WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure deal was cast into doubt when Republican senators said they felt “blind” by his insistence that it should go with his bigger package. The White House meanwhile doubled the strategy, saying it shouldn’t have come as a surprise.
The rare $ 1 trillion investment deal was faced with renewed uncertainty on Friday, barely 24 hours after Biden, flanked by 10 senators from a bipartisan group stepped into the White House entrance, with all sides talking about the Compromise shone.
Senators have been described as “stunned,” “overwhelmed,” and “frustrated” after Biden publicly set the terms for accepting their deal, according to two people familiar with the private conversations, who spoke on condition of anonymity discuss the reactions.
“I’ve been on the phone with the White House, my Democratic colleagues, my Republican colleagues, all bloody day,” said Ohio Senator Rob Portman, the leading Republican negotiator, in an interview on Friday.
“My hope is that we can still do it. It’s really good for America. Our infrastructure is in bad shape, ”he said. “It’s time to do it.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki, questioned about the GOP’s dismay at her briefing, said senators should not have been surprised by the two-pronged strategy that Biden has publicly discussed on many occasions.
“It wasn’t a secret. He didn’t say it quietly. He didn’t even whisper it, ”she said.
Psaki said the president plans to stand by his commitment to the senators. “And he expects you to do the same,” she said.
The further way is now uncertain.
Senators called Friday to seek answers from the White House after tumultuous negotiations last month over Biden’s $ 4 trillion infrastructure proposal, his top legislative priority.
The Democrats’ two-pronged strategy has been to put both the bipartisan deal and their own broader priorities side by side to reassure liberal lawmakers that the smaller deal won’t be the only one.
But Biden’s vow to essentially veto or refuse to sign the bipartisan agreement without negotiating the back-up package by the Democrats, which now looks at nearly $ 6 trillion in childcare, Medicare and other investments, was an added step questioning the process.
“No blackmail deal!” Senator Lindsey Graham, RS.C., tweeted on Friday.
Biden reached out to leading Democratic negotiator, Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona on Friday, reiterating his strong support for the compromise agreement, a White House reading revealed.
Tensions appeared to have eased later in the day after senators from the negotiating group called a conference call, according to another person, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting.
A bipartisan deal was important for the White House as it seeks to win over centrist Democrats like Sinema, Senator Joe Manchin, DW.Va. and to show others that it is working the whole aisle before Biden tries to put pressure on the broader package through Congress, special budget rules that allow majority approval without GOP votes.
Senate Republican chairman Mitch McConnell of Kentucky set the tone for the sudden turn of events and signaled late Thursday where the party was headed.
Formulating the argument in a speech and a subsequent Fox News interview, he stated that Biden’s messages from his two press conferences on Thursday “made your head spin”.
McConnell was very skeptical of Biden’s agenda and swore that he was 100% focused on defeating her. He’s not on the negotiating team of five Republican and five Democratic senators who have been working on a possible deal for months.
Senators who were part of the bipartisan group were initially excited to find the compromise. Many of them spoke about how good it would be not only to rebuild the nation’s roads and bridges, but also to show the world that the United States government is working well.
It was only after senators later tuned in to Biden’s second press conference, in which he sketched the path ahead, that frustrations increased and frantic phone calls began.
At the press conference, Biden was asked what he meant by bringing the two packages “in tandem” through Congress to his desk.
“If they don’t come, I won’t sign. Very simple, ”said Biden.
Senators from the group had never heard of such an explicit link between the two packages, said the two people familiar with the discussions.
It never came up in their talks with White House advisors or with Biden himself during Thursday’s group of top 10 negotiators, they said.
“There’s a lot of talk going on right now about what the president meant,” said Senator Bill Cassidy, R-La., In an interview with a Fox partner in New Orleans who shared his office.
Cassidy noted that the president may have mispronounced himself and said he hoped, “It won’t be like we created something just to give the president some leverage to do something that the Republicans disagree ”.
Ten Republican Senators would be required to pass the bipartisan agreement in the 50-50 Senate, which requires 60 votes to pass most of the bills.
While the senators in the bipartisan group are among the more independent-minded lawmakers known for defying their party’s leadership, it seems that McConnell’s criticism of Biden’s approach could replace Republican support.
The White House insisted that senators be well aware of the two-law strategy, which has been openly debated for months. They almost dared argue Republicans to break away from supporting a seemingly popular compromise of common priorities.
“That’s a pretty absurd argument for them,” said Psaki. “Good luck.”
The Democrats plan to move the broader package forward through a special budget process that would allow their own priorities to be passed by a simple majority of 51 Senators, with Vice President Kamala Harris being a tie.
Progressive lawmakers have pushed for more robust investments and could also withhold their votes on any bipartisan package unless they have guarantees that the $ 1 trillion effort won’t be the end of the road.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., Chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Friday that the bipartisan infrastructure bill “just isn’t enough.”
Associated press writers Darlene Superville, Josh Boak, Kevin Freking and Dan Sewell contributed to this report.