Biden says he didn't intend a veto threat on new bipartisan infrastructure deal

President Biden on Saturday walked back his veto threat of a tentative $1 trillion infrastructure deal, after his earlier comments angered Republican senators who had just negotiated the agreement with him.

In a statement issued from Camp David, Mr. Biden said his comments on Thursday “created the impression that I was issuing a veto threat on the very plan I had just agreed to, which was certainly not my intent.”

“I indicated that I would refuse to sign the infrastructure bill if it was sent to me without my Families Plan and other priorities, including clean energy,” Mr. Biden said. “That statement understandably upset some Republicans, who do not see the two plans as linked.”

In an attempt to clarify, the president said “our bipartisan agreement does not preclude Republicans from attempting to defeat my Families Plan; likewise, they should have no objections to my devoted efforts to pass that Families Plan and other proposals in tandem.

“We will let the American people—and the Congress—decide,” Mr. Bide said.

Senate Republicans criticized Mr. Biden for his comments at a press conference on Thursday linking the bipartisan infrastructure plan and the multi-trilion-dollar Families Plan, which has only Democratic support for initiatives such as paid leave, expanded child care and other social programs.

Just hours after Mr. Biden struck the infrastructure deal with senators from both parties, he said he wouldn’t sign it unless Congress also sent him the package of child-care, climate programs and education spending that the GOP opposes.

“If only one comes to me .. and if this is the only thing that comes to me, I’m not signing it.  It’s in tandem,” the president declared at the time.

Democratic leaders support that approach. But the 11 Republican senators who support the infrastructure deal quickly objected to his comments, with some Republicans likening it to a double-cross by the president. Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, called it “extortion.”

Senior White House aides have been conferring with key senators ever since the president’s apparent blunder.

Mr. Biden said Saturday that he has been “clear from the start that it was my hope that the infrastructure plan could be one that Democrats and Republicans would work on together, while I would seek to pass my Families Plan and other provisions through the process known as reconciliation.”

“There has been no doubt or ambiguity about my intention to proceed this way,” he said. “The bottom line is this: I gave my word to support the infrastructure plan, and that’s what I intend to do. I intend to pursue the passage of that plan, which Democrats and Republicans agreed to on Thursday, with vigor. It would be good for the economy, good for our country, good for our people. I fully stand behind it without reservation or hesitation.”

He said he will ask Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer to schedule “both the infrastructure plan and the reconciliation bill for action in the Senate.” The reconciliation bill would enable Democrats to pass the “families plan” without any Republican support, if all Democrats vote for it.

“I expect both to go to the House, where I will work with Speaker Pelosi on the path forward after Senate action. Ultimately, I am confident that Congress will get both to my desk, so I can sign each bill promptly,” Mr. Biden said.

It is unclear, though, if Mr. Biden’s walk-back of the veto will rescue the deal. Both Republicans and moderate Democrats balk at what they see as progressives holding the infrastructure package hostage.

“There’s not going to be much bipartisanship if he tries to jam this entire thing through,” said Sen. Bill Hagerty, Tennessee Republican, via social media.  

Progressive Democrats, in particular, are threatening to withhold support from the infrastructure package unless Mr. Biden’s Families Plan passes via budget reconciliation. The process allows spending bills to pass the Senate with a simple majority of 51 votes.

Earlier his week, Mrs. Pelosi vowed to block the infrastructure bill from coming to the floor of the House before the Senate moved a reconciliation bill.

“We will not take up a bill in the House until the Senate passes the bipartisan bill and a reconciliation bill,” the California Democrat said. “If there is no bipartisan bill, then we’ll just go when the Senate passes a reconciliation bill.”

Such a feat is complicated, though, by Democratic disunity within the 50-50 Senate. Moderate Democrats, like Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, are unlikely to back a reconciliation bill that includes everything progressives desire.

For some lawmakers, however, any reconciliation package is too far. Sen. Jerry Moran, according to a source close to the Kansas Republican, has told Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema his support for the bipartisan deal is contingent on them opposing reconciliation. 

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