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Kyrsten Sinema gets his defining moment with Republicans

“She was an honest broker I would say. This is the biggest compliment here. She kept her word, she’s committed to something, ”Portman said in an interview. He acknowledged “differences of opinion,” adding: “She would like to spend more … I would like to spend less. We have to find a way to reach the middle.

The group locked themselves in for hours on Tuesday night after the Capito talks broke down. Sinema ordered a pizza and forced the group to vote together before immediately returning to the basement hideout where they were chatting to keep the discussions effective. They had no time to waste.

Sinema talks are proceeding on an accelerated timeline, with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Democratic leaders eager to move forward in the coming weeks before pursuing a one-sided approach that Sinema and Senator Joe have opposed. Manchin (DW.Va.). For Biden, the key question is whether he will focus on pushing for changes to the GOP tax cuts or the overall scope of the bill after he ceded nearly $ 1 trillion to Capito – while at the same time still asking for $ 1 trillion in new spending.

She’s a 44-year-old Senate newcomer, but Sinema spent her first two and a half years in office building close relationships with Republicans who rival Manchin’s bipartisan pleas. And the next few days will test if that can translate into 60 votes for a big bill the president will sign.

In a statement for this story, Sinema acknowledged that forging a deal, with his leadership, between Biden and at least 10 Republicans will be “difficult” but “would help show everyday Americans that we can work together to modernize and make our resilient infrastructure, and expand economic opportunities.

Deal-seeking Republicans gathered at lunchtime on Wednesday to present their fluid plans to spend several hundred billion dollars above current levels on infrastructure to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell . The Kentucky Republican only said he was in “listening mode” on Wednesday, a change from his explicit blessing of Capito’s negotiations with Biden.

Sinema can’t count on Capito’s help at this point. The West Virginia Republican said in an interview that she had stopped attending the bipartisan group of 20 Senators’ Meetings she joined earlier this year and was not getting involved with the Sinema and Portman cohort.

She gave some advice: Make sure you agree on the definition of infrastructure and how you would pay for it. This advice seems pretty basic, but disagreement over those terms ended Capito’s negotiations with Biden before the duo moved closer to a deal.

“I really don’t participate in the other group… I can’t negotiate on two tracks,” Capito said in an interview. “They are working on their own tracks. I wish them good luck. I just have to make sure that what the president is telling you matches the reality of what he really wants.

Sinema had two infrastructure phone conversations with Biden: one on Tuesday following the failed Capito-Biden talks and an in-person meeting in May focused on the issue. She also spoke to top White House advisers including Chief Legislative Louisa Terrell, Biden advisor Steve Ricchetti and Chief of Staff Ron Klain recently about the issue. But she didn’t willingly eclipse Capito, a close friend and ally, by keeping discussions with Portman low-key and on the back burner.

The Sinema-Portman group is also working with a bipartisan House group called the Problem Solvers Caucus, made up of 58 members split evenly along party lines that helped the bipartisan Senate group resuscitate Covid relief talks at the end of the administration of former President Donald Trump. Since then, they have met every two weeks at Manchin’s bipartisan lunch.

When the Problem Solvers Caucus released its version of an infrastructure bill on Wednesday, some of its members said privately that it had the support of the bipartisan group of senators seeking a deal. As centrists in an increasingly partisan body, many members of Problem Solvers already had close ties to Sinema, who previously sat in the House.

Sinema also has a better relationship with McConnell than most Democrats, who are deeply skeptical of him and whether he would allow 10 or more of his members to do anything that might stimulate Biden. On Wednesday, McConnell defended Capito and berated Biden, saying he “didn’t want to give up some of the more sweeping promises he made to his party’s left wing.”

“McConnell wants Biden to fail,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). “There aren’t even 10 Republicans who are even ready to talk to us about compromises. And if we get 10 Republicans, you’re probably losing Democrats if it’s too spongy, minimalist in the middle of the road. “

Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a Republican member of the Sinema-Portman group, said these compromises are a side issue. She wants to see more flexibility from the president, who is currently overseas.

“The bigger question is whether the White House can agree to a more reasonable bill that focuses only on infrastructure and broadband and acceptable compensation?” Collins asked.

Still, mistrust of McConnell prompts Democrats to openly lobby to abandon the bipartisan approach – or at least have a party line backup plan ready if talks fail. Brown and Schumer are among Democrats preparing to roll out the so-called budget reconciliation process to escape GOP obstruction and pass a second huge spending bill this year after the coronavirus relief bill from $ 1.9 trillion passed by parties in March.

The chorus of Independent Democrats is getting stronger by the day, but they will need Sinema and Manchin to join them. Controlling just 50 Senate seats, Biden and his party need full unity if they are trying to pass a bill without Republicans.

Now that Manchin and Sinema are knee-deep in infrastructure talks with Biden and Senate Republicans, the couple will soon have an answer as to whether their bipartisan aspirations align with the president’s vision of spending trillions of dollars on clean energy, roads and bridges and paid family leave. .

“It’s a good test. Because it is not a deep policy. It’s not particularly partisan, ”said Senator Angus King (I-Maine). “If we can’t do it, that’s a bad sign.”

Still, Democrats have made it clear that they have virtually no patience left after Capito’s talks with Biden dragged on for about six weeks. Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.), A member of the larger bipartisan group, said he expected it to meet again on Thursday.

His hope was that by the time Senators traveled to their home countries on Thursday afternoon, they would know whether a bipartisan deal would come to fruition: “If we don’t come to an agreement quickly enough, we won’t have to. ‘agreement. “

Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.

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