White House sees paths forward on infrastructure despite stalled negotiations

The White House on Monday said it sees multiple paths forward to passing infrastructure legislation, even as talks have stalled between President Biden and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), the top Republican negotiator in the Senate.

Biden is expected to speak with Capito before leaving for Europe on Wednesday for a week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. The two last spoke on Friday, after which the administration said Biden was underwhelmed by the senator’s latest proposal. 

“The time is not unlimited here … nor is the president’s willingness to compromise,” Psaki said at a briefing Monday. “He made clear that the proposal the offer put on the table didn’t meet his own bar. But we’re very open to where the discussion goes from here.”

Psaki signaled three potential paths for moving forward on an infrastructure bill, which has been a priority for the administration since Biden rolled out the American Jobs Plan in late March. But none of the paths are clear at the moment, particularly if Biden is looking for bipartisan buy-in.

One path would be finding an agreement with Capito, who has met with Biden multiple times and led the GOP side of negotiations. While Psaki said the administration would continue a dialogue with Capito even after Biden leaves for Europe, she indicated the two sides remained too far apart.

“The president has come down by about $1 trillion” from his original $2.2 trillion proposal, Psaki said. “What we’ve seen on the other side is they’ve only come up by a small percentage of that.”

Capito’s most recent offer was just shy of $1 trillion total, though only a fraction of that would constitute new spending.

In the absence of a deal with Capito, Psaki pointed to other Republican and Democratic lawmakers who have been holding talks of their own on the contours of an infrastructure package, including Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine).

The third way forward, Psaki said, would be to throw the administration’s weight behind The INVEST in America Act, a bill being marked up this week by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The bill, which is still in the early stages in the House, contains significant overlap with Biden’s American Jobs Plan and focuses primarily on investments in roads, bridges and public transit.

“It provides an opportunity for Democrats and Republicans to vote to support a historic investment in infrastructure,” Psaki said Monday, adding that the White House would be open to breaking Biden’s jobs plan up to pass it piece-by-piece.

While the White House sees different ways of getting an infrastructure bill done, the path forward is less clear for voting rights legislation. Manchin, a key swing vote in the Senate, published an op-ed on Sunday laying out his opposition to The For the People Act, the sweeping voting rights legislation passed in the House earlier this year.

Manchin cautioned that pursuing voting rights legislation along party lines would lead to further divisions in the country. He added that he would not support ending or altering the legislative filibuster that requires 60 votes for a bill to move forward in the Senate, dimming hopes among progressives for pushing through their agenda in a 50-50 split chamber.

“We’re certainly not ready to accept that analysis,” Psaki said when asked if the White House views Manchin as an impediment to passing Biden’s agenda.

Psaki would not get into the political dynamics of Manchin’s opposition or whether the White House had been in touch with the senator prior to his op-ed publishing. But she repeatedly emphasized that the president viewed strengthening voting rights as a priority, despite its uncertain path in the Senate.

“I will say that the president considers Sen. Manchin a friend. He knows that they may disagree on some issues as they do on this particular piece of legislation,” Psaki said. “He’s going to continue to work with him, reach out to him, engage with him directly and through his staff on how we can work together moving forward.”

Tags american jobs plan Infrastructure Jen Psaki Joe Biden Joe Manchin Mitt Romney Rob Portman Shelley Moore Capito Susan Collins

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