WASHINGTON — President Biden sat down with 10 GOP senators in the Oval Office on Monday to negotiate the terms of his coronavirus rescue package — barely an hour after Democratic leaders introduced a plan to ram the bill through Congress without Republican support.

Biden hosted the Republican lawmakers after they offered him a $600 billion counterproposal to his enormous $1.9 trillion bailout and asked for a meeting.

Flanked by Vice President Kamala Harris, the president thanked the group of Republicans, including Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, for making the journey to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

“I’m anxious for us to talk. I feel like I’m back in the Senate,” he joked, referring to his 36 years as the Democratic senator from Delaware and ignoring shouted questions from reporters about when he wanted Congress to take up his bill.

The lawmakers emerged two hours later from the meeting, which Collins told reporters was “frank and very useful” but said the two sides were still very far apart.

“It was a very good exchange of views. I wouldn’t say that we came together on a package tonight. No one expected that in a two hour meeting,” she said.

Biden’s stimulus package calls for payments of $1,400 to all Americans caught up in the financial crisis created by the pandemic, while the GOP plan calls for $1,000 checks.

Earlier Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki insisted the Oval Office meeting was part of good faith negotiations between Biden and the GOP before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer ploughed ahead with their plan to pass the huge package without any GOP support.

An hour before Biden’s meeting, Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Schumer (D-NY) announced they had filed a resolution clearing the path for Democrats in Congress to pass the bill and override any concerns from Republicans that the package is too expensive and unnecessary.

“Congress has a responsibility to quickly deliver immediate comprehensive relief to the American people hurting from COVID-19,” Pelosi and Schumer said in a statement. 

“The cost of inaction is high and growing, and the time for decisive action is now.”

Republican senators at the Oval Office meeting on February 1, 2021.REUTERS/Tom Brenner

At her press briefing on Monday morning, Psaki indicated that the White House would support Democrats if they decided to pass the package through reconciliation.

Schumer and Pelosi’s decision to push ahead with reconciliation is likely to uncut Biden’s appeals to “unity” and his claims to be a master negotiator after spending decades in the US Senate and erase any goodwill the new administration had with Republicans.

The rare tactic would allow for the legislation to pass in the Senate with a simple majority of 50, plus Harris’ tie-breaking vote, rather than the 60 votes normally required.

Collins said she believed Congress could pass another bipartisan package.

“We have demonstrated for 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 five times, and I am hopeful that we can pass a sixth bipartisan covid relief package,” she said.

When pushed on allegations that Biden was “abandoning his hope for bipartisanship,” Psaki said Republicans could instead just get behind the package.

“Even if through the parliamentary process, that the Congress will decide, it moves toward reconciliation, Republicans can still vote for that and there’s certainly precedent of that in the past,” she suggested.

Conservatives have already been angered by Biden’s unprecedented blitz of executive actions, while his push to pass his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 package has already got one powerful Democrat offside.

On Monday morning, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin slammed Harris for pressuring him to approve of the bill after she appeared on a local TV station last week.

“We need to work together. That’s not a way of working together,” he said.

The meeting in the Oval Office on February 1, 2021.EPA/Doug Mills / POOL



Source link