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Against mounting odds, Biden seeks GOP support for infrastructure plan

Against mounting odds, Biden seeks GOP support for infrastructure plan
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President BidenJoe Biden28 Senate Democrats sign statement urging Israel-Hamas ceasefire Franklin Graham says Trump comeback would 'be a very tough thing to do' Schools face new pressures to reopen for in-person learning MORE on Monday intensified his effort to win broad congressional support for his massive infrastructure plan, huddling with eight lawmakers from both chambers in search of that rarest of things in today's hyperpolarized Washington: bipartisanship. 

The gathering marked the first time the president has met with a bipartisan group of lawmakers on infrastructure since he introduced his American Jobs Plan on March 31 in Pittsburgh. He previously hosted a small cadre of Republican and Democratic senators in the Oval Office in February. 

But the two parties remained far apart after the nearly two-hour meeting. 

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Mississippi Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerBiden says he and GOP both 'sincere about' seeking infrastructure compromise The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden expresses optimism on bipartisanship; Cheney ousted Hillicon Valley: Global cybersecurity leaders say they feel unprepared for attack | Senate Commerce Committee advances Biden's FTC nominee Lina Khan | Senate panel approves bill that would invest billions in tech MORE, the top Republican on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, called it a “good discussion,” one in which Biden did most of the talking. But Wicker said pieces of Biden’s proposal would be “non-starters” for Republicans, particularly his idea to pay for the package through big corporate tax increases.  

Wicker said it “would be an almost impossible sell for the president to come to a bipartisan agreement that included the undoing” of the GOP’s 2017 tax cuts law. 

"I did tell him that," Wicker told reporters after the meeting. “Whether we'll be able to come to a bipartisan agreement that gets as expansive and as massive as he would like to, I don't know.” 

"I certainly appreciated the words in the room, but obviously the follow-up actions are … most important,” Rep. Garret GravesGarret Neal GravesGOP sees opportunity to knock Biden amid rising gas prices McCarthy unveils House GOP task forces, chairs House Republicans kick off climate forum ahead of White House summit MORE (R-La.), a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told The Hill after the meeting.

The comments highlight the barriers facing the new administration as Biden seeks to honor a central campaign vow — working across the aisle in search of bipartisan solutions to the nation’s gravest problems — without alienating the liberal base that put him in office. 

The infrastructure package, among Biden’s top year-one priorities, is an enormous $2.25 trillion wish list that combines hundreds of billions of dollars in new spending for traditional public works projects like roads, bridges and public transit, with funding to fight climate change and additional provisions to prop up America’s families, including new child care and health care benefits.

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Democrats are leaning toward a plan to separate the package into two smaller proposals: one featuring the more conventional infrastructure projects, which party leaders believe have a better chance of winning Republican support; and the other focused on the family care provisions, which face stronger headwinds from the right.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Pelosi28 Senate Democrats sign statement urging Israel-Hamas ceasefire Lawmakers bicker over how to go after tax cheats House Republican: 'Absolutely bogus' for GOP to downplay Jan. 6 MORE (D-Calif.) has said she wants to pass both before Congress’s August recess, but there are plenty of hurdles standing in the way. 

Internally, Democrats are at odds over the size of the package, with liberals urging Biden to go bigger while moderates are more wary of deficit spending — and the political blowback that might accompany it. 

Across the aisle, the president is also facing heavy resistance from conservatives who say the package is too large, leans heavily on tax increases and covers too many issues outside the realm of traditional infrastructure.

"You can't just make up words and add 'infrastructure’ at the end,” Graves said in the phone interview, panning what Democrats are calling "social infrastructure."

And externally, Biden’s infrastructure pitch, which he hoped to trumpet just as Congress was returning to Washington after the long break, has been distracted — at least temporarily — by yet another police killing of a Black man in Minnesota, which quickly became the focus of reporter questions preceding Monday’s infrastructure meeting at the White House. 

Still, Biden is pushing ahead, arguing the need to address the nation's crumbling infrastructure after decades of neglect — and to do it in a way that adopts climate-friendly technologies.  

"We need to build the infrastructure of today, not repair the one of yesterday," Biden said in a meeting with CEOs to discuss semiconductors and supply chain resilience.

