Biden officials mull priorities after coronavirus relief bill

Joe Biden
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President Biden has yet to see his first major legislative proposal pass Congress as negotiations over an economic relief package are ongoing, but the White House is already eyeing how to prioritize its next round of policy pushes.

Much of the attention has been on Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which is expected to pass through the budget reconciliation process in the coming weeks.

While talks have progressed during Biden’s first month in office on that bill, White House officials have been carefully laying the foundation for three potential policy areas where they could turn next: guns, immigration and infrastructure.

The president and his team are likely to have limited political capital with razor-thin majorities in both chambers of Congress, and advisers and Democratic strategists acknowledge Biden may only have until the 2022 midterms to aggressively pursue his agenda.

The dynamics increase the pressure on Biden to pick which agenda items he will try to push through Congress — and which ones may fall by the wayside or be addressed by executive action.

“We’re focused right now on getting the American Rescue Plan passed, but the president is committed to engaging with a range of stakeholders,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a Tuesday briefing. “Of course, he had the meeting last week with senators about infrastructure. It’s one of the areas where there’s opportunity to work together.”

“But there are a lot of different needs and policy objectives the president has,” she added. “So we haven’t yet determined what the next priority forward would be, but he is engaging with his policy teams … internally and with stakeholders about what’s next.”

Biden and his aides have tailored their messaging during their first month in office about the need for coronavirus relief in a bid to build support for the president’s $1.9 trillion proposal. Biden has delivered multiple speeches each week since taking office outlining the need to pass the American Rescue Plan, and Democratic leaders in Congress have indicated they are prepared to pass the bill with or without Republican votes in the coming weeks.

But White House officials also met last week with gun safety groups, and Biden on Sunday called on Congress to enact reforms that include expanded background checks.

The president hosted senators of both parties at the White House last week for initial conversations about a potential infrastructure package.

And Biden sent a comprehensive immigration proposal to Capitol Hill upon taking office, with Democrats expected to unveil a formal bill as early as this week.

“There’ll be an assessment of, are there items on the list that will have bipartisan support, and if so they will be moved up the queue,” said Phil Schiliro, who served as legislative affairs director for then-President Obama in 2009 and 2010.

“It’s just a constant series of assessments while the outreach is going on,” he added.

Strategists said the 2022 midterms in particular are likely to be framed largely around the country’s response to the pandemic and whether the economy has sufficiently recovered by then. Biden is likely to concentrate his political capital and outreach to Republicans on initiatives related to those two issues, they said.

Legislation to tighten gun laws has historically been divisive, with bids to strengthen background checks failing in the Senate in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 and failing to gain traction in 2019 after mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

Immigration reform has been similarly difficult to garner bipartisan support around. Psaki indicated on Tuesday that the White House would be open to passing parts of Biden’s plan piece by piece. The president’s initial proposal contained a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants, as well as funding for technology at the border and to address root causes of migration in Central America.

While Biden could still lean on executive action to make progress on guns and immigration, the most likely area for bipartisan agreement appears to be infrastructure. Lawmakers in both parties expressed optimism about such a deal during the Trump administration, but disagreements over the final price tag and a lack of a concerted push from the White House turned “infrastructure week” into a punchline.

Lawmakers have shown renewed interest, however, in passing an infrastructure package under Biden, arguing it would aid an ailing economy.

The unemployment numbers are “not a good trend. They’re saying 2024, maybe 2023, and we still won’t have all the jobs back, and a huge percentage of jobs will never come back. I don’t believe that, but we have to take some action,” Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-Ariz.), a moderate Blue Dog Democrat, told The Hill in a recent interview.

“The best way for me to, say, get some action is to get the infrastructure bill passed, get a capital development that’s needed in our country, and see that as an investment into the future with good-paying jobs,” he said, adding that such a bill could include funding for clean energy, broadband, highways and airports.


Scott Wong contributed.

Tags biden administration Jen Psaki Joe Biden
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