The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Biden shift reassures Republican senators on bipartisan infrastructure deal

Democratic and Republican senators on June 27 were optimistic that a bipartisan infrastructure deal would pass, but uncertain about how. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

President Biden appears to have salvaged a nearly $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal, after two days of uncertainty in which GOP lawmakers took issue with remarks by Biden suggesting he would not sign the agreement unless it was linked with another proposal that included more spending for other Democratic priorities.

In interviews Sunday, several Republican lawmakers resumed an optimistic tone, predicting the bipartisan infrastructure bill would be successful after Biden issued a lengthy statement Saturday asserting that his comments had not amounted to a veto threat.

“I do trust the president,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “And he made very clear in the much larger statement that came out over the weekend, carefully crafted and thought through piece by piece, that, if the infrastructure bill reaches his desk, and it comes alone, he will sign it.”

On Thursday, shortly after triumphantly announcing that Democrats and Republicans had reached an agreement on the $973 billion package, Biden told reporters he would sign it only in tandem with his American Families Plan, a separate bill that includes spending on items Democrats have argued are also critical infrastructure, such as child care and clean-energy investments.

“If this is the only thing that comes to me, I’m not signing it,” Biden said then. “It’s in tandem.”

Biden’s remarks prompted uproar by GOP lawmakers, who said they were blindsided and accused Biden of carrying out a bait-and-switch. Some Democrats said Republicans should have known all along that they intended to pursue comprehensive infrastructure investments on two separate tracks.

On Saturday, Biden walked back his remarks somewhat, saying he had not intended to issue a veto threat and that he intended to support the infrastructure plan “without reservation or hesitation.”

President Biden and Congress have a narrow window this summer to pass legislation on infrastructure and other issues before a potential debt limit standoff. (Video: Blair Guild/The Washington Post)

“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,” Biden stated. “We will let the American people — and the Congress — decide. The bottom line is this: I gave my word to support the Infrastructure Plan, and that’s what I intend to do. … I fully stand behind it without reservation or hesitation.”

Biden emphasized he would continue to pursue his Families Plan and other Democratic spending priorities through the budget reconciliation process, which would avoid a GOP filibuster.

“There has been no doubt or ambiguity about my intention to proceed this way,” he added.

On Sunday, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who was among the group of 10 senators who crafted the bipartisan agreement, said on ABC’s “This Week” that he was glad to see Biden clarify his remarks.

“We were all blindsided by the comments the previous day, which were that . . . these two bills were connected,” Portman said. “And I’m glad they’ve now been delinked and it’s very clear that we can move forward with a bipartisan bill that’s broadly popular, not just among members of Congress, but the American people.”

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), another senator in the bipartisan group, also expressed cautious hope that Biden’s “walk-back” was sufficient to soothe other Republicans.

“I sure hope it’s enough. It’s a great deal. It is actually going to provide the infrastructure that American people want, that they need, that will make our country more prosperous for all Americans,” Cassidy said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Still, there was evidence Sunday of lingering confusion and tension over the road ahead for the bill. On CNN’s “State of the Union,” White House adviser Cedric L. Richmond repeatedly avoided directly answering whether Biden would sign the bipartisan infrastructure bill if it landed on his desk alone.

“I don’t think it’s a yes or no question,” Richmond told host Jake Tapper at one point.

Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), the No. 3 House GOP leader, seized on Richmond’s response.

“Joe Biden and his Administration continue to single-handedly poison the well and kill any bipartisan infrastructure deal,” Stefanik tweeted Sunday, bookending the sentence with alarm emoji.

The White House did not immediately respond Sunday to a request to clarify Richmond’s remarks.

Liberals, meanwhile, have continued to push for what they have dubbed the separate “human infrastructure” bill, promising to pass it through the reconciliation process. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has indicated that she would not vote for a bill that represented only a “small subset” of infrastructure, referring to the bipartisan agreement announced Thursday.

“Understand this: We’re not leaving child care behind. We’re not leaving green energy behind,” Warren tweeted Sunday. “And we’re not going to make America’s middle-class families pick up the ticket for this package. It’s time for billionaires and big corporations to step up.”

On “Meet the Press,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) demurred when asked for a response to Biden’s statements, instead emphasizing that liberals would continue to push for a larger infrastructure plan.

“I think it’s very important for the president to know that House progressives, and I believe you know the Democratic caucus, is here to ensure that he doesn’t fail,” Ocasio-Cortez said, adding that they welcomed Republican collaboration. “But that doesn’t mean that the president should be limited by Republicans, particularly when we have a House majority, we have 50 Democratic senators and we have the White House, and I believe that we can make sure that he’s successful in executing a strong agenda for working families.”

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), a moderate whose vote could make or break the Democrats’ agenda in a 50-50 Senate, urged his liberal colleagues to support the bipartisan infrastructure bill and sought to assure them that the “human infrastructure” elements would be pursued separately.

“I hope they just look at the bill,” Manchin said on ABC’s “This Week.” “We have two tracks. And that’s exactly what I believe is going to happen. And we’ve worked on the one track. We’re going to work on the second track.”

Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report.