Biden reaffirms commitment to bipartisanship amid GOP concerns

When President Biden emerged from the White House on Thursday surrounded by a group of senators of both parties to announce that a deal had been reached on a nearly $1 trillion infrastructure proposal, it seemed to be a triumphant display of bipartisanship.

But the celebration was short-lived. Barely 24 hours after the deal with Mr. Biden was announced, the core bipartisan group of 10 senators who negotiated the proposal held a call Friday amid concerns from Republican senators that the president will not sign a bipartisan infrastructure deal without a reconciliation bill to address his other key priorities.

Mr. Biden angered Republicans on Thursday afternoon hours after announcing the deal on a framework focused on physical infrastructure, when he pledged that he would only accept the bipartisan deal if it moved “swiftly and in tandem” with a reconciliation bill, which would only require a simple majority to pass.

“If this is the only one that comes to me, I’m not signing it,” Mr. Biden said. That led to outrage from Republican senators and aides who maintained that Mr. Biden is holding the bipartisan bill “hostage.”

Mr. Biden appeared to walk back his comments with a conciliatory statement on Saturday insisting that he was committed to the bipartisan bill in an effort to allay Republican concerns.

Mr. Biden said that his comments “understandably upset some Republicans, who do not see the two plans as linked; they are hoping to defeat my Families Plan — and do not want their support for the infrastructure plan to be seen as aiding passage of the Families Plan.”

“My comments also created the impression that I was issuing a veto threat on the very plan I had just agreed to, which was certainly not my intent,” Mr. Biden said. “So to be clear: our bipartisan agreement does not preclude Republicans from attempting to defeat my Families Plan; likewise, they should have no objections to my devoted efforts to pass that Families Plan and other proposals in tandem. We will let the American people — and the Congress — decide.”

Republican Senator Rob Portman, one of the key negotiators, indicated in a tweet on Saturday that he was also still committed to the bill.

“This week Republicans and Democrats agreed on an historic bipartisan framework and we should pass it because it is good for the economy and the country,” Portman wrote.

Mr. Biden’s comments on Friday had left Republicans privately fuming.

“It’s one thing to work on the bipartisan bill and then say I’m going to fight like hell for my other bill. It’s another thing to hold the bipartisan bill hostage,” one top GOP aide said.  “I don’t think people take very kindly to their hard work on a $1 trillion bill just being treated as a launching pad for a $5-6-7-trillion bill.”

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a member of a broader bipartisan group who had endorsed the framework, tweeted, after news broke that Biden tied the bipartisan bill to a reconciliation bill, “If reports are accurate that President Biden is refusing to sign a bipartisan deal unless reconciliation is also passed, that would be the ultimate deal breaker for me.”  

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has consistently said that the Senate will move on a “two track” system with one bill being a bipartisan infrastructure bill and another through a process called budget reconciliation that would include Biden’s “human infrastructure” priorities, such as child care, health care and education. Under reconciliation instructions, a bill has to follow strict budget rules outlined by the Senate parliamentarian and requires a simple majority for passage. 

After the announcement of a bipartisan infrastructure deal, Schumer told reporters Thursday that the Senate will have the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the budget resolution, which kicks off the reconciliation process, on the floor in July.  

“Everyone in our caucus knows you can’t do one without the other,” Schumer said on Thursday. “You don’t even have the votes for one unless you have the votes for the other.”

In his statement on Saturday, Mr. Biden said that he had asked Schumer to “schedule both the infrastructure plan and the reconciliation bill for action in the Senate.”

“I expect both to go to the House, where I will work with Speaker Pelosi on the path forward after Senate action. Ultimately, I am confident that Congress will get both to my desk, so I can sign each bill promptly,” Mr. Biden said.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki argued during a press conference on Friday that it would look worse for Republicans to abandon the bipartisan deal.

“It will be up to Republicans to decide if they’re going to vote against a historic investment in infrastructure … simply because they do not like the mechanics of the process,” Psaki said. “That’s a pretty absurd argument for them to make.”

Multiple Democrats in both Houses have also said since the beginning of the negotiations that they would be unwilling to support a bipartisan bill unless it was accompanied by a larger reconciliation measure. The bipartisan bill would require 60 votes to advance in the Senate. Without support from all 50 Democrats, it would be highly unlikely that it would pass – meaning that Mr. Biden needed to get all Democrats on board with reconciliation to ensure that the bipartisan bill would have a chance.

However, Thursday was the first time that Mr. Biden had explicitly said that he would not support the bipartisan bill if a reconciliation bill did not also pass.

In a tweet on Friday, Democratic Senator Brian Schatz suggested that Republicans were not actually shocked that a bipartisan bill would be tied to reconciliation.

“Hey media folks: You don’t have to pretend to believe that Republicans haven’t been reading the news for the last two months when legislative leaders said explicitly that we were moving on two tracks. You don’t have to pretend to believe that they are surprised or angry,” Schatz said.

Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, who like Schatz had repeatedly said that he would support a bipartisan bill only if he had commitments that a reconciliation bill would also be considered, added in a tweet that “Republicans thrive on fake outrage.”

“They knew there were two tracks. Why? Because Democrats have said it over and over. Most loudly in the middle of the bipartisan negotiations,” Murphy wrote.

Nancy Cordes contributed reporting.