President Joe Biden attempted to walk back remarks made earlier this week in which he said he wouldn’t sign a bipartisan infrastructure bill unless it was accompanied by a reconciliation proposal for “human infrastructure,” the latest in a series of White House clean-up efforts aimed at preventing defections from the recently announced bipartisan agreement.
Biden wrote in the Saturday statement that his comments “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.” His efforts to clean up those remarks amounted to one of the most significant course corrections in Biden’s otherwise disciplined presidency, which had largely defied his reputation as a gaffe machine up until now.
“The bottom line is this: I gave my word to support the Infrastructure Plan, and that’s what I intend to do,” Biden said Saturday. “I intend to pursue the passage of that plan, which Democrats and Republicans agreed to on Thursday, with vigour.”
Still, Biden said, “I have been clear from the start that I hoped 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.”
The statement stands in contrast to Biden’s East Room remarks Thursday, where he warned, “What I expect — 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. But if only one comes to me — if this is the only thing that comes to me, I’m not signing it. It’s in tandem.”
Republicans pounced on the remarks, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warning, “That’s no way to show you’re serious about getting a bipartisan outcome,” in floor remarks on Thursday.
While Biden’s advisers agreed with his sentiment — they want both bills passed at the same time — they acknowledged that demanding as much publicly was too aggressive and needed to be softened, as CNN previously reported.
White House officials, including press secretary Jen Psaki, avoided directly repeating Biden’s threat to leave the deal unsigned if the larger package fails to materialize in public comments.
Officials from the White House believe the two bills will move together for a long time and have publicly scoffed at claims that lawmakers were caught off guard. However, Biden’s ultimatum appeared to put the agreement to the test, prompting the same aides who negotiated the deal to call lawmakers who were baulking on Friday.
According to a White House official, two of Biden’s top infrastructure negotiators, Steve Ricchetti and Louisa Terrell, reached out to members of the bipartisan Senate group on Friday amid Republican outrage over Biden’s remarks about the legislative process.
Earlier on Friday, White House aides scheduled a midday call with Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who had led Senate Democrats’ negotiations, to reassure her of Biden’s position. Biden and Sinema discussed his plan to try to build support for the agreement among both Democrats and Republicans, according to a White House readout of their conversation — an unusual move usually reserved for foreign counterparts. A senior administration official admitted that they were trying to backtrack on Biden’s remarks, and directly linked his conversation with Sinema to that effort.
Going forward, the White House intends to concentrate on selling the bipartisan bill rather than getting involved in the order in which Biden receives the legislation, leaving the timeline to Democratic leadership.
According to a White House official, Biden will take his pitch for the bipartisan infrastructure agreement on the road, beginning with a speech in Wisconsin on Tuesday.