(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden kicked off the brokering process on his more than $2 trillion infrastructure bill Monday, meeting with bipartisan members of the House and Senate at the White House.
But after Biden’s failure to secure any bipartisan support on his COVID-19 relief package, GOP lawmakers are expressing skepticism that offers of compromise are genuine.
“I’m prepared to negotiate … the extent of the — of my infrastructure project, as well as how we pay for it. But I think we need to get into a serious conversation about how we do that,” Biden said at the beginning of the Monday meeting, conveying that he is willing to compromise on what the bill contains.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who was not among the invited guests at the White House Monday, questioned whether such promises are mere lip service.
“The question before us is this: is this outreach the beginning of a true negotiation or is the administration so wedded to the details of its plan, including its exorbitant top line, that these are just courtesy briefings?” Collins said in a statement.
Collins was one of 10 Republican senators who met with Biden to negotiate the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package earlier this year. Biden hosted that group for his first Oval Office meeting, receiving a COVID-19 relief counter-proposal about one-third as big as the White House’s package. The smaller package got little traction after the initial meeting.
Now, the White House hopes to kick off a more productive negotiation process on infrastructure, aiming to find middle ground on an expansive plan that has drawn Republican criticism for being a progressive wish list.
“It’s going to get down to what we call infrastructure,” Biden said Monday.
“I think broadband is infrastructure. It’s not just roads, bridges, highways, et cetera. That’s what we’re going to talking about, and I’m confident everything’s gonna work out perfectly,” he added with a laugh.
On the campaign trail, Biden pitched himself as a bipartisan dealmaker capable of striking deals to earn support from members of both parties. However, Biden failed to win the support of any Republicans on his first legislative undertaking, pushing his massive $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package through Congress without a single Republican vote.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday insisted Biden’s stated willingness to negotiate is genuine, despite forging ahead without any bipartisan support on COVID relief.
“You don’t use the president of the United State’s time, multiple times over, including two infrastructure meetings — bipartisan infrastructure meetings he’s already had or the meeting today — if he did not want to authentically hear from the members attending about their ideas about how to move forward this package in a bipartisan manner,” Psaki told reporters.
Biden also dismissed the criticism ahead of the meeting, saying “I’m not big on window dressing.”
While the White House has sought to assure Republicans their commitment to negotiating is real, the administration has also made it clear they intend to move on the package without Republican support if needed.
“The president has said, we have to get this done. So inaction is not an option. But there is a strong preference for the president, the administration, certainly for me to do these things in regular order,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Sunday.
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