Biden aims for bipartisanship but applies sly pressure

(AP) — President Joe Biden has begun publicly courting Republicans to back his sweeping infrastructure plan, but his reach across the aisle is intended just as much to keep Democrats in line as it is a first step in an uphill climb to any bipartisan deal.

Biden’s high-profile Oval Office meeting with a bipartisan group of lawmakers on Monday was just one piece of a fulsome attempt to win over GOP lawmakers, White House aides said. But even if it doesn’t succeed, it could prove useful — boxing in Republicans while helping keep the widely disparate Democrats in line. Some moderate Democrats, notably Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, have urged an effort at bipartisanship to pass the $2.3 trillion bill.

And while Biden has made clear, publicly and privately, that he wants Republican support, the White House is also preparing to go it alone, if necessary, to get the bill passed. That would leave the GOP in the politically unpopular position of explaining why it objected to investments many Americans want.

“I’m prepared to negotiate as to the extent of my infrastructure project, as well as how we pay for it,” Biden said during Monday’s meeting with lawmakers. “Everyone acknowledges we need a significant increase in infrastructure.”

Biden dismissed the idea his outreach to Republicans is just for show, proclaiming, “I’m not big on window dressing, as you’ve observed.”

In fact, lawmakers left the White House meeting with the understanding that Biden was open to discussion and the president’s team was headed to Capitol Hill to meet with them or any other representatives, as soon as Tuesday.

“Those are all the exact words that I wanted to hear going into the meeting,” Republican Rep. Garret Graves of Louisiana, a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said in an interview with The Associated Press. “And so that was really encouraging.”

Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., offered, “Nobody stormed out yelling ‘no.’”

The White House outreach has been significant, with Cabinet members and allies meeting with lawmakers and activists while also fanning out across the country to sell the plan directly to voters. Officials said that Biden would hold more bipartisan gatherings this month and that top administration officials have meetings planned with more than a dozen congressional committees this week.

But most Republicans have made it clear they have little interest, for now, in joining the effort, rejecting the idea of increasing the corporate tax rate to pay for it. And they have lambasted the proposal as big spending, preferring to stand by and leave Biden to pursue his priority legislation on his own.