White House says Biden is directing infrastructure talks as GOP blames staff


The White House on Tuesday put up a united front as Republican senators suggested President Biden’s staff was becoming an impediment toward reaching a deal on infrastructure spending.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki was adamant that Biden had personally directed, reviewed and signed off on the administration’s $1.7 trillion counterproposal to Republicans last week, which top GOP negotiators indicated was unacceptable. Republican senators have suggested in the days since that talks went south after meeting with Biden’s staff rather than the president himself.

“The counterproposal that our team put forward on Friday was approved by the president, was signed off by the president. Every single detail of that was directed by the president of the United States,” Psaki said at a briefing. “He was in the Senate for 36 years, I can promise you he does not take a hands off approach to legislating, negotiating and determining what kinds of counterproposals we should put forward.”

Psaki would not confirm whether Biden had told Republican senators at an earlier meeting that he would be OK with a roughly $1 trillion price tag for an infrastructure bill, but reiterated Biden had signed off on the $1.7 trillion offer put out last week.

“This is an ongoing negotiation. We’re eager to see what the Republicans propose, what their counterproposal looks like, and it sounds like we’re going to see that in the next few days,” Psaki said.

The effort to close any gaps between Biden and his staff comes as talks between the White House and a handful of Republican senators leading negotiations have faltered.

The White House says it is now up to Republicans to make a counterproposal to the offer administration officials laid out last week when they reduced Biden’s initial $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal to $1.7 trillion by slashing some investments and proposing that certain programs be pursued in other legislative talks.

Republican senators sounded a sour note after the White House put out its counteroffer, however. A group of six GOP senators, led by Sen. Shelly Moore Capito (W.Va.), bemoaned the two sides “seem further apart after two meetings with White House staff than they were after one meeting with President Biden.”

Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said talks are “temporarily at a stalemate” and that they were more productive when GOP senators were speaking directly to the president.

Capito told reporters on Tuesday after a closed-door meeting with a group of GOP senators that they would send over their infrastructure counterproposal on Thursday morning, which would likely be an offer for $1 trillion in spending over eight years.

GOP frustration with Biden’s staff mirrors what some senators said during talks on an economic relief bill that eventually passed without any Republican support. Republicans during those negotiations argued Biden wanted a bipartisan deal, but was hindered by his staff pushing him not to bring his price down. Congressional Democrats eventually the passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, and Biden signed it into law.

A Biden ally balked at the notion that staff would overpowering the president, comparing it to the idea that Republican senators would be acting on the whims of their aides.

“The worrying implication is that there must be some rampant, yet-undiscovered culture of over-empowered staff in Republicans’ Senate offices who can take rogue positions?” the ally said. “If any of them really supports a January 6th commission but feel muzzled, blink twice.”

Updated at 6:06 p.m.

Tags Jen Psaki Joe Biden John Thune

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