GOP lawmakers irate over Biden’s double-cross on infrastructure

Republican lawmakers are fuming over what they see as double-cross by President Biden and Democrats on the infrastructure deal reached on Thursday.

GOP senators, in particular, feel as though they went out on a limb for the White House in agreeing to a deal. In return, lawmakers say, they wound up being surprised by Mr. Biden’s pledge to veto the infrastructure package if it is not accompanied by a wish list of liberal priorities.  

“The senator was definitely blindsided by the president’s comments after their announcement yesterday, so he is angry and frustrated,” said a GOP operative close to Sen. Robert Portman, an Ohio Republican and lead negotiator of the bipartisan package.

Another GOP aide who took part in the discussions said several lawmakers were seriously thinking about abandoning the deal outright. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who originally sided with the group, did just that on Friday.

“No deal by extortion,” Mr. Graham tweeted. “I can’t believe the Biden Administration expects such an obvious bait and switch tactic – motivated by fear of the Left – to work in the Senate and be respected by the American people.”

The swift backlash came less than 24 hours after Mr. Biden announced that a deal had been reached on the nation’s largest infrastructure package. The compromise, which took months to fashion, would spend $1.2 billion on upgrading the nation’s roads and bridges over the next eight years.

Of that sum, $579 billion would come from new revenue sources without raising taxes. That feat alone earned the deal praise, especially in an era when partisan divisions prevent major legislation from coming to fruition.

“I clearly didn’t get all I wanted. They gave more than, I think, maybe they were inclined to give in the first place,” Mr. Biden said when announcing the deal. “But this reminds me of the days we used to get an awful lot done at the United States Congress. … Bipartisan deals mean compromise.”

Democrats on the far-left, though, balked at the package for focusing exclusively on conventional infrastructure projects, such as roads and bridges. Many on the left had long been pressuring the White House to jettison bipartisan talks and go it alone on a wider infrastructure package.

In particular, progressives want to ram through a spending package that includes both traditional and “human infrastructure” — childcare, job training for felons and measures to combat climate change.

Since such a proposal would be unable to garner the 60 votes necessary to overcome a Republican filibuster, progressives demanded a guarantee it would be moved via budget reconciliation. The process allows spending bills to pass the Senate with a simple majority of 51 votes.

“Any bipartisan deal will only pass with an ironclad agreement that we will not leave climate and green infrastructure behind,” said Rep. Ro Khanna, California Democrat. “No climate, no deal.”

Those threats forced House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to issue an ultimatum: either the Senate would pass a reconciliation package or she would refuse to hold a vote on the bipartisan compromise.

“There ain’t going to be an infrastructure bill unless we have a reconciliation bill passed by the Senate,” the California Democrat said. “We’re not bringing it to the floor unless both bills pass in the Senate.”

Mrs. Pelosi’s announcement likely came from her own tenuous majority in the House. She can afford to lose only four Democratic votes before having to rely on House Republicans.

With such narrow control, any one faction can hold the balance of power. The Congressional Progressive Caucus counts at least 92 Democrats among its membership in the House.

Given Mrs. Pelosi’s ultimatum, Mr. Biden was forced to add a contingency to the deal less than two hours after having endorsed it on national television.

“It’s in tandem,” he said. “I’m not just signing the bipartisan bill and forgetting about the rest that I proposed.”

The president’s appeasement of the left, though, may have poisoned the entire deal. Republican leaders, who already saw Mr. Biden jettison talks with them last month because of their unwillingness to raise taxes, are especially distrustful.

“Less than two hours after publicly commending our colleagues and actually endorsing the bipartisan agreement, the president took the extraordinary step of threatening to veto it,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “It was a tale of two press conferences, endorse the agreement in one breath and threaten to veto it in the next. … It almost makes your head spin.”

Ironically, to some of the bipartisan negotiators, Mr. Biden’s decision to blindside them came after he opined publicly about the need to have trust when it comes to dealmaking.

“The people I was with today are people that I trust. I don’t agree with them on a lot of things, but I trust them when they say, ‘This is a deal. We’ll stick to the deal,’” Mr. Biden said Thursday. “Just like I doubt that you’ll find any one of them who say they don’t trust me when I said, ‘OK, this is the deal — on these issues, this is a deal we’ll stick with.’”

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