Biden gambles on bipartisanship

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President Biden has taken a high-stakes gamble on bipartisanship, tying his sails to a Senate deal on infrastructure that has sparked howls of protests from his liberal base. 

The president has moved to soothe anxieties on the left, saying he wants to pass the bipartisan deal and a larger package filled with progressive priorities “in tandem.”

But make no mistake, the president who vowed to change the way Washington works after four years of former President Trump has now given his blessing to a package put together by GOP senators working with the most conservative Democrats in the body. 

It’s a move that could help Biden with the middle of the country at a time when his poll numbers remain positive — a Fox News poll this week had him with a 56 percent approval rating — but it will renew doubts from the left about the nature of a Biden presidency. 

“This changes the tenor of his presidency. This was a promise that no one thought he could keep despite best efforts,” said Jim Kessler, executive vice president for policy at centrist Democratic think tank Third Way. 

The risks of Biden’s approach were easily evident on Friday, as Republicans warned they could withdraw their support over Biden’s insistence that a reconciliation package also move forward on Democratic votes.

“We’ve moved from one high wire act to another,” Kessler said. “This is going to be ‘will it or won’t it’ until it gets to Biden’s desk.” 

Biden himself was making no apologies for his decision. 

“I know there are some of my party who discouraged me from seeking an agreement with our Republican colleagues, who said that we should, ‘Go bigger and go alone.’ To them, I say this: I have already shown, in my young presidency, that I am prepared to do whatever needs to get done to move the country forward,” Biden told reporters on Thursday, citing his $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue package. 

“When we can find common ground, though, working across party lines, that is what I will seek to do,” he continued. “The reason why is because the broader support a proposal has in Congress, the stronger its prospects for passage.”

Biden campaigned on his ability to work across the aisle and said he would work to unite a deeply divided country if elected president. Biden spent almost two months in what allies have described as an honest search for a bipartisan deal, trying to make good on his promise to find common ground with the other side and fending off pressure from the left to go it alone.

After he failed to get any Republican votes on the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, the infrastructure package represents a test of his vow to do bipartisan work.

Biden relished the breakthrough on Thursday as he stood next to 10 Republicans and Democrats to announce that he had endorsed the bipartisan framework. 

“This reminds me of the days we used to get an awful lot done in the United States Congress,” Biden said as he put his hand on Sen. Rob Portman’s (R-Ohio) shoulder. “Bipartisan deal means compromise.”

The real test for Biden and bipartisanship will be getting a deal to his desk amid threats from the right and the left.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday sought to put the onus back on the GOP, saying Biden has been clear publicly about his intention to move both bills on “parallel paths.”

Biden on Saturday clarified his position, saying it was not his intention to threaten a veto of the infrastructure package, after saying two days earlier he would not sign an infrastructure bill if a larger reconciliation package did not also make it to his desk.

“I intend to work hard to get both of them passed, because our country needs both—and I ran a winning campaign for President that promised to deliver on both. No one should be surprised that that is precisely what I am doing,” Biden said in a statement.

Despite the pushback from both sides about the president’s dealmaking, Biden’s willingness to keep at it with negotiations until a deal was made could sell well with voters. It also likely explains why Biden, who cast himself as a president for all of America but appeared to be moving to the left with his embrace of a huge coronavirus relief package, is taking the step.

Infrastructure in particular is largely considered a bipartisan topic and gave Biden the opportunity to prove he can work across the aisle to get a deal. 

“The bipartisan deal is reflective of who Joe Biden is and what he promised during the campaign. It is critically important for the country and frankly the world to see a bipartisan bill done and infrastructure is the best opportunity for that to happen— Roads, bridges, and tunnels are not red or blue,” said Nick Rathod, former White House deputy director for intergovernmental affairs under President Obama. 

The president’s 56 percent approval rating in the Fox News poll marked an increase from 54 percent in April and May. The president is hoping to build on that momentum with what he is considering a victory this week.

Rathod said there’s reason to think the gamble by Biden is worth taking.

“Getting this bill done and especially with bipartisan support is not only the right thing to do but it’s a popular thing to do and will not only help solidify his approval ratings but will give Democrats running in 2022 at all levels of government something tangible to point to,” Rathod said.

Tags budget reconciliation Donald Trump Filibuster Infrastructure Jen Psaki Joe Biden Rob Portman

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