President Joe Biden ramped up his outreach to a wide swath of key Democrats in the House and Senate on Wednesday, hosting multiple groups including leadership, progressives and moderates from both chambers in a series of what the White House deemed "productive and candid" meetings at a key moment for his economic agenda.
"This was an important opportunity for the President to engage with Members and hear their perspectives, and progress was made toward finding the pathway forward for lowering costs for hardworking people and ensuring that our economic growth strategy is based on investing in families, not more giveaways to big corporations and the wealthiest taxpayers," the White House said in a readout Wednesday evening.
Biden -- a 36-year veteran of Capitol Hill -- sought to leverage his experience in the Senate as he looks to get his party aligned as the future of his top priorities hangs in the balance. The meetings mark his most expansive in-person engagement with members of Congress in his presidency and underscore how critical the White House views the coming days.
The groups that came to the White House represented a swath of ideologies and key factions for Biden to attempt to bridge. Biden first met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday afternoon.
Later in the afternoon, he met with a group of House and Senate moderates, including Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Mark Warner of Virginia, Jon Tester of Montana, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Catherine Cortez-Masto of Nevada and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, and Reps. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, Stephanie Murphy of Florida, Steven Horsford of Nevada, Suzan DelBene of Washington and Mike Thompson of California.
Manchin and Sinema are key moderate votes in the Senate. Both met with Biden last week and have vocally called for the overall price tag of the sweeping economic agenda to be significantly reduced. Gottheimer, meanwhile, has been among those in the House holding firm on pushing for a vote on the bipartisan package by the promised Monday deadline.
In another round of meetings, Biden met with top progressives, including independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon, Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Patty Murray of Washington, and Reps. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, Barbara Lee of California and Katherine Clark of Massachusetts.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Wednesday that Biden "wants to hear from everybody on what they're most excited about, what concerns they may have, and he wants to play a role in hopefully unifying members of the party around the path forward."
The meetings come as Democratic leaders are grappling with real and intractable divides over key aspects of Biden's efforts to transform the social safety net. Progressives have maintained that they will not vote for the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which passed the Senate in August, until the broader, $3.5 trillion economic agenda is passed.
Psaki added that the President feels all sides need to give a little. "Sometimes there's need for compromise from every end, but you'll know more after these discussions today, in the coming days," she said.
But key disagreements remain, including major divisions on taxes, health care and the overall price tag of the bill. Pelosi promised moderates a vote on the bipartisan bill on the House floor by September 27 and, with a small margin for error, it's unclear whether it will have the votes to pass.
Jayapal has been unequivocal in saying she and her caucus will vote against the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package next week if the $3.5 trillion social safety net bill isn't ready. She doubled down on Tuesday in a private meeting with Pelosi.
The group of progressive Democrats who met with Biden on Wednesday told him the September 27 date is "arbitrary," according to Wyden.
"Members said it's just kind of arbitrary to us. What are the possibilities?" Wyden said. "And the President left it at and said: 'Let me think it over, and talk to Sen. Schumer, Speaker Pelosi and get back.' "
Sanders indicated Wednesday there is a lot of work left to do to reach a deal that can unite the Democratic caucuses in Congress, but predicted that would happen.
"This is a slow and torturous process when you have 50 people and no votes to spare. In the House they got three votes to spare and a lot of disagreements. I think at the end of the day we're going to work it out," he said.
Both Democratic leaders and White House officials are in agreement that now is the moment to unify and pass something. Delivering on what was promised is paramount from a policy and political perspective ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.
Psaki hinted that the meetings won't be the last in a series of efforts to get the administration's infrastructure plan passed. She said Biden relished the work.
"He's rolling up his sleeves, he's walking them to the Oval Office, he'll have some Covid-safe snacks -- whatever may happen, people should be encouraged by that," Psaki said.
The group is also running up against another crucial set of deadlines. The House voted Tuesday along party lines to pass a bill to fund the government and raise the debt limit. That measure now goes to the Senate, where there are no indications Democrats can get 10 Republican votes to pass this bill ahead of the September 30 shutdown deadline, setting up a major showdown over the looming debt crisis.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has starkly warned that "failing to raise the debt limit would produce widespread economic catastrophe" if Congress does not act measures are not taken before mid-October.
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