Biden outreach on infrastructure met with Republican skepticism
President Biden’s outreach on infrastructure is facing skepticism from Republican senators, who worry Democrats will go it alone in a repeat of the recent coronavirus relief bill.
In addition to publicly announced group meetings, the White House and Cabinet secretaries are privately reaching out to GOP senators — outreach detailed this week by press secretary Jen Psaki as the administration tries to drive home that it is offering olive branches.
But Biden’s overtures are being met with mixed reviews by Republicans, with some members of leadership saying they have yet to hear from the administration.
Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the chamber’s No. 2 Republican, said he hadn’t heard from the White House but had been told that he was being invited to a meeting next week.
“I think they’ve been very, in terms of their outreach, pretty nonexistent at that level,” Thune said about outreach from Biden, while noting there had been staff-level talks. “They have not done a good job so far of public relations or congressional relations.”
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), an adviser to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said he also hadn’t heard from the White House and was skeptical there had been broad, direct outreach to GOP senators.
“It’s been surprising,” Portman said. “That’s what President Biden campaigned on. He won the primary, not just the general election, saying he wanted to do more across-the-aisle outreach.”
The Biden administration has unveiled a roughly $2.3 trillion infrastructure package that includes roads and bridges but also goes further by touching on manufacturing, revamping the nation’s water system and broadband.
Getting bipartisan support for such a mammoth package will be tough, especially if Democrats stick with Biden’s plan to help cover the costs of the bill by raising the corporate tax rate from 21 percent, a level set by the 2017 tax bill, to 28 percent.
Senate GOP leadership kicked off a weekly press conference on Tuesday by sounding off against Biden’s proposal.
“I don’t think there’s going to be much, if any, sentiment among Senate Republicans for undoing the 2017 tax bill,” McConnell said.
Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.), the No. 3 GOP senator, accused Democrats of trying to pass a “slush fund of liberal spending.”
“The administration’s position on infrastructure seems to follow the old line, my way or the highway,” he said.
But Biden, and top Democrats, are stressing that they would like to get to an end product that could garner GOP support.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) talked up bipartisanship during a closed-door caucus lunch on Tuesday and in a subsequent press conference with reporters.
“What we’re first going to do in … this month is work on issues that are part of Build Back Better where we think there can be some bipartisanship,” Schumer told reporters.
The administration has already reached out to dozens of Senate offices, including Republicans.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who would be a key vote for a bipartisan bill, said she had heard from Cabinet secretaries and has had “good discussions.”
“I’m encouraged by the initial outreach and I certainly hope that we can come up with a bipartisan package,” she said.
Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, said he had heard from the administration as recently as Monday, as well as three previous times.
“I actually had three different discussions with the White House staff last week. … Some of the Democratic senators had reached out wanting to find a way that we could go forward on a more traditional infrastructure bill, and I think we can,” Blunt said.
The White House legislative affairs office has made calls to 35 House GOP offices and 15 Senate GOP offices. Meanwhile, Cabinet secretaries have made calls to seven Republicans. Psaki said that the administration’s 26 staff briefings and nine lawmaker briefings includes GOP leadership and five bipartisan groups.
“Obviously this is picking up,” she said.
But Republicans are keeping a close eye on if Biden is willing to scale down his proposal in order to pick up GOP support. Though Democrats also said they wanted a recent coronavirus bill to be bipartisan, talks between a group of GOP senators and Biden stalled.
Biden talked up his relationship with Republicans during the presidential campaign after serving for decades in the Senate. But he recently rankled GOP senators involved in the talks on coronavirus relief after he said they were unwilling to “move an inch.”
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who had multiple conversations with the White House and is in daily contact with Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), said she hoped the outcome of the coronavirus talks was not a “repeating pattern.”
“We’ve had good conversations and we’re interacting with them at the committee level frequently,” she said. “I’m going to reserve judgment in that I haven’t seen much movement towards ideas that we have, but we’re still in the process.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who said she has heard from Cabinet members, urged the administration to go for a bipartisan bill.
“I do have concerns about that,” Murkowski said about a potential repeat of how the coronavirus talks played out. “I think it would be very, very unfortunate. I think bipartisanship needs to be more than just words.”
But Democrats and the White House have also signaled that they are willing to go it alone in order to enact a “bold” agenda.
Though Biden needs GOP support to get most bills through the Senate, Schumer got a big win when the Senate parliamentarian signaled that Democrats could revise budget resolutions to give them more opportunities to pass bills under reconciliation, a process that allows them to bypass the 60-vote legislative filibuster in the Senate.
In order to use reconciliation, Biden would need the support of all 50 members of the Democratic caucus, which could be a heavy lift given some divisions over how to pay for the bill and how much needs to be paid for.
Schumer said it was Democrats’ “credo” to try to be bipartisan but warned they couldn’t let Republicans prevent them from enacting a “bold” agenda.
“We must have a big bold agenda,” Schumer said, adding that if GOP senators wouldn’t provide votes Democrats would have to “assemble, get together and figure out how to move forward.”
The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.