Not only that, they say, but it could deepen the feeling among voters that Biden cannot deliver on his presidency’s core promise – that he would be able to make the government work.
“You don’t want to come to a point,” said Rep. Tim Ryan, an Ohio Democrat running for his state’s open Senate seat next year and concerned about the political impact of a prolonged standoff , “where we look so indecisive that it can’t be fixed with the package that is going to pass and start to impact people’s lives.”
Privately, Democrats are increasingly frustrated with Biden’s approach.
“The reality right now is that a lot of people are saying, ‘Where’s Joe Biden? This is his agenda, why is he not more involved in the negotiations? -file members.
Confusion over Biden’s latest offer
This view was apparent during a private conference call with a small group of Democratic and Manchin and Sinema lawmakers last week, in which both senators were puzzled by Biden’s decision to come up with a new award for the plan: $ 1.9 trillion to $ 2.2 trillion. Senators said they were not prepared to back that dollar amount because they had yet to see details from the White House on what such a package would encompass, sources familiar with the matter said.
“Let’s see your proposal and negotiate downwards,” Sinema reminded the president, according to a source close to the call.
Some Democrats are puzzled.
“Why would the president come up with that number without having Manchin and Sinema on board?” Said a Democratic member. “There seems to be a pretty big miscalculation on the part of the White House.”
Among the problems to be addressed: abandon certain key programs proposed in the initial $ 3.5 trillion plan to reduce its cost – a position favored by Manchin and Sinema – or offer the same number of programs and reduce over the number of years for provide the benefits to Americans, a position supported by progressives.
Biden and his top aides continue to suggest privately that they feel deja vu from the 2020 Democratic primary campaign, perceiving themselves as once again heading for victory despite poor daily headlines and not meeting expectations. peanut galleries on Capitol Hill or Twitter.
Even as impatience and anxiety start to spill over into the West Wing, Biden is still not hitting the road to build support and pressure for the votes he wants. His most recent stop was Friday in Connecticut for a short speech outlining his “Build Back Better” program. While White House aides contend that national attention follows him wherever he goes, there are no Democratic refractories near Hartford who would be swayed by the local attention he could generate in more territory. competitive.
While concerns about Covid-19 have somewhat limited travel to the White House, a senior White House official argued that the main reason Biden had not gone out more was to be cautious about taking position too early which could prevent him from promising too much or negotiating against himself.
White House aides point out that Biden has remained deeply engaged behind the scenes with congressional leaders and other key players, and, in essence, those who demand that he do more are unaware of the extent of this. it does because they are not as relevant and involved.
While some of the conversations the president has had with members have been announced by the White House or leaked, he has had many more, making several phone calls in one sitting from a patio outside the Oval Office. or a series of Zoom meetings, like the ones he’s held over the past two weeks with a dozen progressives one day and a dozen other frontline members the next. The calls provided an opportunity for members to voice concerns about how negotiations and aspects of the bill were playing out in their districts, according to senior White House officials.
There are also other, more intimate, opportunities for the president to meet with lawmakers. After signing the bills, Biden repeatedly invited members for long listening sessions in the Oval Office. Assistants engaged themselves with members and other staff and briefed the President, sometimes several times a day.
But Biden’s decision to let the arguments unfold in public without him contributed to what a senior Democratic official on the Hill called a “quagmire” with no clear end. “Several constituencies within the caucus believed they were the ones defending the president and his platform with regard to the legislative process,” the aide said. “There is someone who could have dealt with this fiery disagreement more explicitly.”
Act with caution in a time of high stakes
Biden and his associates fear, however, that a clearer stance will only harden opposition and further slow progress as he strives not only to attract Manchin and Sinema, but also to prevent it from happening. other moderates and progressives to get off the ship.
Representative Pramila Jayapal, the Washington State Democrat who chairs the Progressive Congressional Caucus, said in her conversations with Biden and his top aides, she stressed that “we need to rally 50 senators, not just two. We have to rally 50 senators, not just two. have to get 218 votes in the House, not just nine or 10. ”
The compromises have already created intense unease, with some members examining the bipartisan component of the infrastructure deal negotiations and fearing that – far from being a measure to combat climate change – it could end up being carbon negative. , considering all the new roads that will be built. Still, Democrats are hoping that if they can actually complete a bill, it will include popular elements like paid time off and child care, and voters will reward them at the polls.
But not passing a bill would also be a boost, Biden told House Democrats during a visit to the House Democratic Caucus earlier this month, at the argument he heard from Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping say democracy can’t work. This argument, said Rep. Jake Auchincloss, a first-year Democrat from Massachusetts, also resonated with some colleagues.
Many Democrats already believe Biden’s low-key approach has cost them the political benefits of the Spring US bailout’s child tax credit, which sends hundreds of dollars each month directly to millions of families in America. Even as they walk through the current drama and pass a bill, leading Democrats say they are behind in defending what would likely be the most transformative national policy legislation in decades.
“This is such a lost opportunity for these candidates who are out there,” Jayapal said. “That should be their message. It should be ours too. Instead, we’re just getting hit by everyone focusing on the most important numbers.”
Ryan, as one of those candidates, said he’s already feeling it.
“If people don’t know what’s in there, it’s really our fault,” the Ohio Democrat said. “Whatever comes out, whatever elements of the bill they have such an impact on people’s lives, that if you can’t sell this thing to your constituents, you have to look for another job – and you will probably have to. “