As Democrats on Capitol Hill are laying the groundwork to muscle through a COVID relief bill without GOP support, Republicans are accusing congressional leadership of interfering with President Joe Biden’s wish to have a bipartisan proposal.
Biden met with Republican senators in the Oval Office Monday to discuss their compromise measure, which contained about one-third of the amount of relief funds he wanted. After the meeting concluded the White House made it clear the $600 billion the GOP proposed was not enough money.
Republicans argued, however, the president seemed willing to cut a deal but was stopped by his staff and Democratic congressional leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi.
‘Our members who were in the meeting felt that the president seemed to be more interested in [a bipartisan agreement] than his staff did, or it seems like the Democratic leadership in the House and the Senate,’ Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters in the Capitol on Tuesday afternoon.
McConnell spoke with Biden on Tuesday, the GOP leader tweeted, mentioning they discussed the situation in Burma. He did not say if there were other topics of conversation discussed.
Republicans are accusing Democratic congressional leadership of interfering with President Joe Biden’s wish to have a bipartisan proposal on COVID relief
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell made the charge against White House staff and Democratic congressional leadership
Republicans made the charge after Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi began the process to muscle through COVID relief without them
Republicans also accused White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain of interfering – Klain is seen in the above photo standing behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office with his armed crossed during Biden’s meeting with GOP Senators on Monday night
Biden wants a $1.9 trillion COVID deal, which Republicans think is too expensive.
Given Democratic control of the House and Senate, the GOP has limited legislative power, particularly after Pelosi and Schumer began the process to pass Biden’s proposal through reconciliation – a legislative maneuver that allows them to pass the measure with a simple majority.
‘My sense is the president would be more forward-leaning working with both sides, but there are pressures up here on the Hill, including Schumer and Pelosi seem less interested,’ Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio told Punchbowl News. ‘It’s hard to read his staff, but they didn’t seem all that interested in finding common ground.’
Portman was in Monday night’s Oval Office meeting, which was attended by the president, Vice President Kamala Harris, senior White House staff and 10 Republican senators.
Several Republicans senators told the news outlet that White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain, during Monday’s meeting, notably shook his head to agree or disagree with Republicans during the session.
Biden and Harris will meet with Democratic senators on COVID relief Wednesday in the Oval Office. The president also will call into House Democrats weekly meeting on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning.
The Senate on Tuesday passed – on a 50-49 party line vote – a budget resolution to let them begin the reconciliation process, which would allow Democrats to muscle through Biden’s $1.9 trillion proposal with no Republican votes. The House is expected to pass it on Wednesday.
Therefore, it would be in Republican interests to try to drive a wedge between Biden and the Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill. But the president speaks with Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, and Pelosi, the speaker of the House, on a regular basis.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki argued Tuesday that reconciliation doesn’t mean Republicans are cut out of the process.
‘Republicans can engage and see their ideas adopted. At any point in the process, a bipartisan bill can pass on the floor. So just creating the option for reconciliation with a budget resolution does not foreclose other legislative options,’ she said at her press briefing.
‘Republican ideas can be adopted during the reconciliation negotiations, and it is likely that several bipartisan ideas may be — or we are certainly hopeful of that,’ she added, pointing out Republicans can also offer amendments to the proposal as it makes its way through the legislative process.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki argued that Republicans will have a chance to weigh in on the legislation as it makes its way through the reconciliation process
President Joe Biden (C) and Vice President Kamala Harris (L) meet with Republican Senators, lead by Senator Susan Collins (2nd R), alongside Lisa Murkowski (R), Senator Mitt Romney (bottom L) and Bill Cassidy (bottom R) to discuss a coronavirus relief plan on Monday night
Biden said his first priority as president is to tackle the COVID pandemic, including the ensuing economic fallout.
And he made clear during Monday night’s meeting that the $600 billion proposal from GOP senators was not enough.
Biden told them their plan was ‘too small,’ Schumer revealed on Tuesday.
President Biden made a virtual appearance at Senate Democrats’ weekly luncheon that day, where he revealed the details of his meeting with GOP senators the previous night.
‘He said that he told Senate Republicans that the $600 billion dollars that they proposed was way too small,’ Schumer said after the lunch.
Schumer conceded there may have to be some compromise from Biden’s $1.9 trillion proposal that Republicans has protested as too costly.
‘President Biden said he told Republicans he’s willing to make some modifications,’ Schumer said without going into detail as to what that could entail.
After Schumer’s remarks, the Senate approved the procedural motion to move ahead on the budget resolution, which sets the stage for Congress to pass Biden’s COVID plan without any Republican support.
Biden warned Senate Republicans after their meeting Monday night he would not ‘settle’ for their smaller COVID proposal – seen as a sign the president was willing to pass a relief package without their help.
President Biden held a two-hour meeting with the 10 Republican senators in the Oval Office but the two sides did not come together on a compromise measure.
In a statement after the meeting, the White House indicated it was willing to move forward with a plan from Democratic congressional leaders to pass coronavirus relief without Republican support through a legislative process known as ‘reconciliation.’
And, the White House warned, Biden would not ‘settle’ for a measure that was not large enough – echoing talking points Democrats have pushed, saying more relief was needed for Americans suffered the economic fallout from the pandemic.
The president ‘reiterated that while he is hopeful that the Rescue Plan can pass with bipartisan support, a reconciliation package is a path to achieve that end,’ White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. ‘The President also made clear that the American Rescue Plan was carefully designed to meet the stakes of this moment, and any changes in it cannot leave the nation short of its pressing needs.’
‘He reiterated, however, that he will not slow down work on this urgent crisis response, and will not settle for a package that fails to meet the moment,’ she added.
Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who has taken the lead for Republicans on the COVID relief issue, called it a ‘productive cordial two-hour meeting’ with the president.
But, she noted, there was no deal.
‘It was a very good exchange of the views. I wouldn’t say that we came together on a package tonight. No one expected that in a two-hour meeting, but what we did agree to do is to follow up and talk further at the staff level and amongst ourselves, and with the president and vice president on how we can continue to work together on this very important issue,’ she told reporters after it ended.
Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who has taken the lead for Republicans on the COVID relief issue, called it a ‘productive cordial two-hour meeting’ with the president but noted there was no deal
Collins expressed hope that a bipartisan deal was possible.
‘Finally let me just say, that we have demonstrated, in the last year, that we can come together, on a bipartisan package, dealing with the COVID crisis. In fact we’ve done that not just once, or twice, we’ve done it 5 times,’ she said. ‘I am hopeful, that we can once again, pass a 6 bipartisan COVID relief package.’
But Biden may not need their votes.
Pelosi and Schumer’s budget resolution contains a provision for a process called ‘reconciliation’ – a legislative procedure that allows them to prevent the use of the filibuster in the Senate and lets the legislation pass with a simply majority of 51 votes.
With an even 50-50 split in the upper chamber and Vice President Kamala Harris the tie breaker, Biden would be able to get his $1.9 trillion plan without any Republicans on board.
Republicans have protested such a move, saying it goes against Biden’s call for unity.