of increasing the corporate tax rate
to pay for it. And they have lambasted the proposal as big spending, preferring
to stand by and leave Biden to pursue his priority legislation on his own.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has said the entire package would
need to be redone, "completely recrafted," to bring on Republicans. And Sen.
Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the top Republican on the Commerce Committee, who
was in Monday's meeting, said afterward that "clearly there are parts of this
program that are non-starters for Republicans."
Undoing the 2017 GOP tax breaks "would be an almost impossible sell," Wicker
told reporters on Capitol Hill.
Wicker said he told Biden just that in the meeting and characterized the
president's response: "Well, he disagrees."
But the White House has expressed confidence that voters won't be
sympathetic to a defense that corporations object to their tax rates being
raised from 21% to 28% at the expense of broadly popular funding for highways,
subways, water pipes, broadband and more.
Cedric Richmond, the White House director of public engagement, said the
outreach to lawmakers and business leaders alike has benefited from Biden being
perceived as an honest broker who is straightforward with his intentions.
Richmond has also stressed to the companies that the 21% rate established by
President Donald Trump's 2017 tax cut was above and beyond what they had
"Not one business in six years ever mentioned 21%." Richmond said. "What I'm
reminding them of is we would be bringing the rate back to the neighborhood
they wanted in the first place. And at the same time, we could fix
Congress has launched the long slog of legislating, with multiple paths for
bringing the package forward for votes.
Democrats hold the slimmest of majorities in Congress, a three-vote margin
in the House and an evenly split 50-50 Senate that leaves no room for error as
Biden tries to keep party aligned. The party's vice president, Kamala Harris,
can provide a tie-breaking vote in the Senate.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has set a July 4 goal for action, but even that
seems politically ambitious in the face of the daunting challenges ahead. And
for every move the White House makes to win over centrists, including Manchin
and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, they risk losing liberals like Rep.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who wants Biden to reach for an even larger
package to meet the nation's needs.
One option Democrats are considering is the so-called budget reconciliation
process, which would allow for passage on a 51-vote majority in the Senate,
rather than the 60 votes typically needed to overcome a Republican filibuster.
Manchin, in particular, has expressed some queasiness at using
reconciliation without an attempt at bipartisanship, making him as much an
audience for the White House's outreach as Republicans. He and others have
resisted efforts to change the filibuster rules, but West Wing aides believe
that he would be inclined to support reconciliation if he saw that Republicans
were stonewalling an attempt at bipartisanship.
"This is another moment to showcase that the Republicans simply want to
obstruct all of the Biden agenda," said Dan Pfeiffer, former senior adviser to
President Barack Obama. "And the American people want to see you try to be
bipartisan but not at the expense of things you support."
Citing his four decades in Washington, Biden campaigned as a bipartisan
deal-maker. But Republicans have, to this point, uniformly rejected his
efforts. Not a single GOP lawmaker voted for the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief
bill that Biden signed into law last month despite polling that suggested the
measure was popular among Republican voters.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden's outreach was sincere:
"You don't use the president of the United States' time multiple times over,
including two infrastructure meetings, if he did not want to authentically hear
from the members attending about their ideas about how to move forward this
package in a bipartisan manner."
The West Wing has also pointed to polling that suggests a bipartisan
appetite among voters for infrastructure spending, and Biden plans to unveil a
second part -- focused on health and family care -- in the coming weeks. The
White House has telegraphed that far more of this package is open to
negotiation than was the case with the COVID-19 bill, but it also set a
Memorial Day deadline for showing progress.
"Democrats have set up a proactive effort to make it hard for Republicans to
stand and cut the ribbon at a transportation project in their district if they
didn't vote for it," said Kevin Madden, senior adviser to Republican Mitt
Romney's 2012 presidential campaign. "That's their effort to pressure
Republicans. Can Republicans as a party now keep the same level of unity to