‘Not My Intent’: How Biden’s Impromptu Feedback Upended a Political Win

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WASHINGTON – It all came after President Biden’s tightrope act of launching the most ambitious economic agenda in generations. Until the moment when Mr. Biden, a politician with a history of villainous comments, deviated from the script.

After weeks of closed-door negotiations, Mr Biden stepped in front of the cameras in the White House driveway on Thursday, flanked by an equal number of Democratic and Republican MPs, to proudly announce a total infrastructure deal worth $ 1.2 trillion over eight years, which could cement his legacy as a non-partisan deal maker.

Mr Biden and his top aides had successfully reached a limited road and bridge reconstruction agreement with key center senators, while cautiously signaling to Liberals that he still intended to take action – which is likely only to support the Democrats would win – to trillions more for climate, education, childcare and other economic priorities. It was an “I told you so” moment for a President who believes in his ability to steer the legislative negotiations.

But in an isolated comment during a press conference an hour later, the president blurted out that he would not approve the compromise law without the partisan one.

“If that’s the only thing I can think of, I’m not going to sign it,” he replied when asked about the timing of his legislative agenda. “I’m not just signing the bipartisan law and forgetting the rest.”

It may not seem like much, but it was enough to turn Mr Biden’s proud bipartisan moment on. On the one hand, he said aloud what the liberals in his party wanted to hear. But to the centrist Senators and Republicans it made clear a notion that had only been hinted at earlier – that Mr. Biden not only intended to sign a second, more ambitious package, but that he would go as far as planning to use their bipartisan veto, if the larger calculation did not materialize.

“We never had a clue that there would be any kind of connection,” said Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine and a key negotiator, in an interview. “We always knew there would be another bill, but not that the success of the infrastructure package would in any way depend on the other bill.”

For more than 24 hours, the White House was preoccupied with damage control, with top advisors calling senators from both parties. On Friday, the president’s spokeswoman tried cautiously to distance the government from his statements.

It wasn’t enough. And on Saturday, as lawmakers and aides continued to simmer and the prospect of a legislative victory seemed to fade, Mr Biden admitted he had pronounced wrong.

The drama doesn’t appear to have broken the deal, but Mr Biden admitted that his comments on Thursday “left the impression that I threatened the very plan that I had just approved”.

That was “certainly not my intention,” he added.

The deal Mr Biden announced Thursday initially looked like an unqualified triumph for a president who promised voters to pass laws that were both boldly progressive and largely non-partisan.

It was weeks in the making.

By the end of May, Ohio Republican Senators Rob Portman and Arizona Democrat Kyrsten Sinema had cobbled together eight other centrist colleagues to discuss the possibilities of a bipartisan framework that could replicate the success that led to the passage of a $ 900 billion Dollar coronavirus passed discharge bill in December.

“The simple thing, I could just tick the box and move on to the next,” Ms. Sinema said in an interview. “The hard stuff is where you spend your time.”

Above the talks threatened the likelihood that Liberal Democrats would use an accelerated process known as reconciliation to bypass the 60-vote filibuster threshold. Meetings grew tense, and the Senators invited Steve Ricchetti, a senior advisor to Mr. Biden, Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council, and Louisa Terrell, director of the Office of Legislative Affairs.

For days they crossed the Capitol – including Ms. Sinema, who had broken her foot on a crutch while running the marathon – to haggle in back rooms and often order pizza, salads and wine. Mr. Portman’s hiding place became so cramped with additional staff that an adviser to Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, braved the Senate bureaucracy to get a fan for the room. During a nightly meeting, Mr. Ricchetti took it upon himself to walk around the table pouring wine for every senator, two people familiar with the moment.

Updated

June 25, 2021, 7:09 p.m. ET

Minds flared, with senators and aides confirming in interviews, as Senators argued over funding the framework, while Republicans refused to raise taxes and the White House objected to driver user fees.

On Wednesday, many of the centrist senators met with Mr. Biden at a funeral for former Virginia Senator John W. Warner before returning to the Capitol for one final round of meetings where he kept his legacy of striking bipartisan agreements in mind.

“What would John Warner do?” Said Virginia Democrat Senator Mark Warner, who is not related but considered him a friend. “John Warner would have persevered. I think almost everyone in this room has probably gone through some level of reflection.”

At around 7 p.m., the 10 senators came up with a unified message: They had a framework and would go to the White House the next day.

After weeks of closed-door negotiations, this seemed a moment of reassurance for a president confident of his ability to navigate difficult legislative negotiations after months of talks that his own party had begun to worry about his economic ambitions became a swamp.

Mr Biden’s team believed that by winning a bipartisan agreement, they would secure the support of centrist Democratic senators for the larger bill on paid vacation, combating poverty and climate change, and addressing a host of other liberal priorities introduced by Tax increases for businesses are funded and the wealthy. Some Republicans, incited by business leaders, hoped to stop the larger bill by arguing to moderate Democrats that the more limited infrastructure bill was all it took.

Both the legislature and Mr Biden agreed that this was also a significant moment to prove that the government can still function. (Senator Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana, claimed that failure would show that “we are really, really, really dysfunctional.”)

“The message it sends to the American people and also to our friends and adversaries around the world is so important,” Warner said. “In a post-Jan. 6 Welt it shows that people with different political views can still come together on national priorities. “

Progressive lawmakers had long sounded the alarm, feared it would not be enough and would close a larger bill. On Thursday morning, as the president and lawmakers were preparing to publish their deal, Majority Leader, New York Senator Chuck Schumer, entered the Senate to allay their concerns by underscoring the plan he and spokeswoman Nancy had made Pelosi had worked out with the President.

“These two efforts are linked. Let me make that clear, ”said Mr Schumer. “Spokesman Pelosi agrees that we cannot do one without the other. All parties understand that unless we have enough votes to say goodbye, we will not get enough votes to say goodbye to both. “

In his prepared remarks on Thursday in the East Room, shortly after partying with the Senators in the White House driveway, Mr Biden repeated this strategy.

“I will work closely with Spokesman Pelosi and Head of State Schumer to ensure that both go through the legislative process in a timely manner and together,” he said. “Let me emphasize that – and in tandem.”

The Democrats had expected such a statement. They didn’t expect what Mr. Biden would do moments later.

During the press conference in the East Room, a reporter asked for clarification: “Mr. President, you said you would like these two measures to come to you “together”. Have you received any assurances that this would happen? “

Mr Biden said he expected Congress to work on both the bipartisan infrastructure measure and the larger democratic bill at the same time, reiterating Mr Schumer’s earlier comments. But then he went even further.

“But if only one comes to me, I’m not – and if that’s the only thing I can think of, I won’t sign it,” he said. “It’s in tandem.”

After the Senators left Washington on Thursday afternoon for a two-week hiatus on July 4th, some in the negotiating group did not see Mr Biden’s remarks, which Republicans in particular interpreted as an implicit threat of veto, until later that evening. Senators and their staff began texting and calling each other and the White House.

The Liberal Democrats scoffed at Republican frustration and accused their counterparts of looking for an excuse to oppose the deal, even though the Democrats’ drive for reconciliation had long been public.

On Saturday, Mr Biden finally admitted his mistake when lawmakers and aides signaled that they would continue writing texts and securing support.

“The bottom line is this,” he said. “I gave my word to support the infrastructure plan, and that’s what I’m about to do. I intend to vigorously pursue the adoption of this plan, which the Democrats and Republicans agreed on Thursday. It would be good for the economy, good for our country, good for our people. I stand behind it wholeheartedly, without reservation or hesitation. “

Nicholas Fandos contributed to the coverage.