President BidenJoe BidenVaccination increase includes largest Republican gain since April: Gallup Power grab? The Federal Reserve soon may be our only bank Ford asking salaried workers for vaccination status MORE is stepping up his engagement with Capitol Hill in a bid to save his economic agenda after criticism from some Democrats who say he needs to get more involved in a battle between liberals and centrists in his party.
Biden scrapped a planned trip to Chicago to promote vaccine mandates on Wednesday, remaining in Washington to meet with Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerPelosi invokes climate conference in spending push No. 2 Senate Democrat: Raising debt limit under reconciliation a ‘non-starter’ The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Alibaba – Gears begin to shift in Congress on stalled Biden agenda MORE (D-N.Y.) and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiWoman who said she hoped to shoot Pelosi on Jan. 6 pleads guilty to misdemeanor Budowsky: House Dems should back Pelosi, here’s why The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Alibaba – Progressives ready to tank infrastructure bill MORE (D-Calif.).
He’s also stepped up his involvement with a series of meetings and calls to try to find a way forward for his $1.1 trillion infrastructure bill and a separate $3.5 trillion social spending package being crafted in both chambers.
It’s unclear whether the increased activity will lead to progress, but some Democrats expressed happiness that Biden is becoming more engaged.
“Canceling his trip to Chicago isn’t just window dressing — I think it’s a genuine and responsible move to stay here and have these critical discussions with members of Congress and senators,” said Rep. Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellThe Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Alibaba – Democrats stare down ‘hell’ week Dingell fundraises off Greene altercation on Capitol steps Greene heckles Democrats and they fire back on Capitol steps MORE (D-Mich.), an ally who earlier this week voiced criticism of Biden’s congressional outreach.
“People are told, ‘You got to be with the president.’ But what is it the president wants?” Dingell told MSNBC on Wednesday morning. “Nobody can even answer that question.”
“I think that’s a problem for the White House. … I think he’s got to talk to more than two senators,” Dingell added.
Dingell’s comments were a reference to the outsized amount of attention Biden has dedicated to Sens. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinBudowsky: House Dems should back Pelosi, here’s why The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Alibaba – Progressives ready to tank infrastructure bill Democrats search for sweet spot below .5 trillion price tag MORE (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaBudowsky: House Dems should back Pelosi, here’s why The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Alibaba – Progressives ready to tank infrastructure bill Democrats search for sweet spot below .5 trillion price tag MORE (D-Ariz.), two moderates who have voiced opposition to a $3.5 trillion reconciliation package without naming an acceptable price tag.
Each senator has been something of a fixture at the White House, visiting with Biden multiple times in the last few weeks. The meetings reflect Biden’s comfort with the Senate, where he served for more than 30 years, and the leverage Manchin and Sinema hold over whether Democrats can get a massive reconciliation bill containing many of Biden’s priorities through the narrowly divided chamber.
Some officials close to the administration argued any personal push from Biden to House members may not make much of a difference given he lacks the relationships he has with many senators. One official acknowledged the White House knows senior staff may be more effective messengers than Biden for House members.
“I think the sense is that Biden has not been as aggressive as he could be or maybe even needs to be,” said one former Obama administration official.
“But the progressives who might vote against [the bipartisan bill], those aren’t people Biden has a lot of clout with. … They see the issues they care about as being a higher priority than bending down to the institution of the White House,” the official continued. “So has he checked all the boxes that he could check? No. But does checking those boxes now move the ball forward? I don’t think so.”
Biden’s schedule was largely clear of public events this week in a nod to the urgency around the negotiations on Capitol Hill. A trip to Capitol Hill on Thursday to rally support for his agenda is a possibility. White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiVoodoo math: Media mostly fails to challenge Biden’s ‘zero-dollar cost’ infrastructure Democrats search for sweet spot below .5 trillion price tag Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Senators slam Pentagon officials MORE said Biden’s plans could change “hour by hour.”
One reason Biden hasn’t been more aggressive is that he’s been careful not to get ahead of Pelosi or Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) as they manage their caucuses.
Biden held private meetings last week with various Democratic lawmakers from both the progressive and moderate wings of the party. On Tuesday, Biden hosted Manchin and Sinema at the White House for separate conversations.
“The president has spoken over the last several days with a range of different voices,” Psaki said Wednesday. “But he knows that the most constructive role he can play in this moment is working to unify Democrats on a path forward. And a big part of that, of course — a huge part of that — is working toward an agreement to get 50 votes in the Senate.”
The White House earlier this week touted that Biden and senior officials had more than 260 engagements on their Build Back Better agenda and held 50 briefings with different departments on policy components.
Top Biden officials were all over Capitol Hill on Wednesday.
White House senior adviser Cedric RichmondCedric RichmondThe Memo: Biden’s immigration problems reach crescendo in Del Rio Black Caucus meets with White House over treatment of Haitian migrants The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Questions on Biden agenda; unemployment benefits to end MORE attended the House Democrats’ caucus meeting with leadership in the morning. Later in the day, White House Office of Legislative Affairs Director Louisa TerrellLouisa TerrellDemocrats seek to cool simmering tensions Pelosi sets up risky House vote to deem .5T budget approved The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by AT&T – Census marks US first: White population shrinks MORE, counselor Steve RicchettiSteve RicchettiChanging Joe Biden’s mind is no easy task DNC members grow frustrated over increasing White House influence The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – McConnell plays ‘long game’ on government funding, reconciliation MORE and domestic policy adviser Susan RiceSusan RiceFederal agencies submit plans to improve voting access after Biden order The Memo: Biden’s immigration problems reach crescendo in Del Rio Black Caucus meets with White House over treatment of Haitian migrants MORE met with Sinema in her office.
The president has urged Congress to pass both the bipartisan infrastructure bill that the Senate approved in August and the reconciliation bill that contains other priorities on health care, child care, climate initiatives and education.
Pelosi scheduled a vote on the infrastructure bill for Thursday, but it looks likely to be postponed a second time amid complaints from progressives.
Democratic strategists and administration officials acknowledge Biden’s presidency is at a pivotal moment eight months into his first term. His ability to unite the party and get moderates and progressives on board will determine whether his top domestic priorities get passed, giving Democrats a clear message for next year’s midterm elections.
One strategist close to the White House argued it would be better to push the vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill back to ensure both pieces of legislation get passed. But White House officials have been careful not to negotiate in public as they work frantically to get everyone on the same page.
“I’m not negotiating from here,” Psaki said Wednesday. “We’re obviously in a precarious and important time in these discussions.”