This decision angered Republican negotiators. But that didn’t drive them away. As of Wednesday afternoon, 10 GOP senators signed a bipartisan statement saying they were ready to vote to break an obstruction within days. Later that night, Biden credited Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) for his work in the negotiations, telling a CNN town hall in Cincinnati that he was taking Republicans at their word and believed a deal with them would be concluded.
“This process is complicated, it is delicate, but it indicates who this president is,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) “He wants to bend over backwards to get a bipartisan deal.”
For weeks, Biden’s promise to find a bipartisan compromise surfaced on sustaining life. Early negotiations with Senate Republicans were stalled, and Democrats began to openly worry that the White House was being dragged down by the opposition. Through it all, the President’s aides have projected calm to the point of becoming a mantra inside the White House: take a seat. Breathe. We are not giving it up.
If a deal on the massive bill materializes next week, as several senators involved in the talks suggest, it would represent the most important validation to date of Biden’s commitment to bipartisanship. It would also support his claims that he has a strong sense of the unique Congress. Biden has based much of his 2020 campaign on fighting partisan fever in Washington. And although he argued on Wednesday that it was working – “everything is starting to move,” he said – many in his party warn it could be a waste of time and capital.
“There should be a limit to how much you are willing to bend over backwards, given that the American people have chosen to put Democrats in charge of the White House and Congress,” Murphy added.
The White House’s zealous pursuit of a bipartisan deal has been kept alive, in large part, thanks to the team of top Biden advisers installed to help work toward a deal. The group includes Louisa Terrell, director of Biden’s Legislative Affairs Office, and Shuwanza Goff, deputy director of legislative affairs. Terrell and Goff are frequently on appeal and in meeting with House and Senate lawmakers and their staff, and have continued to follow Democrats’ temperature on bipartisan and party-line reconciliation proposals.
“Every day we work to stay focused on how to be successful, on how to make the investments that people across the country have long needed,” Terrell said in a statement to POLITICO. “And we do this by being honest brokers with the parties, staying in touch with leaders and key members, keeping our eyes on how to progress steadily, and not getting confused.”
Senators and their aides, meanwhile, thank senior officials such as White House adviser Steve Ricchetti and National Economic Council director Brian Deese and acting director of the Office of Management and Budget Shalanda Young for their commitment. towards an agreement.
Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), a member of the main negotiating group of five Republicans and five Democrats, said Ricchetti, Deese and Young helped negotiators “by providing data on the amount of money left in various accounts following The Covid bills that we adopted in 2020. ”
Although blocks remain on how to fund the bill, Collins credited Ricchetti with moving the talks forward, including after Biden sent Republicans in shock last month when he said he reject the infrastructure agreement if he arrived at his office without the Democrats’ reconciliation package. Over the past week, White House involvement has intensified, she said. Collins and Ricchetti had several calls alone on Saturday.
“Steve really played a key role,” Collins said. “He keeps his word and it is easy to work with him … He is a hard worker, who represents the president well, and given his experience, he understands the Senate and the negotiations, and that is a big plus . “
Senator Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Another member of the bipartisan group, said his office was in regular talks with Deese.
“They’ve been very helpful the last few days,” Cassidy said of the White House. “You trust people when they bring something to the table and they bring certain things to the table. ”
But even though Biden’s aides were working for Republicans in the Senate, they made contingency plans if the deal collapsed – both to pass the package on their own and to argue that they did. extraordinary efforts to seek compromise and should be credited for it.
“He has come forward to unite the country and be a president for everyone and he has heard Republican senators about it,” said Ben LaBolt, Democratic strategist and former Obama aide. “I think the average American recognizes that Biden leaned heavily here and gave political weight to the bipartisan deal.”
But Biden’s insistence on continuing bipartisan negotiations might not be gratuitous, his fellow Democrats have warned. The size of the infrastructure bill will be about half of what he originally proposed. And there is no guarantee Democrats can include everything left outside bipartisan legislation in their $ 3.5 trillion. reconciliation package. Other party members insist Biden’s team needs to focus more on selling their current accomplishments, otherwise voters may not give him credit.
For these and other reasons, few Democrats openly shared Biden’s pledge to strike a bipartisan deal. Those who do are mainly those who work directly on the narrow infrastructure bill.
“This week when we had the White House in attendance for some of our meetings, they worked for hours,” Collins said. “We would meet from seven o’clock to 11 o’clock in the evening.”
Ultimately, Collins said, the fate of the deal is “a momentous opportunity for the president.”
“If we don’t successfully conclude these negotiations, produce and pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill,” Collins said, “then I see very little hope for bipartisan cooperation on other issues.”
But Democrats are already saying there is little reason to believe, given recent history, that Republicans will be open to cooperation elsewhere. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Wednesday morning he doubted a single Republican would vote to raise the debt ceiling. Others pointed to the lack of Republican cooperation on most Democratic priorities and its rejection of an independent commission to study the Jan.6 insurgency.
“Unity has never been a thing: Republicans won’t allow it,” said Paul Maslin, a former Democratic pollster. “Biden was elected to calm the country and produce results especially on the pandemic and the economy. If an infrastructure deal can help either way, that’s a good thing. If the Republicans stop him, he makes sure to tell the people in the middle that he’s doing what they wanted him to do.
Ultimately, Democratic lawmakers said, the White House has positioned itself well under difficult circumstances – trying two-party politics without being naive about the difficult political climate in which the president finds himself.
“Biden has a reputation for being a skilled negotiator and a savvy parliamentarian, and he works with people in the Senate, with whom he has served,” said Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.). “But everyone knows that the politics of today are different from the politics of yesteryear when he was in the Senate and his ability to achieve bipartisan consensus is therefore seriously tested. ”