President BidenJoe BidenManchin to vote to nix Biden's vaccine mandate for larger businesses Congress averts shutdown after vaccine mandate fight Senate cuts deal to clear government funding bill MORE is stepping up his engagement with Capitol Hill in a bid to save his economic agenda after criticism from some Democrats who say he needs to get more involved in a battle between liberals and centrists in his party.
Biden scrapped a planned trip to Chicago to promote vaccine mandates on Wednesday, remaining in Washington to meet with Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerProgressive groups urge Schumer to prevent further cuts to T plan Collins says she supports legislation putting Roe v. Wade protections into law Biden should seek some ideological diversity MORE (D-N.Y.) and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiCongress averts shutdown after vaccine mandate fight On The Money — Congress races to keep the lights on House sets up Senate shutdown showdown MORE (D-Calif.).
He’s also stepped up his involvement with a series of meetings and calls to try to find a way forward for his $1.1 trillion infrastructure bill and a separate $3.5 trillion social spending package being crafted in both chambers.
It’s unclear whether the increased activity will lead to progress, but some Democrats expressed happiness that Biden is becoming more engaged.
“Canceling his trip to Chicago isn’t just window dressing — I think it’s a genuine and responsible move to stay here and have these critical discussions with members of Congress and senators,” said Rep. Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - The omicron threat and Biden's plan to beat it Dearborn office of Rep. Debbie Dingell vandalized With Build Back Better, Dems aim to correct messaging missteps MORE (D-Mich.), an ally who earlier this week voiced criticism of Biden’s congressional outreach.
“People are told, 'You got to be with the president.' But what is it the president wants?” Dingell told MSNBC on Wednesday morning. “Nobody can even answer that question.”
“I think that’s a problem for the White House. ... I think he’s got to talk to more than two senators,” Dingell added.
Dingell’s comments were a reference to the outsized amount of attention Biden has dedicated to Sens. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinManchin to vote to nix Biden's vaccine mandate for larger businesses Congress averts shutdown after vaccine mandate fight Senate cuts deal to clear government funding bill MORE (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaBiden should seek some ideological diversity Budowsky: Why GOP donors flock to Manchin and Sinema Pence-linked group launches 0K ad campaign in West Virginia praising Manchin MORE (D-Ariz.), two moderates who have voiced opposition to a $3.5 trillion reconciliation package without naming an acceptable price tag.
Each senator has been something of a fixture at the White House, visiting with Biden multiple times in the last few weeks. The meetings reflect Biden’s comfort with the Senate, where he served for more than 30 years, and the leverage Manchin and Sinema hold over whether Democrats can get a massive reconciliation bill containing many of Biden’s priorities through the narrowly divided chamber.
Some officials close to the administration argued any personal push from Biden to House members may not make much of a difference given he lacks the relationships he has with many senators. One official acknowledged the White House knows senior staff may be more effective messengers than Biden for House members.
“I think the sense is that Biden has not been as aggressive as he could be or maybe even needs to be,” said one former Obama administration official.
“But the progressives who might vote against [the bipartisan bill], those aren’t people Biden has a lot of clout with. ... They see the issues they care about as being a higher priority than bending down to the institution of the White House,” the official continued. “So has he checked all the boxes that he could check? No. But does checking those boxes now move the ball forward? I don’t think so.”
Biden’s schedule was largely clear of public events this week in a nod to the urgency around the negotiations on Capitol Hill. A trip to Capitol Hill on Thursday to rally support for his agenda is a possibility. White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiOvernight Health Care — Presented by March of Dimes — Biden's winter COVID-19 strategy Biden lays out multi-pronged plan to deal with evolving pandemic White House defends travel ban on African countries MORE said Biden’s plans could change “hour by hour.”
One reason Biden hasn’t been more aggressive is that he’s been careful not to get ahead of Pelosi or Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) as they manage their caucuses.
Biden held private meetings last week with various Democratic lawmakers from both the progressive and moderate wings of the party. On Tuesday, Biden hosted Manchin and Sinema at the White House for separate conversations.
“The president has spoken over the last several days with a range of different voices,” Psaki said Wednesday. “But he knows that the most constructive role he can play in this moment is working to unify Democrats on a path forward. And a big part of that, of course — a huge part of that — is working toward an agreement to get 50 votes in the Senate.”
The White House earlier this week touted that Biden and senior officials had more than 260 engagements on their Build Back Better agenda and held 50 briefings with different departments on policy components.
Top Biden officials were all over Capitol Hill on Wednesday.
White House senior adviser Cedric RichmondCedric RichmondBiden says 'consumer spending has recovered' to pre-pandemic levels Build Back Better is a 21st century New Deal Black Caucus eager to see BBB cross finish line in House MORE attended the House Democrats’ caucus meeting with leadership in the morning. Later in the day, White House Office of Legislative Affairs Director Louisa TerrellLouisa TerrellWhite House still thinks spending deal could be made before Europe trip Juan Williams: Women wield the power LIVE COVERAGE: Biden tries to unify divided House MORE, counselor Steve RicchettiSteve RicchettiBipartisan success in the Senate signals room for more compromise The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - GOP dealt 2022 blow, stares down Trump-era troubles White House still thinks spending deal could be made before Europe trip MORE and domestic policy adviser Susan RiceSusan RiceAn unquestioning press promotes Rep. Adam Schiff's book based on Russia fiction Biden administration, stakeholders to host interagency event on economic equity Black Caucus pushes for priorities in final deal MORE met with Sinema in her office.
The president has urged Congress to pass both the bipartisan infrastructure bill that the Senate approved in August and the reconciliation bill that contains other priorities on health care, child care, climate initiatives and education.
Pelosi scheduled a vote on the infrastructure bill for Thursday, but it looks likely to be postponed a second time amid complaints from progressives.
Democratic strategists and administration officials acknowledge Biden’s presidency is at a pivotal moment eight months into his first term. His ability to unite the party and get moderates and progressives on board will determine whether his top domestic priorities get passed, giving Democrats a clear message for next year’s midterm elections.
One strategist close to the White House argued it would be better to push the vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill back to ensure both pieces of legislation get passed. But White House officials have been careful not to negotiate in public as they work frantically to get everyone on the same page.
“I’m not negotiating from here,” Psaki said Wednesday. “We’re obviously in a precarious and important time in these discussions.”