Political News

Biden leans on his Capitol Hill experience while pitching big Covid-19 relief deal

Posted February 3, 2021 11:46 a.m. EST

— President Joe Biden is relying on his decades as a senator to convince former colleagues to move quickly on his debut legislative effort, waging an intensive push for the sweeping Covid-19 rescue package he hopes can garner Republican support.

This week alone Biden has invited more than one-fifth of the Senate to meetings in the Oval Office and spoken to large meetings of Democrats in both the House and Senate by telephone. He will host Democratic Senate committee chairs in the Oval Office midday Wednesday.

He's held smaller but lengthy sessions at the White House with longtime allies and surprised Republicans with private phone calls to discuss the plan.

It remains uncertain whether his efforts can yield a bipartisan agreement, and Biden signaled to lawmakers on Wednesday he's unwilling to wait for Republicans to come along. Though it remains Biden's impulse to convince some Republicans to support his plan, Senate Democrats are laying the groundwork for passing relief without any Republican votes using a procedural shortcut known as budget reconciliation.

Still, two weeks since taking the oath of office, Biden has engaged fully as a legislator-turned-president as the dual health and economic crises caused by the pandemic continue to grip the nation.

A fireside session on Monday with Republicans, led by Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, produced friendly summaries from the participants but no new agreements on a figure. Biden told the group their plan was too small to meet the desperate situation confronting the country.

He told Democrats on Tuesday and Wednesday he wasn't willing to entertain the GOP Covid-19 relief package that comes in at nearly a third of the cost of his own.

Instead, he told Democrats over a series of meetings he's willing to reconsider some aspects of his plan -- in particular whether to more narrowly target direct payments going to Americans -- but not much else.

And while his instinct remains to work with Republicans on something both parties can agree upon, he appeared unenthusiastic about dragging out talks that may never produce a palatable result.

"I'm not going to start my administration by breaking a promise to the American people," he told Democratic House members during a morning telephone call, saying it was "not in the cards" to get behind Republicans' $618 billion package after proposing a $1.9 trillion bill himself.

"We've got a lot of people hurting in our country," he said on the call. "We need to act fast."

The President and his aides have cast their proposal as an urgently needed injection of funds for a lurching vaccine rollout plan and a jolt for a moribund economy. Included in the measure is billions for vaccines, direct $1,400 payments to households, funding for school reopening and more aid to small businesses affected by the pandemic.

Biden has stated the greater risk is passing something too small rather than approving too much aid.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Wednesday that Democrats "are united in our resolve to deliver on a rescue plan that provides the American people the relief they so desperately need."

"We cannot fall short of the needs," he said. "History has taught us hard lessons of the cost of small thinking during times of big challenge."

Delaware Sens. Chris Coons and Tom Carper, both Democrats, met with Biden for nearly an hour Wednesday morning on a wide range of issues.

Amid the push for a bipartisan Covid relief bill in the Senate, Coons said he provided "insight and feedback on what we've heard from our Republican colleagues and what's possible while still keeping an eye on the urgency of relief."

There was a recognition during the conversation, Carper noted, that "to the extent that we can work with our Republican colleagues, then let's do that."

"At the end of the day, if we can't, then that's fine, but I am thrilled that the President met with Susan Collins and nine of my colleagues this week and we encourage more of that discussion," he said.

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