The bipartisan outreach comes as no surprise. Biden had campaigned on vows to promote national unity after four turbulent years under the Trump administration, which culminated in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob attempting to overturn the results of the presidential election. In the wake of the deadly rampage, Biden is engaged in the tough task of making good on that promise, attempting to build bridges legislatively in the face of lingering political resentments. 

It hasn’t worked so far. 

In his earliest weeks in office, the president sought GOP support for his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, only to see every Republican in the House and Senate oppose it. And lawmakers in both parties are already predicting a similar partisan divide will accompany Biden’s infrastructure plan, given the early Republican opposition to the size, scope and offset strategy contained in the package.  

"I welcome Republicans coming along, but … I frankly don't see it,” Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalBiden spending plans hit speed bumps Overnight Health Care: CDC approves Pfizer vaccine for adolescents aged 12-15 | House moderates signal concerns with Pelosi drug pricing bill | Panel blasts COVID-19 response House moderates signal concerns with Pelosi drug pricing bill MORE (D-Wash.), head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told reporters during the long spring recess. “I'm not particularly hopeful that we're going to see a giant awakening from Republicans who decide they want to pass an infrastructure package that actually addresses climate.” 

Centrist Rep. David JoyceDavid JoycePorter urges increased budget for children's National Parks program Against mounting odds, Biden seeks GOP support for infrastructure plan Boehner finally calls it as he sees it MORE (R-Ohio), an appropriator and member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, said infrastructure is a popular issue in each of the 435 House districts. But he cautioned that Republicans are wary of excessive government spending, especially after Biden last month signed his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package into law.    

“There is so much money out there right now that hasn’t found its way into the system, [Biden] probably won’t get much help” on infrastructure, Joyce told The Hill. 

Still, Biden and top administration officials say they are hopeful a deal with Republicans remains in the cards.

“I’m prepared to negotiate as to the extent of my infrastructure [bill] as well as how we pay for it,” Biden said at the top of the Oval Office meeting, with Vice President Harris at his side. “I think everyone acknowledges we need a significant increase in infrastructure, it’s gonna get down to what we call infrastructure.” 

“I’m confident everything’s gonna work out perfectly,” he joked. 

The lawmakers invited to the White House on Monday did not include the usual centrist deal-makers like Sens. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinThe imminent crises facing Joe Biden Bipartisanship has become a partisan weapon New York, New Jersey, California face long odds in scrapping SALT  MORE (D-W.Va.), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCDC's about-face on masks appears politically motivated to help a struggling Biden Bipartisanship has become a partisan weapon Romney: Capitol riot was 'an insurrection against the Constitution' MORE (R-Maine) or Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiRomney: Capitol riot was 'an insurrection against the Constitution' Senate panel deadlocks over Biden pick to lead DOJ civil rights division Senate GOP dismayed by vote to boot Cheney MORE (R-Alaska.). 

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Instead the group was comprised of members who serve on committees that will play key roles in writing pieces of the sweeping Biden package: Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellThis week: Congressional leaders to meet with Biden amid GOP reckoning Will Biden's NASA win the space race with China? Bill Nelson is a born-again supporter of commercial space at NASA MORE (D-Wash.) and Wicker, the top Democrat and Republican on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee; Sen. Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerMcCarthy and Biden haven't spoken since election Against mounting odds, Biden seeks GOP support for infrastructure plan The Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden meets with bipartisan lawmakers for infrastructure negotiations MORE (R-Neb.), a member of that panel; and Sen. Alex PadillaAlex PadillaHispanic Caucus endorses essential worker immigration bill Padilla introduces bill to expand California public lands Senate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap MORE (D-Calif.), a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

The House members were Graves, the top Republican on the Climate Crisis Committee; Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-N.J.), a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee; Rep. David PriceDavid Eugene PriceSecret Service: Optics of Trump greeting supporters outside Walter Reed wasn't a factor GOP ramps up attacks on Biden's border wall freeze The US has a significant flooding problem — Congress can help MORE (D-N.C.), the top appropriator who oversees transportation spending; and Rep. Don YoungDonald (Don) Edwin YoungFive takeaways on the House's return to budget earmarks Does Biden have an ocean policy? McCarthy and Biden haven't spoken since election MORE (R-Alaska), the longest-serving member of Congress who was the former chairman of both the Transportation and Infrastructure and Natural Resources committees.  

“We’ve got the dean here. Don Young is here. We’ve got the dean,” Biden said, gesturing to Young, whom he served with in Congress for more than three decades. “So everything’s gonna be alright.”