Biden Seeks to Show That Virus Relief Is Backed by Bipartisan Leaders

President Joe Biden sought to rally support for his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package during a bipartisan meeting at the White House with mayors and governors, including New York’s Andrew Cuomo.

“The federal government has a major role to play here,” Biden told reporters Friday in the Oval Office meeting. He said local and state leaders “are all on the front lines, they’ve been dealing with this crisis since day one.”

The meeting was intended to highlight the bill’s $350 billion provision for state and local governments, some of which have seen tax revenue decline sharply during the pandemic.

“That means keeping cops, firefighters, public health workers, teachers, and other public servants on the job in the fight against the virus,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. “And that means getting help to cities, counties, and states to get vaccines in arms faster, something many governors and mayors have spoken about.”

Republicans have largely blocked Democratic attempts to include the funding in previous coronavirus stimulus legislation, saying Democratic-run states are seeking a bailout for spending unrelated to the pandemic.

After the White House meeting, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, a Republican holding a non-partisan office, told reporters “we need this assistance” until vaccinations are more widespread. “I think he’s going to use our input to make the bill better.”

‘Too High’

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, said he urged Biden to give states more flexibility in the use of pandemic assistance. He also said the president should scale back the relief package to win bipartisan support.

“I did urge him that because of the varying needs in the states, compromise is appropriate,” Hutchinson told reporters after the meeting, adding the current price tag is “too high.”

Attendees included Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, two Democrats considered by Biden’s team while vetting running mates, along with Governor Larry Hogan, a Maryland Republican, and five other mayors.

Cuomo’s visit to the White House comes with the New York Democrat under fire for reports his administration withheld data about coronavirus deaths in nursing homes. An aide to Cuomo told lawmakers that New York withheld data to avoid an investigation into the state’s handling of the pandemic, according to a partial transcript of the call obtained by the New York Times.

House Democrats are currently drafting the legislation for Biden’s relief package, with hopes of passing the bill before the end of the month and sending it to the Senate. The White House has said the measure likely will be passed using reconciliation -- a parliamentary technique that only requires a majority vote in the Senate, bypassing the need for Republican support. Biden had sought GOP support but was met with objections over the relief package’s cost.

Administration officials have argued that Republican participation in events like the Friday meeting in the Oval Office underscore broader support for the aid. Earlier in the week, Biden met with the CEOs of JPMorgan Chase & Co., the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Walmart Inc. and Gap Inc. at the White House.

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