Administration

Biden puts presidency on the line with House

President Biden put everything on the table in his fight for his domestic agenda in the final hours before he left Washington for Rome on Thursday. 

He delayed his departure to trek to Capitol Hill at the last minute in hopes of pleading with Democrats to rally around a new, scaled-down climate and social spending package. He raced back to the White House to deliver a speech on his new plan.

He even had his old partner former President Obama — who rarely speaks out on an issue unless it’s dire — weigh in on the framework proposal.

The all-out effort is coming for a reason: Biden is facing a critical juncture of his presidency.

Sinking in the polls, Biden has faced a difficult summer and fall shaped by a pandemic that won’t go away, an ugly and embarrassing exit from Afghanistan and crippling fights within his party that has left Republicans confident they’ll win back the House majority next year.

The worse yet could come next week if Democrat Terry McAuliffe falls in the Virginia governor’s race.

Biden wanted on Thursday to head to an international climate conference with as much momentum as possible. And he does have broad agreement on a framework on social spending that would make for a lasting achievement.

Yet Democratic infighting and distrust between liberals and centrists seems likely to blunt whatever victory is possible.

The president “desperately needs a win soon and the White House knows it,” said one strategist who acknowledged that things hadn’t gone Biden’s way. “It’s been a pretty dark stretch for him over the past couple of months.” 

The White House would love to see the House pass a $1 trillion infrastructure bill already approved by the Senate. Passage of the popular, bipartisan package would be a clear win for Biden.

“Any president likes to have some wind at their back for a big international trip and President Biden is no different,” added Democratic strategist Joel Payne.

But with liberals balking on Thursday even in the face of pressure from Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the president himself, it did not appear the vote was likely.

And if there is no vote, on some level it’s another missed moment and week for the White House, given the importance attached to it by party leaders.

“With every passing week, the window for action shrinks for the president and congressional Democrats,” Payne said.

The last-minute meetings on the Hill were a gamble for Biden, who announced the slimmed-down framework in an address from the White House after meeting with House Democrats on Capitol Hill.

Shortly after the speech, Biden boarded Air Force One for the 10-hour trip to Rome.

“I think everyone is hoping this all comes together,” said one ally close to the White House. “But it’s not going to be easy.”

In his speech on Thursday, Biden said it was an “historic” framework and emphasized that compromise was at its center.

“No one got everything they wanted, including me. But that’s what compromise is, that’s consensus. And that’s what I ran on,” the president said in the speech from the East Room. 

Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Rome, White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre described the framework as a sign of progress in the negotiations but acknowledged there is still more to do.

“There are still details, of course, to be ironed out and the framework will guide the drafting of the legislative language,” Jean-Pierre said. “We see today as making progress and moving forward to getting this done for the American people.” 

The events set up a high-stakes test for the White House over the coming days while Biden is also overseas attending the Group of 20 and United Nations climate summit. 

Richard Fontaine, CEO of the Center for a New American Security and former foreign policy adviser to the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), said that a deal is important to Biden to signal to other nations that the U.S. can overcome its divisions.

Jim Kessler, executive vice president for policy at the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way, argued Biden had what he needed to head to Europe.

“I think it’s like the moment when the pilot tells you that you’ve got to put your tray tables up and fasten your seatbelt because we’re going to be landing soon, but you’re not at the gate,” Kessler said.

“This feels like the final few steps to getting both passed,” he said of the infrastructure and broader spending bills. “I still feel like there will be periods that it feels like it’s not happening, but it’s going to happen.”

Tags Barack Obama Build Back Better Climate change Infrastructure Joe Biden John McCain Karine Jean-Pierre Nancy Pelosi
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