WASHINGTON – President Biden on Saturday stepped back from comments that jeopardized a bipartisan deal for $ 579 billion in new infrastructure spending, saying in a statement he had “left the impression that I was issuing a threat veto on the very plan I had just accepted. . “
He added that it was “certainly not my intention”.
The confession was an attempt by the White House to salvage what had been, for a fleeting moment, one of the iconic successes of a president who hopes to cement a legacy as a bipartisan negotiator. On Thursday, Mr Biden proudly announced the infrastructure deal in front of the West Wing, flanked by an equal number of lawmakers from both sides.
But in a stray comment at the end of a press conference an hour later, the president deviated from the script, saying he would not sign the compromise bill he just announced if Congress does not. It was also not adopting a broader, Democrat-only measure to embrace much of the rest of Mr. Biden’s $ 4 trillion economic agenda.
“If that’s the only thing that comes to mind, I’m not signing it,” Biden said, responding to a reporter’s question about the timing of his legislative agenda. “I don’t just sign the bipartisan bill and forget the rest.”
In essence, Mr. Biden was saying out loud what the Liberals in his party wanted to hear. But in doing so, the president detonated a political hand grenade in the midst of his own short-lived victory. His Republican opponents used his words to suggest that he had negotiated in bad faith. And moderates – who had just left the White House celebration – were furious at his suggestion that weeks of work were at the mercy of the approval of a Democratic wishlist.
“No deal by extortion!” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said on twitter after having approved a first framework this month. “It has never been suggested to me during these negotiations that President Biden is holding the bipartisan infrastructure proposal hostage unless a liberal reconciliation plan is also passed.”
In his statement, Biden accused Republicans of trying to defeat the infrastructure measure as a means of opposing the broader spending plan. He berated Republicans for saying they might oppose the bipartisan infrastructure plan because of his support for the other bill, known as the American Families Plan.
“Our bipartisan deal does not prevent Republicans from trying to defeat my family’s plan,” Biden said, adding, “We will let the American people – and Congress – decide.”
But the president also sought to allay the concerns of moderate lawmakers who had negotiated the bipartisan measure that he still supports it.
“The bottom line is this: I gave my word to support the infrastructure plan, and that’s what I intend to do,” Biden wrote. “I intend to vigorously pursue the adoption of this plan, on which the Democrats and Republicans agreed on Thursday. It would be good for the economy, good for our country, good for our people. I fully support him without reservation or hesitation.
It was not clear on Saturday whether Mr Biden had done enough. But the drama does not seem to have sunk the case yet. Senior senators and advisers said on Saturday they would move forward in this direction, defining details and legislative language and lobbying for the 60 votes needed to clear the filibuster of the Senate.
Mr Biden will start pushing it publicly on Tuesday with an event in Wisconsin, officials said.
“People are very attached to what we have done,” said Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire and one of the negotiators. “I did not understand that the President is taking this position, so I will continue to operate and try to build support for the infrastructure package.”
Legislation for the bipartisan deal has yet to be drafted, as Democrats are also working on the potentially multibillion-dollar second package, a priority for liberal lawmakers. But this second package, which is expected to be adopted using the reconciliation process, might not be ready for votes until the fall, given the strict budgetary hurdles it must overcome.
“There is no doubt that there is work ahead, and he is ready to roll up his sleeves and work like hell to do it,” said Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, during a briefing on Friday.