Biden visits Capitol with agenda in the balance

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 traveled to Capitol Hill Friday afternoon to meet with members of the House Democratic Caucus to try to resolve an impasse around the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

The trip to Capitol Hill, which was announced by the White House earlier Friday afternoon, came as Democrats wrangled over the infrastructure bill and the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package that will encapsulate Biden’s economic agenda.

"He wants to speak directly to members, answer their questions and make the case for why we should all work together to give the American people more breathing room," 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 had told reporters.

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She said Biden would not be offering a path forward for vote sequencing or timing, saying that would be left to Democratic congressional leaders.

"He believes it’s the right time for him to go up there. These are his proposals, these are his bold ideas… and he wants to make the case directly to members," Psaki said.

House Democrats were forced to delay a scheduled vote on the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill on Thursday evening as progressives vowed to oppose it without movement on the larger package. Moderate Sens. 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.) and 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.) have opposed the $3.5 trillion price tag and other elements of the package, raising doubts about its fate in the evenly split Senate.

Biden’s presence on Capitol Hill is a significant development and shows the president getting involved in the negotiations beyond private phone calls and meetings at the White House.

Rep. G.K. ButterfieldGeorge (G.K.) Kenneth ButterfieldDeFazio becomes 19th House Democrat to retire Overnight Defense & National Security — Biden officials consider more Ukraine aid Biden, first lady have 'Friendsgiving' meal with military troops MORE (N.C.) was among the Democrats cheering Friday's visit, saying the president can help unite the caucus by reassuring restive lawmakers "that he has a stake in the outcome" of the messy debate over his agenda.  

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"Biden coming over, he can reassure the members that he's fully engaged and that he's not going to compromise Democratic values," Butterfield said. "He's not an appeasement president. He has a vision, he has institutional knowledge, he's been through fights like this before."

Rep. Dean PhillipsDean PhillipsBiden touts infrastructure bill in Minnesota swing district Five takeaways: House passes Biden's sweeping benefits bill Overnight Health Care — Presented by Emergent Biosolutions — Boosters for all MORE (Minn.) and other Democrats have been clamoring for Biden to take a more visible role in pushing his economic agenda across the finish line.

“I think the president might be the only person that can bridge both the trust gap and the timing gap," Phillips said Friday. "Joe Biden is president, and not Bernie SandersBernie SandersGOP ramps up attacks on SALT deduction provision Symone Sanders to leave the White House at the end of the year Briahna Joy Gray says Chris Cuomo will return to CNN following scandal MORE, for a reason. And I think it's his time to stand up."

Biden, a former senator from Delaware and self-proclaimed dealmaker, has only traveled to Capitol Hill once before to meet with Democratic lawmakers during his short tenure as president. That trip occurred when he sought to rally lawmakers behind his bipartisan infrastructure framework and a larger reconciliation package.

White House aides huddled with Democratic lawmakers into the late evening on Thursday in pursuit of an agreement on the reconciliation bill that could unlock the infrastructure package, which contains $579 billion in new spending and passed the Senate in overwhelming bipartisan fashion in August. The private discussions did not yield enough progress for the House to move forward on an infrastructure vote, however, despite moderates’ wishes.

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Psaki said Friday White House officials have held more than 300 calls or meetings with lawmakers or their senior staff members in recent weeks to seek consensus on Biden's agenda. 

Those meetings included separate outreach to Democratic factions, such as the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the Blue Dog Coalition of moderate members, and the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.

The reconciliation package contains a number of top priorities for Biden and the Democrats, including free prekindergarten and community college, and extension of the expanded child tax credit, paid leave and provisions to address climate change.  

Both packages are central to Biden’s economic agenda.

Biden joins House Democrats meeting for the second time behind closed doors Friday in order to make progress on advancing the president’s agenda. A meeting earlier Friday lasted over two hours but yielded no resolution.

Earlier Friday, Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalDemocratic caucus chairs call for Boebert committee assignment removal Five reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season 91 House Dems call on Senate to expand immigration protections in Biden spending bill MORE (D-Wash.), chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told reporters that she would prefer the Senate to vote on a reconciliation bill before the House votes on the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

"I have consistently said that we need a vote in the Senate, because I want to make sure that there are no delays, that there are no mix-ups, that there are no mixed understandings about what the deal is," Jayapal said. "I am open to hearing what other options there are for that, but I am very concerned about legislative language holding things up, vote-a-rama changing the deal, and those are the things that have to be addressed, along with the content. So it's both content and process.”

— Brett Samuels, Mike Lillis and Scott Wong contributed to this story, which was updated at 4 p.m.