Biden rallies Democrats: ‘We’re going to get this done’

President Biden received a warm welcome from Senate Democrats on Capitol Hill, where he met with lawmakers just off the Senate floor on Wednesday to rally them to support his infrastructure agenda, which is picking up political momentum.

Biden, making his first trip to visit Democrats in the Senate since being elected president, appeared to be in a buoyant mood as he walked into the Capitol’s ornate Mansfield Room flanked by Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), only hours after Schumer announced a deal among Budget Committee Democrats on a $3.5 trillion budget.

The Senate is seeking to pass the budget, which would allow Democrats to later move a reconciliation package filled with spending priorities, as well as a bipartisan infrastructure deal backed by Biden, before it recesses in August.

“We’re going to get this done,” Biden told reporters as he walked into the Senate, where he served for 36 years before becoming vice president in 2009.

“Is this my homecoming?” he quipped before being greeted by warm applause from the waiting Democratic senators.

Once in the room, Biden joked with a dollop of self-deprecating humor that he hadn’t received an ovation since he got out of the hospital, according to one senator in the room, who wasn’t sure what the president was referring to but said it got a big laugh.

The visit turned somber for a brief moment when Biden recalled how he contemplated leaving the Senate after the heartbreaking death of his first wife and young daughter in a car accident in 1972, shortly after his election to the Senate.

Biden pointed to a painting of late Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-Mont.) hanging in the room and said the Senate legend had persuaded him to stay, according to a Democratic senator who heard the story.

Senators afterward described the meeting, which lasted under an hour, as positive and said the discussion focused on the impact Biden’s infrastructure priorities would have on the country.

“He is very happy about the fact that we’re moving forward with an historic deal, a deal that’s going to work for families all across this nation,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said. “It was both a celebration and a reminder of how much hard work lies ahead, but it’s good work.”

Warren confirmed that legislation to give Medicare more power to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices will be part of the budget reconciliation package that Democrats plan to move later in the year. That bill would be moved just on Democratic votes and avoid a filibuster.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said “there was not a single hostile or contentious or adversarial moment. It was very, very supportive.”

Blumenthal declined to say what Biden said exactly, but said the general message from the president was “we need to be unified, strong, big and courageous.”

Biden’s agenda got a boost earlier in the day when Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), a key centrist, said he would vote to proceed to the budget resolution, which will lay out a $3.5 trillion spending target for a reconciliation package that Democrats hope to pass later this year with a simple majority vote.

“The price tag is a lot of money but it doesn’t scare me, it’s just how it’s being spent. There are plenty of needs out there, we just have to figure out how it’s being spent,” Tester told The Hill.

Asked if he would vote for the Senate budget resolution, Tester said: “I’m going to vote to proceed on the $3.5 [trillion]. Then we’ve got to get more meat on the bones on how it’s being spent.”

Another key centrist, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), said he’s “open” to the budget deal but cautioned he will need time to review how it’s paid for to make sure proposed corporate tax increases don’t hurt the competitiveness of U.S. companies in foreign markets.

“We’re anxious to basically review it. They worked hard on it, we want to see it. Also I’ve been very clear that I want to see the pay-fors and make sure that whatever we do is globally competitive,” Manchin told reporters.

“I’m open to looking at everything they provide. OK? They’re going to have to provide all the information that’s going to be needed,” he added. “They worked hard, they should have a proposal.”

But Manchin stopped short of saying he would vote to proceed to the budget resolution.

“No comments,” he said. “Let’s see what unfolds.”

Manchin said he expressed his concerns at the lunch about rising inflation.

“I said I’m concerned about inflation. And I said I want to see more of the details of what’s going on,” he told reporters afterward. “I’m concerned also about maintaining the energy independence the United States of America has and with that you cannot be moving toward eliminating the fossil [fuel.]”

Manchin said he also raised his concerns about some proposals from the Biden administration about steering the nation away from the use of fossil fuels.

“I told him that I was concerned about some of the language I’d seen to move us away from fossil [fuels]. I said if you move our country away from fossil [fuels] and there won’t be another country that will step to the plate to do the research and development that will fix the emissions that are coming,” he said.

When pressed whether he said that directly to Biden, Manchin said he said it directly to his Senate leadership.

Manchin told colleagues at the lunch that his constituents in West Virginia are getting hit by inflation.

“I’m concerned. In West Virginia — I spoke about that just now — that people are paying much higher gas prices, they’re paying food prices. … Every type of product and goods has gone up considerably,” he said afterward.

Republicans have sought to pin the rising price of goods on Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which flooded stimulus dollars throughout the economy.

Liberal Democrats also applauded Tuesday’s budget deal.

“It’s a step in the right direction for our country,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who has insisted that an infrastructure package include bold provisions to combat climate change.

“It’s a very good first step,” he added. 

–Updated at 3:14 p.m.

Tags budget reconciliation Charles Schumer Ed Markey Elizabeth Warren Filibuster Infrastructure Joe Biden Joe Manchin Jon Tester
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