Biden Aides Press Senators to Keep Infrastructure Deal Intact
(Bloomberg) -- Top aides to President Joe Biden are working to keep his $579 billion bipartisan infrastructure deal from unraveling, reaching out to senators to convey his enthusiasm for the agreement, a White House official said Friday night after Republican senators began raising objections.
Steve Ricchetti and Louisa Terrell spoke to individual senators, the official said. To put public pressure on wobbly lawmakers, Biden plans to begin traveling the country to promote the agreement, talking up its potential to bolster the economy and job creation, the official added.
Questions about the deal’s prospects arose after Republicans expressed dismay that it was being tied to a much larger tax and spending measure that Democrats have in the works.
Ricchetti, counselor to the president, and Terrell, the head of White House legislative affairs, relayed Biden’s confidence that the bill would pass, in part because it was a good faith effort by members of both parties, and his willingness to keep working with the senators, according to the official, who was granted anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations.
The 11 Republicans in the group of 21 senators who’ve endorsed the infrastructure package are under pressure from within their party to bolt from the agreement after the president explicitly connected its signing to also getting the multi-trillion dollar social spending package that Democrats will try to push through Congress without relying on any GOP support.
The threats are aimed leaning on the Democratic moderates in the bipartisan group, chiefly Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Krysten Sinema of Arizona, whose votes would be pivotal on the broader package.
GOP senators on Friday night were questioning Ricchetti’s credibility in the wake of Biden’s remarks and remain angry over those comments, according to a Republican aide. Republicans want Biden to clarify that his signing of the deal is not contingent on the Congress passing the larger budget bill, but if the White House does that it could anger progressives who demand such a link.
Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican who had endorsed the substance of the bipartisan deal, is wavering in his support of it, an aide in his office said earlier Friday.
Other GOP aides said Republican lawmakers viewed Biden as reneging on the bipartisan deal by saying he wouldn’t sign it until he also had the bigger package in hand. Even though Republicans knew Democrats would try to pass the larger proposal on their own, they felt Biden had pulled the rug out from under them by tying both votes together, the aides said.
Moran is seeking assurances from Manchin and Sinema that they will oppose the subsequent tax and spending package.
Any such move by Manchin and Sinema would upend the strategy Biden has laid out along with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to move both pieces of legislation in tandem. Progressive Democrats are threatening the $579 billion infrastructure plan, which falls short of their objectives, without a guarantee of a $3 trillion or larger bill focused on tax increases and spending to address climate change, education costs and childcare.
‘Hasn’t Been a Secret’
The group of 10 senators -- five Democrats and five Republicans -- who drafted the compromise infrastructure plan that Biden endorsed Thursday has scheduled a call for 3 p.m. Friday, according to a congressional aide familiar with the matter.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Friday said that the administration doesn’t believe the deal is in trouble and that the plan to move both pieces on parallel tracks was well known.
“That hasn’t been a secret. He hasn’t said it quietly,” she said.
Still, Biden was shoring up support and the White House announced he had called Sinema to thank her and reiterate his support for moving quickly on both pieces of legislation.
Neither Schumer nor Pelosi have votes to spare. Schumer has said the two tracks are linked; they can’t get the votes for one without the other also moving forward.
Biden’s comments Thursday that he wouldn’t sign infrastructure legislation without also having the tax and social spending bill in hand triggered a quick, and angry, response from Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell. He accused the president of caving to the Democratic party’s left wing.
“It was a tale of two press conferences -- endorse the agreement in one breath and threaten to veto it in the next,” McConnell said. “That’s not the way to show you’re serious about getting a bipartisan outcome.”
Republican frustration among the deal’s supporters began to boil over late Thursday, just hours after the deal was announced. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina announced his support of the substance of the deal but said that Biden’s threat to block the compromise unless he gets the second package was a “dealbreaker.”
Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, on Thursday said she opposed tying the two bills together, but didn’t indicate she was going to pull her support for the package.
“I fully expect that he is going to push a second package and he made that clear as well, but there is no reason why we can’t proceed with this one,” she said.
The 21-member bipartisan Senate group put out a statement in support of the deal hours after the Biden comments tying the two packages together. And some members of the group on Thursday, when asked about them, shrugged them off publicly.
“I cannot control what Democrats do. My gosh, if I could, they wouldn’t be Democrats,” Louisiana Republican Bill Cassidy said on Fox Business. However, he later told reporters he felt “blindsided” by Biden’s remarks and was seeking clarification from the White House.
Progressives dismissed the Republican threats.
“They are looking for a way to get out of any bipartisan bill. Mitch McConnell is going to grab on to anything he can,” Representative Pramila Jayapal, head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said.
Biden and Democrats have made no secret in recent weeks that they planned to try to move the parts of their agenda that Republicans do not support, including rolling back some of the 2017 GOP tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, on their own -- using the budget reconciliation process, which can bypass the Senate filibuster.
Biden and Pelosi were more explicit Thursday, however, in conditioning their support for the infrastructure deal on enactment of the second package.
Those statements came as progressives in the Democratic caucuses worried that Manchin and Sinema cannot be trusted to vote for the budget-reconciliation bill once the infrastructure package they negotiated is signed into law.
While Manchin said a second bill is “inevitable,” he said he would not commit to supporting it until he see the contents. He also dismissed a $6 trillion draft proposal by Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders as adding too much debt.
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