Biden adds pressure to congressional talks with self-imposed deadlines

The White House has put the pressure on Congress and its own top negotiators with a pair of self-imposed deadlines for action on infrastructure and policing reform.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Monday that President Biden still hoped to sign a policing bill into law by May 25, the anniversary of George Floyd’s death. And she said the White House is looking for progress on an infrastructure bill by Memorial Day, with expectations for Biden to sign a package into law over the summer.

Neither item, however, appears close to a final vote, casting doubt on whether Biden will be able to notch victories in his desired time frame. The potentially unrealistic timetables are also out of step for an administration that has thus far made a point of setting and meeting achievable goals.

The White House has taken two different approaches to each legislative priority. Biden has mostly kept his hands off policing reform, allowing Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) to hash out sticking points even as the deadline is less than two weeks away.

“The president is eager to see what the outcome of negotiations are, and he certainly trusts in the leadership of Congresswoman Bass, Sen. Booker,” Psaki said Monday when asked if Biden has a view on potentially removing qualified immunity protections for police, a non-starter for Republicans.

“His focus is on his hope that he can sign the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act into law on May 25. … And he will not — we’re not going to get ahead of those negotiations,” Psaki added.

One Democratic strategist close to the White House expressed optimism that lawmakers will be able to make tangible progress on policing reform by May 25, suggesting that the administration has left itself some wiggle room on infrastructure by being vague about what it considers “progress” on a bill.

Psaki on Tuesday declined to specify what the White House is looking to see on the infrastructure front by Memorial Day or whether Biden would look to move forward without Republicans at that point.

“I don’t think we can make that assessment quite yet,” she said. “I think what we’re looking at is we want to see if there’s an opportunity to work together. But it doesn’t mean we stop then. It just means we will be able to assess at that point where things sit and where we go from there.”

This week marks a potential turning point for the administration in its bid to get an infrastructure bill through Congress and on the president’s desk this summer. Biden has met with Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), two moderate Democrats whose support he will need to move any package, with or without Republicans.

The president will meet Wednesday with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), where infrastructure will likely be on the agenda.

The following day, Biden is slated to host Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and a handful of her Republican Senate colleagues to discuss the American Jobs Plan. Capito and some of the senators she will bring with her have been among the few Republicans who have expressed an openness to a bipartisan compromise on infrastructure.

“The president would still like to see progress by Memorial Day and would like to sign the bills into law this summer. That hasn’t changed,” Psaki said Monday. “But we don’t have a new deadline. But, of course, a number of meetings, and the Senate is back, and there’ll be all sorts of conversations happening this week.”

But the two sides remain far apart on how to pay for any potential infrastructure package. Biden has proposed an increase in the corporate tax rate, while Republicans have balked at the idea and countered with user fees as a payment method.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), who will attend Thursday’s White House meeting, told CNN on Tuesday that Republicans are unlikely to accept anything higher than $800 billion, a fraction of Biden’s $2.3 trillion proposal.

With the clock ticking, the White House is facing pressure to strike a deal with GOP senators or go it alone with Democrats on a package that will need 50 votes in the Senate. One Republican aide suggested the Memorial Day deadline may just be a bargaining chip as the White House games out how it can most effectively move forward.

“Let’s see how conversations go this week,” the aide said. “It may just be for show, but Democrats may not have the votes on their own for all of this.”

Tags Charles Schumer Cory Booker Jen Psaki Joe Biden Joe Manchin Karen Bass Kevin McCarthy Kyrsten Sinema Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Roger Wicker Shelley Moore Capito Tim Scott
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