President Joe Biden held his first White House meeting with Republican leaders from Congress on Wednesday in search of common ground on his proposals to spend trillions of dollars on U.S. infrastructure, education and childcare.
Biden, a Democrat and former longtime U.S. senator from Delaware, has sought to reduce partisan tension in Washington and pledged to work with both parties to advance his policy goals, which face stiff opposition from Republicans.
"The bottom line here is we're going to see whether we can reach some consensus" on a compromise over infrastructure, Biden said at the start of talks with Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leaders in the Senate and House of Representatives respectively.
It was the first time that Biden hosted the two highest-ranking Republicans in Congress at the White House.
The Republicans sat on a couch in the Oval Office at the start of the meeting, with Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris seated in chairs.
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer joined their Republican counterparts in the meeting.
Congressional Democrats are giving Biden plenty of room to try to broker a deal, but they are preparing for the possibility of moving a massive spending bill along strictly party lines if Republicans do not join in negotiations, according to congressional and White House sources.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Democrat, told reporters on Tuesday that the Biden administration was "not going to wait a long time if we don't see that agreement is possible."
Recent history does not augur well for a deal. No Republican voted for Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan that passed in March.
Congressional Democrats may still struggle to retain the necessary support of enough of their own members to pass Biden's spending proposals through both chambers, where they have slim majorities. They are betting the sheer volume of the spending measures will include enough attractive items to overcome any internal opposition, the sources told Reuters.
Biden’s $2.25 trillion infrastructure bill and a $1.8 trillion education and childcare plan have met with sharp resistance from Republicans in Congress, with disagreements over the price tag, scope and funding proposals. The ideas, and Biden's intention to tax wealthy Americans and companies to cover the cost, are popular with voters from both parties.
McConnell has vowed not to support Biden’s infrastructure and jobs plan.
"I’m going to fight them every step of the way, because I think this is the wrong prescription for America,” McConnell said last month.
Just before the White House talks, McCarthy presided over the ousting of Representative Liz Cheney from the House Republican leadership team because of her refusal to back former President Donald Trump's false claim that he won the 2020 election, not Biden.
McCarthy, who has sought to placate Trump, cast her dismissal as necessary to unify Republicans and reclaim control of the House in 2022.