(WASHINGTON) — The road to passing the bipartisan infrastructure deal negotiated by senators and agreed to by the White House this week is proving to be a rough one.
On Friday, the White House sought to repair some frayed nerves over President Joe Biden’s pledge to link the bipartisan deal to Democrats’ attempts to pass a larger, sweeping human infrastructure package by way of reconciliation.
Steve Ricchetti and Louisa Terrell, two members of the White House team working on the bipartisan negotiations, reached out to the group of senators they struck the deal with to express Biden’s continued enthusiasm for it, according to a White House aide.
They added Biden would soon be taking his case for the deal directly to the American people, hitting the road to gin up support.
The calls highlight the White House’s efforts to mitigate the fallout from Biden’s comments on Thursday, when he signaled that passing a smaller, bipartisan package focused on physical infrastructure would be contingent on passing his American Families Plan that focuses on progressive priorities like child care, health care, and education.
“If this is the only one that comes to me, I’m not signing it. It’s in tandem,” Biden told reporters Thursday, referring to the newly negotiated deal.
Along with the behind-the-scenes assurances, Biden also spoke with Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, a moderate Democrat leading the negotiations, on Friday — a possible hint of concerns, even among Democrats, that support for the deal could be crumbling after his pledge.
Biden “reiterated his strong support for the compromise agreement, and they discussed his plan to try to build support for the Agreement among both Democrats and Republicans,” according to a readout from the White House.
Biden also “reiterated strong support for both the Bipartisan Infrastructure bill and a reconciliation bill containing the American Families Plan moving forward on a two-track system, as he said yesterday when meeting the press with the bipartisan group of ten Senators,” the White House added.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki argued that Biden’s pledge to work in tandem shouldn’t have come as a surprise and was always the plan.
Psaki did not, however, draw the same sharp line in the sand as Biden, who threatened to withhold his signature if both bills were not on track. When pressed on how the president practically planned to ensure both deals reached his desk together, Psaki punted “the timeline and the sequencing” of the legislation to Congress.
Still, Biden’s comments drew sharp backlash from Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham, who was initially involved in bipartisan negotiations with a larger group of 21 senators. The South Carolina senator accused the White House of getting a deal “by extortion,” following criticism from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“It almost makes your head spin,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Thursday. “An expression of bipartisanship and then an ultimatum on behalf of your left-wing base.”
The administration was prepared to have some Republicans outside the negotiating group oppose the deal no matter what, according to a White House aide. At her briefing Friday, Psaki brushed off the criticism, pinning blame on Republicans for objecting to the mechanics of getting the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed rather than opposing the bill itself.
“That’s a pretty absurd argument for them to make. Good luck on the political front on that argument,” Psaki said. “The President’s going to continue to advocate, educate, convey to everyone directly why this needs to move forward. And he stands — he plans to stand exactly by the commitment he made yesterday to them. And he expects they’ll do the same.”
The White House says it remains confident that the plan will be passed, and an aide sought to downplay the concerns. But the swift action by the White House to assure things remain on track just one day after the deal was struck highlights the challenges it faces.
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