President Joe Biden will not be walking back his surprise announcement on Thursday that he wouldn’t sign the bipartisan trillion-dollar infrastructure bill he had just agreed to support without his multi-trillion-dollar domestic spending boondoggle being considered “in tandem” as part of the reconciliation process.
Republicans were livid, although one wonders why they didn’t get assurances that Biden wouldn’t doublecross them in this way. As it is, Biden has created a firestorm on Capitol Hill that threatens to blow up the bipartisan deal. And while White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki tried to soften the blow, the essence of Biden’s comment remains operative.
Psaki said it was the GOP’s own fault they didn’t get the proper assurances that Biden wouldn’t hold the bipartisan bill hostage in order to pass the rest of his agenda. That may be true, but Biden and Democratic legislators sorta forgot to mention that point during negotiations.
One unwitting White House official tried to leave the possibility for negotiations on the dual track issue open. He even hinted that a clarification was coming. It didn’t work out well.
With Republicans threatening to abandon the deal, Steve Ricchetti, one of Biden’s lead negotiators, who a day earlier had been credited by the president for his efforts shepherding the deal, scrambled to contain the fallout on Capitol Hill. Both he and Louisa Terrell, the White House top congressional liaison, told the Senators involved in negotiations that Biden was enthusiastic about the deal and would soon hit the road to tout its benefits as well as the merits of bipartisanship.
According to two sources familiar with his efforts, Ricchetti told Republicans that the White House was going to clarify the comments.
A White House official disputed the notion that Ricchetti suggested Biden may have misspoke — an impression that those two sources said was left. The official said that the president’s team anticipated dustups during the early phases of the process and noted that White House press secretary Jen Psaki several times during Friday’s briefing took a softer tone than Biden did on Thursday.
In essence, Biden caved to the Left by playing it this way. Politically, it was deft of him to finesse the Left for all those weeks while the bipartisan package was being negotiated and then put the hammer down when the legislation was agreed to. Now, the Left is more likely to get everything they want: climate change legislation, Medicare expansion, and many more radical, transformative changes to the government and the nation.
Biden’s major problem now is getting the two wayward Democrats — Senators Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema — back on board for a run at passing reconciliation.
The president personally spoke to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) on Friday — the top negotiator for Democrats — and told her he would “fight to pass the Bipartisan Agreement, as he committed to the group,” according to a White House readout of the call. The statement was careful to note that Biden had mentioned his support for the reconciliation bill while standing alongside the group of senators during a press availability outside of the White House Thursday.
Democrats are confident that the bipartisan deal is still good to go in the Senate, but that may be whistling past the graveyard. As long as the deal had a bipartisan label, there was a chance that 10 or 11 GOP senators would sign on to it and allow it to come to the floor of the Senate.
But Biden has blown up bipartisanship both for his administration and perhaps far into the future. He has fatally injured his relations with the Republican Senate that he may very well be forced to face starting in January 2023 as a majority.
And his “great bipartisan achievement” will almost certainly end up in the congressional trash bin.