WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden held his first White House meeting with Republican leaders from Congress on Wednesday in search of common ground on his proposals to spend trillions of dollars on U.S. infrastructure, education and childcare.
Biden, a Democrat and former longtime U.S. senator from Delaware, has sought to reduce partisan tension in Washington and pledged to work with both parties to advance his policy goals, which face stiff opposition from Republicans.
“The bottom line here is we’re going to see whether we can reach some consensus” on a compromise over infrastructure, Biden said at the start of talks with Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leaders in the Senate and House of Representatives respectively.
Recent history does not augur well for a deal. No Republican voted for Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan that passed in March. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Democrat, said Tuesday that the Biden administration was “not going to wait a long time if we don’t see that agreement is possible.”
McCarthy came to the White House talks shortly after leading his House Republican colleagues in expelling a member of their leadership, Liz Cheney, for rejecting President Donald Trump’s false claims that Biden stole last year’s election from him through election fraud.
McCarthy, who has sought to placate Trump, cast her dismissal as necessary to unify Republicans and reclaim control of the House in 2022.
It is the first time that Biden has hosted the two highest-ranking Republicans in Congress at the White House.
Asked in the Oval Office on Wednesday how he expected to come to a compromise, Biden quipped that he would just “snap my fingers.”
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer joined their Republican counterparts in the meeting.
Congressional Democrats are giving Biden plenty of room to try to broker a deal, but they are preparing for the possibility of moving a massive spending bill along strictly party lines if Republicans do not join in negotiations, according to congressional and White House sources.
Congressional Democrats may still struggle to retain the necessary support of enough of their own members to pass Biden’s spending proposals through both chambers, where they have slim majorities. They are betting the sheer volume of the spending measures will include enough attractive items to overcome any internal opposition, the sources told Reuters.
Biden’s $2.25 trillion infrastructure bill and a $1.8 trillion education and childcare plan have met with sharp resistance from Republicans in Congress, with disagreements over the price tag, scope and funding proposals. The ideas, and Biden’s intention to tax wealthy Americans and companies to cover the cost, are popular with voters from both parties.
McConnell has vowed not to support Biden’s infrastructure and jobs plan.
“I’m going to fight them every step of the way, because I think this is the wrong prescription for America,” McConnell said last month.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Jarrett Renshaw; Writing by Alistair Bell Editing by Heather Timmons, Howard Goller and Rosalba O’Brien)