With Congress already highly divided following the acrimonious departure of former President Donald Trump, and with deadly strains of the coronavirus circulating in the United States, on Friday, the President signaled a new sense of urgency about the need to pass his $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package—even if he is unable to carry along Republicans.
The President cautioned in the Oval Office meeting with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen of the “cost of inaction,” referring to troubling new job losses, the hunger that some 30 million Americans face every day, as well as the likelihood that “a whole cohort of children” will face “lower lifetime earnings because they are deprived of another semester of the school.”
Less than two hours later, he punctuated the point on his way to visit the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center when a reporter asked him if by using reconciliation, an arcane procedural manoeuvre that would allow Democrats to pass the relief bill on a party-line vote, he was able to achieve his goals.
“I support passing Covid relief with support from Republicans if we can get it,” Biden replied. “But the Covid relief has to pass. There’s no ifs, ands or buts.”
Biden has been firm in his attempts to reach across the aisle, but he makes it clear that before moving on with his plan, he does not want to wait forever. Administration officials are expected to continue their outreach over this weekend and into next week to Republican senators, and Biden has personally reached out to more moderate GOP senators such as Susan Collins of Maine and Rob Portman of Ohio.
But his team is also making their case increasingly to the American people, as the administration faces opposition to the GOP’s scale and reach of the bill. The underlying message was clear and directed directly at the American people in all of Friday’s White House events: without a substantial relief package to reinvigorate the economy and give schools and health care providers the resources they need to speed up vaccinations, your daily life will not change.
It could be a powerful tactic to convince a wider audience as anger rises across America about the sluggish pace of vaccines and the anaemic economy—one that could force wavering Democrats and some Republicans to get on board.
It was no accident that this week, Vice President Kamala Harris popped up in the backyards of moderate Democratic senators like Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin to push for Biden’s legislation to be swiftly passed. Harris made the case that lives are on the line, speaking to editors and executives from the Charleston Gazette-Mail and Herald-Dispatch in West Virginia.