White House to host lawmakers as negotiations over agenda hit critical stage

President Biden delivers remarks at NJ Transit Meadowlands Maintenance Complex in Newark, N.J. on Monday, October 25, 2021.
UPI Photo

President Biden hosted lawmakers at the White House on Tuesday as Democrats raced to find an agreement on a sweeping climate and social spending package including much of his domestic agenda.

“The president will have more members down here today. He could certainly have more members down here tomorrow,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters at a briefing Tuesday morning before the meeting. 

“He has flexibility in his schedule to ensure that he can make those calls, he can invite people into the Oval Office,” she added. “Obviously this is a top priority to keep moving his agenda forward in advance of his trip.”

The White House subsequently said members of the Tri-Caucus, Women’s Caucus and LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus would meet with White House senior staff.

The meetings came two days before Biden is scheduled to depart for the second overseas trip of his presidency. Biden has said his preference is for lawmakers to come to an agreement on the spending package before he leaves on Thursday, but it’s unclear whether that will happen. 

The White House has sought to manage expectations, saying that Biden is prepared to engage with lawmakers and staff on his domestic agenda even while in Europe.

“I would also say that there are phones on Air Force One and also in Europe,” Psaki said Tuesday. “He will continue to be engaged even as we move to the trip.” 

Biden is slated to stop first in Rome to meet with Pope Frances and attend a Group of 20 summit, before traveling to Glasgow, Scotland, to attend the United Nations Climate Change Conference.

Biden has communicated to lawmakers that a deal on the package is especially important as he heads to the Glasgow summit, where he will look to rally the international community behind confronting climate change.

“I think what the allies are looking at is the effort President Biden has undertaken to design and now negotiate an ambitious, effective, practical set of investments in climate, clean energy, in infrastructure, in economic growth in the United States,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters.

“They also recognize that the United States has a set of democratic institutions, has a congress, that this is a process, that it needs to be worked through,” he said. “I believe that whether there is a deal this week or whether the negotiations continue, there will be a lot of energy and enthusiasm for the effort the president is undertaking right now.”

Among those who attended were Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Chairwoman Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), Equality Caucus Chair David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Raul Ruiz (D-Md.), and Reps. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) and Jackie Speier (D-Calif.). White House advisers Susan Rice, Brian Deese and Cedric Richmond also attended.

The president is also scheduled to campaign with Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe (D) later Tuesday evening, a week before the election. 

As of Tuesday, Democratic lawmakers were still haggling over details of the spending package that they intend to pass without Republican support through budget reconciliation. 

Democrats had initially pitched a package with a $3.5 trillion price tag, though they are working to bring the cost down in order to satisfy concerns of moderate Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.). There are also substantive disagreements over provisions in the bill, including how to pay for it.

There is talk about a second climate provision — a fee on methane emissions from oil and gas development — potentially being eliminated from the package, though lawmakers have said it is still on the table. 

After Biden disclosed last week that his proposal for a paid leave program had been reduced from 12 weeks to four weeks, there are reports about the program being on the chopping block.

Psaki declined to say Tuesday whether Biden would support a reconciliation package without paid family leave. 

“I’m not going to litigate that from here,” she said, noting that Biden initially proposed 12 weeks while stressing the need for compromise to reach an agreement on the package.

Marty Johnson and Scott Wong contributed. Updated at 4:46 p.m.

Tags Brenda Lawrence Brian Deese Cedric Richmond David Cicilline Jackie Speier Jake Sullivan Jen Psaki Joe Biden Joe Manchin Joyce Beatty Judy Chu Kyrsten Sinema Raul Ruiz Susan Rice

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