President Joe Biden expressed confidence Thursday that the senators he made a deal with on a sweeping infrastructure blueprint are throwbacks to the Senate of old.
“Mitt Romney’s never broken his word to me,” Biden said referring to the Utah Republican and 2012 GOP presidential nominee. He added the same was true of Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. “The people I was with today are people that I trust. I don’t agree with them on a lot of things, but I trust them when they say this is a deal, we’ll stick to the deal.”
The other GOP senators present at the White House to sign off on the agreement, which would provide what the administration says is new spending of $579 billion on an assortment of largely physical infrastructure investments, were Ohio’s Rob Portman and Louisiana’s Bill Cassidy. They were joined by five Democrats: Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Jon Tester of Montana and Mark Warner of Virginia.
“I’m going to drive you crazy the next four years, because I’m going to tell you the truth as I see it. I know the Senate and the House better than most of you know it,” Biden said, responding to a question about how the prospects for an agreement didn’t look as bullish just 48 hours ago. “My whole life, that’s what I’ve done.”
At one point during his event to unveil details of the agreement, the president turned to the press corps and began rattling off a list of what he viewed as successes, including some $66 billion for freight and passenger railroad upgrades, which “Amtrak Joe” was more than happy to point out would be the greatest investment in passenger rail since, well, Amtrak was established.
“They talk about, ‘well, why would Biden compromise?’ Well, for example, when’s the last time if you had asked me whether or not I’d be able to get passenger rail service for $66 billion worth?” the president said. “$49 billion for public transit.”
Biden also said he understood what senators would be grappling with who were expressing concerns about the agreement not going far enough on Democratic priorities like the environment and climate change.
“The question is how much can we get done,” Biden said, talking about being able to “come back and fight another day” for more.
“I just feel that the best way to get a senator or congressperson who supports the essence of what’s already there but says I don’t have enough of what’s there, of other things, the best way to get that message across is go to the constituents,” he said.
The president seemed particularly comfortable fielding questions and sparring with the press at the East Room event. That followed a less formal engagement where he unexpectedly joined the 10 Senate negotiators at “the sticks,” a television stakeout position outside the West Wing for White House guests to speak to reporters after leaving the building.
It was there that Biden actually announced there was a deal, but at the later event inside, the president made clear that his confidence was justified in part by the knowledge that he wields the ultimate leverage: the veto pen.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had made clear earlier Thursday that no bipartisan legislative agreement would get past the House unless it moves on a parallel track with a broader package of tax provisions and what the president has referred to as social infrastructure, like early childhood education. New York Democrat Charles E. Schumer, the Senate majority leader, has concurred.
The bigger bill will need to move through the budget reconciliation process, which will allow for passage in the Senate with just 50 votes from the Democratic caucus and a tiebreaker from Vice President Kamala Harris, if Schumer (and Biden) can find unity among the caucus.
Biden has affirmed his support for Pelosi's strategy of holding the bipartisan bill in the House until a reconciliation bill can advance.
“I control that. If they don’t come, I'm not signing,” Biden said when asked if he had assurances both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the likely Democrat-only reconciliation bill would reach his desk. “I expect that in the coming months this summer, before ... the fiscal year is over, that we will have voted on this bill — the infrastructure bill, as well as voted on the budget resolution.”
He was clearly referring to the budget reconciliation legislation, since budget resolutions are not sent to the president. In fact, Biden was already in the Senate when the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, which first established the reconciliation process, became law.
“If this is the only thing that comes to me, I’m not signing it,” the president said of the bipartisan infrastructure deal. “It’s in tandem.”