President Biden walked back his veto threat of a $1 trillion infrastructure deal, amid backlash from Republicans who felt double-crossed by the White House’s insistence that the package pass in “tandem” with a big social spending bill.
In a statement issued from Camp David over the weekend, Mr. Biden said his comments on Thursday “created the impression that I was issuing a veto threat on the very plan I had just agreed to, which was certainly not my intent.”
“I indicated that I would refuse to sign the infrastructure bill if it was sent to me without my Families Plan and other priorities, including clean energy,” Mr. Biden said. “That statement understandably upset some Republicans, who do not see the two plans as linked.”
On Thursday, shortly after agreeing to the infrastructure deal during a White House meeting with bipartisan lawmakers, Mr. Biden attempted to make its passage contingent upon his American Families Plan. That $1.8 trillion proposal, which does not have the support of all 50 Democrats in the Senate, would spend heavily on “human infrastructure,” such as expanded childcare and job training for felons.
“If only one comes to me … and if this is the only thing that comes to me, I’m not signing it. It’s in tandem,” the president declared at the time.
Mr. Biden’s pledge, although supported by Democratic leaders, quickly earned a rebuke from Republicans. The 11 GOP lawmakers who helped craft the bipartisan deal likened it to a “double-cross” by the president.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, went a step further saying the move amounted to “extortion” and dropped his support for the bipartisan deal.
The White House’s statement on Saturday was meant, in part, to prevent further defections from Republicans.
“Our bipartisan agreement does not preclude Republicans from attempting to defeat my Families Plan; likewise, they should have no objections to my devoted efforts to pass that Families Plan and other proposals in tandem,” Mr. Biden said. “We will let the American people — and the Congress — decide.”
Senior White House aides have been conferring with key senators ever since the president’s apparent blunder.
Despite Mr. Biden’s clarification, the situation facing lawmakers remains the same. The bipartisan infrastructure deal and the Families Plan are linked and will continue to be so.
Both Democratic Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California have committed to a “two-track” process on infrastructure and Mr. Biden’s Families Plan.
Since the latter has no shot of getting at least 60 votes to overcome an expected filibuster in the evenly split Senate, it would have to move via budget reconciliation. The process allows spending bills to pass the Senate with a simple majority of 51 votes.
Such a feat is complicated, though, by Democratic discord within the 50-50 Senate. Centrist Democrats, such as Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, are unlikely to back a reconciliation bill that includes all the measures the far-left desires.
On Sunday, Mr. Manchin told ABC’s “This Week” he was likely to support a reconciliation package running upward of $1.5 trillion, provided it was paid for by repealing the Trump-era tax cuts.
“I want to make sure we pay for it, I do not want to add more debt,” Mr. Manchin said. “So if that’s one trillion, or one-and-a-half or two trillion, whatever that comes out to be over a 10-year period. That’s what I would be voting for.”
It is not clear if that would be enough to pacify progressive Democrats, who favor a big-spending reconciliation package. To their benefit, progressives have the power of the House speaker behind their push.
Mrs. Pelosi on Thursday vowed to block the infrastructure bill from coming to the floor of the House before the Senate moved a reconciliation bill.
“We will not take up a bill in the House until the Senate passes the bipartisan bill and a reconciliation bill,” she said. “If there is no bipartisan bill, then we’ll just go when the Senate passes a reconciliation bill.”
In his statement Saturday, Mr. Biden argued it was “clear from the start that it was my hope that the infrastructure plan could be one that Democrats and Republicans would work on together, while I would seek to pass my Families Plan and other provisions through the process known as reconciliation.”
Republicans and some moderate Democrats, though, still feel blindsided by Mrs. Pelosi’s attempt to hold the infrastructure package hostage.
“There’s not going to be much bipartisanship if he tries to jam this entire thing through,” said Sen. Bill Hagerty, Tennessee Republican, via social media.
Although some Republicans said they were heartened by Mr. Biden’s statement, the party’s overall position remains undecided.
Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, who helped craft the infrastructure deal, said during an appearance on CNN on Sunday that he trusted the president at his “word” on infrastructure but was opposed to reconciliation.
“I do trust the president … At the same time, I recognize that he and his Democrat colleagues want more than that,” Mr. Romney said. “And we Republicans are saying absolutely no we will not support a bill which is to be passed with a massive tax increase … trillions of dollars in new spending, that is not something we will support.”
Other initial supporters of the bipartisan deal are taking a different approach. Sen. Jerry Moran, according to a source close to the Kansas Republican, has told Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema that his support for the infrastructure deal is contingent on them opposing reconciliation.
Most Republicans, though, are not sold on backing the infrastructure bill if Democrats plan to go it alone, anyway.
“Well, I have talked to a number of members of the bipartisan group. They are all reluctant now to move forward,” said GOP Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming during an appearance on Fox News. “They’re going to need more assurances from the president that there is no link, no connection between the bipartisan bill and this bill that the Democrats want to do.”