White House press secretary Jen Psaki projected guarded optimism about the ongoing infrastructure negotiations on Friday, saying the administration has faith in Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s aggressive plan to push the bills forward.
Schumer would be running point on the “timeline, process and sequencing of votes,” Psaki said at a White House briefing.
“We certainly work closely with him, and we certainly trust the path he is mapping out for the legislative process,” she added.
Schumer announced Thursday that he wants to hold a vote next week to continue the legislative process on infrastructure, a goal complicated by the fact that no legislative text yet exists. Psaki said President Biden was willing to do whatever it will take to help with moving the bills closer to final passage.
“In terms of what he will be doing, the president is ready, willing, able, looking forward to playing any constructive role he can play in getting these pieces of legislation across the finish line,” Psaki said. “Will that mean phone calls? Sure. Will it mean bringing more people to the White House? It probably will.”
Schumer is attempting to execute two bills at once, a delicate balancing act that could be thrown off by the objections of any single Democratic senator. The first part is a $1.2 trillion bipartisan deal that would provide funding for physical infrastructure, like bridges and roads, and would require 60 votes — meaning at least 10 Republicans — to pass.
A number of Democratic officials criticized that bill as lacking in initiatives to combat climate change and falling short of many of Biden’s other promises and progressive priorities. Those concerns led to the second part: a far more ambitious $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill.
Using the process of budget reconciliation, Democrats could pass the legislation with a simple majority, but they will need all 50 of their members to agree on the package, including moderates like Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who has expressed support for some sort of reconciliation deal. The reconciliation proposal includes major provisions on education, childcare and climate change, plus an expansion of Medicare to include dental and vision insurance, and higher taxes for richer Americans. If Democrats are able to pass it, it’s likely that the final version will differ from the outline laid out this week, as adjustments are made to get everyone on board.
“I will note that the president is quite familiar with the roller coaster and ups and downs of legislating, having spent 36 years there, and even having had some successes over the last few months in working with legislators,” Psaki said Friday.
“Members of our team had a constructive, productive meeting yesterday,” she added, “and I will also note there are a number of Republicans and Democrats who feel the same in terms of the path forward.”
As it stands, the White House does not have enough support to pass either bill. Biden, a Capitol Hill veteran, left the Oval Office to attend a lunch with Senate Democrats on Wednesday in the hope that a face-to-face meeting might secure the necessary unanimous Democratic caucus support for both not yet fully finalized bills.
During the lunch, Biden received several rounds of standing ovations from progressives and moderates alike, a clear indicator that broad swaths of the party are willing to support his infrastructure agenda on the floor of the Senate. Yet the once again critical party moderates, Manchin included, have yet to telegraph their vote on either bill. The West Virginia senator did not speak up on his positions during the lunch meeting, which he later told reporters was “out of respect” to Biden. Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema, another moderate, also kept quiet on Wednesday.
In a statement released before the lunch, Manchin said he planned to “reserve final judgment until I had the opportunity to thoroughly evaluate the proposal.”
It’s unlikely that Manchin would tank the bill after reviewing the contents, since he has privately disclosed to colleagues that he is not interested in prolonging the reconciliation process and that he broadly supports much of Biden’s agenda. While every Democratic senator’s support is needed, given the slim margin in the chamber, the defection of a small group of Democrats of any ideological persuasion could also torpedo the reconciliation bill.
Even if Biden and Schumer are able to secure their entire caucus behind the measure, GOP support remains precarious.
Despite the White House’s urging that lawmakers can support each measure separately — walking back from Biden’s short-lived veto threat — several key Senate Republicans now suggest that their inability to review the final text on the reconciliation bill, paired with its hefty price tag, may threaten existing Republican support of the bipartisan agreement.
The second-ranking Senate Republican, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, said the newly unveiled reconciliation bill “muddies the picture” for members of his party.
“I don’t think it helps,” Thune said in an interview with NBC News. “We have members who truly do want to get an infrastructure bill. And I want to look at the entirety of the infrastructure bill on its own. But it’s awfully hard, when they continue to link them publicly, not to view it through that lens. And I think that complicates passage of the infrastructure bill for a lot of Republicans.”
When asked if he was confident he could keep both moderates and progressives on board, Biden said Thursday, “I understand why the press, among others, is skeptical that I can actually get this deal done on infrastructure and on human infrastructure. And I’ve watched and listened, and the press declared my initiative dead at least 10 times so far. I don’t think it’s dead. I think it’s still alive.”
A new Yahoo News/YouGov poll found overall support for an infrastructure package, but it varied based on party affiliation. In the poll, 36 percent of respondents said Congress should pass both plans, 20 percent said it should pass only the bipartisan plan and 12 percent were against both plans. A majority of Democrats (61 percent) were in favor of passing both plans, a position favored by a narrow plurality of independents (34 percent). Half of Republicans favored at least some action, with 39 percent supporting the bipartisan deal and 11 percent supporting both plans. Twenty-two percent of Republicans supported passing neither.
The infrastructure negotiations are a top priority for the Senate, which has become the choke point for much of the Biden agenda. Voting rights legislation has stalled there, which prompted the protest of Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, who was arrested as a result on Thursday. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., one of the three main negotiators on police reform, said the proposed legislation on that issue is likely to fail if an agreement isn’t passed by the end of July. Schumer added to the pile on Wednesday when he rolled out a draft proposal to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, a plan at odds with Biden’s stated position.
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