WASHINGTON – President Biden has been blunt. Democrats had to go along with his $ 1.85 trillion economic and environmental spending bill, he told them Thursday, because nothing less than his presidency was on the line.
“I don’t think that’s hyperbole,” he said as he unveiled a revised proposal and begged Democratic lawmakers to back it at a last-minute morning meeting on Capitol Hill, hours before he left for a six-day trip to Europe to meet with world leaders.
“Majorities in the House and Senate and my presidency will be determined by what happens next week,” Biden told lawmakers during the hour-long session, according to a person who was present at the meeting. .
The president’s proposals, while about half the cost of his original plan, still constitute a transformative agenda that would touch the lives of millions of Americans and serve as the core of his party’s argument to stay in power until in the mid-term elections of 2022 and 2024. presidential competition.
And even as party members embarked on a heated ideological debate among themselves, the months-long negotiations highlighted the differences between Democrats and Republicans, almost all of whom refused to support child care spending. children, climate change, early childhood education, expanded Medicare services, free community college, or higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy.
Mr Biden and his aides performed on Thursday, effectively calling for a final decision on his economic and environmental agenda and daring to hold Democrats against supporting him. Senior administration officials said the move all-in was the product of the president’s belief that he had exhausted all avenues of talks and got the best possible package – and, most importantly, that the package could get the best deal. support from all over. of a fickle Democratic caucus.
But as he prepared to land in Rome, Mr. Biden’s bet had yet to bear fruit. He had not ended months of party wrangling that lowered his ratings in the polls, jeopardized Democratic candidates and raised deep doubts among Americans about his presidency’s ability to hold office. promises of a vast social and economic program.
In Thursday’s closed-door session, President Nancy Pelosi told Democratic lawmakers that “when the president gets off this plane, we want him to get a vote of confidence from this Congress.” She urged them to vote on Thursday on a separate, bipartisan $ 1,000 billion infrastructure measure that progressives saw as their best leverage to secure passage of the rest of Mr. Biden’s agenda.
Instead, for the second time in a month, Ms Pelosi withdrew from plans on this vote after Progressive Democrats once again opposed. They ignored the president’s pleas, signaling their continued mistrust of moderate Democratic senators, whom they fear will not back Mr Biden’s larger social spending bill when it finally comes down. of a vote.
Senior White House officials shrugged, saying the president’s official request on Thursday sparked the final act of a month-long political drama. They expressed confidence that votes on both bills would take place soon. The feuds between Democrats would fade away, a senior official said, when Americans begin to see the benefits of Mr. Biden’s plans, such as when the administration launches new charging stations for electric vehicles next year. The official requested anonymity to talk about the closed-door negotiations.
Administration officials also said they were not surprised by the public comments by Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, moderate Democrats who forced the original 3,500 proposal. billion dollars to be halved. The two made half-hearted statements that ostensibly did not promise that they would support the president’s new cadre for a deal on the spending bill.
But White House officials concluded it was time for Mr Biden to put down his final marker, explicitly asking Democratic lawmakers for their support on a specific proposal. Letting the president go for a week without doing so would have left the process in limbo, administration officials said.
And yet, the legislative turmoil of the moment had the potential to leave Mr. Biden no better off than he had been 24 hours earlier. He was to arrive in Rome without tangible evidence that he could break the political impasse that blocked progress on its promises. It only had the contours of a deal, with no solid evidence it would pass. It will be up to him in several days of meetings this weekend to persuade world leaders that he will win with his plans for corporate taxation, climate change and more.
The president’s agenda could eventually end up on his desk. Lawmakers said they plan to continue working through the weekend to vote on the two bills. But in the meantime, Mr Biden finds himself without a concrete plan that has Congress backing to present to the G20 rally or climate change summit next week.
Still, he appeared to reach a critical point on Thursday on the strategy of his program, which he has been pursuing for months. The president initially proposed billions of dollars in spending to overhaul the role of government in the economy, but he has always said he was ready to compromise.
This challenge required a delicate balance in his own party, which controls Congress by very thin margins. Mr Biden first had to negotiate an infrastructure bill with the Republicans, largely to unlock support from Senate centrists for a larger spending bill intended to carry parts of his agenda that didn’t. could not win bipartisan support. He then had to balance the concerns of the centrists, who feared overspending and taxing too much in the bigger bill, with the complaints of the progressives who wanted him to spend trillions more than he ultimately could. get.
Reuniting the Democratic Party took months. Mr Biden urged centrists to reverse their original demands that the bill cost $ 1.5 trillion or less. He also urged progressives to compromise for much less than they had hoped and to abandon the programs that Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema opposed.
Officials suggested that shortly before leaving for Europe, Mr Biden had come to a natural conclusion to these talks: he had pushed the centrists to go as far as they could, they said, and was doing to argue to progressives that there wouldn’t be a better deal.
Mr Biden began Thursday by unveiling what White House officials said was a detailed overview of the spending bill, telling reporters the administration was “confident that this historic setting would win the support of every Democratic senator. and would be adopted by the House “. Even as the president presented the plan to lawmakers, his chief of staff called it “transformational” and interest groups praised Mr Biden.
Returning to the White House, with Marine One roaring on the South Lawn to take him on his journey, Mr Biden said he had secured “a historic economic framework” and suggested that time to bicker over them. details were gone. “No one got everything they wanted, including me,” he said. “But that’s the compromise. This is the consensus. And that’s what I ran on.
But in a reprimand that unfolded over the following hours, Democrats refused to immediately rally behind their party leader.
And Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema have remained firm in their opposition to including parts of the progressive agenda – like a free community college, a big Medicare expansion, and tax rate hikes for the wealthy – in the law. social policy of the president. They made it clear that they would not be swayed by the refusal of progressive MPs to vote for the infrastructure measure.
Even at the start of the day, Mr. Biden seemed to be feeling the tensions.
In his remarks to the White House after meeting with lawmakers, the president did not deliver the do-or-die message he did behind closed doors. Instead, he hailed his cadre as the logical result of “compromise” and “consensus” and delivered a version of the detailed speech he has been giving for months.
“This single decision to invest in our children and their families has been one of the main reasons we’ve been able to run the world for much of the 20th century,” Biden said of the spending. historical records of previous administrations. “But somewhere along the way, we stopped investing in ourselves, investing in our people.”
His address to lawmakers was simple and personal: He made promises to voters during the 2020 presidential campaign, and now is the time to keep them.
“This program – the program that is in these bills – is what 81 million Americans voted for,” the president said. “More people voted than at any time in American history. That is what they voted for. Their voices deserve to be heard, not denied – or, worse, ignored. “
Michael D. Shear reported on Washington and Jim Tankersley from Rome.