Joe Biden warned Senate Republicans he would not ‘settle’ for their smaller COVID proposal in a sign the president was willing to pass a relief package without their help.
President Biden held a two-hour meeting with a group of 10 Republican senators in the Oval Office on Monday night but the two sides did not come together on a compromise measure.
In a statement after the meeting, the White House indicated it was willing to move forward with a plan from Democratic congressional leaders to pass coronavirus relief without Republican support through a legislative process known as ‘reconciliation.’
And, the White House warned, Biden would not ‘settle’ for a measure that was not large enough – echoing talking points Democrats have pushed, saying more relief was needed for Americans suffered the economic fallout from the pandemic.
The president ‘reiterated that while he is hopeful that the Rescue Plan can pass with bipartisan support, a reconciliation package is a path to achieve that end,’ White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. ‘The President also made clear that the American Rescue Plan was carefully designed to meet the stakes of this moment, and any changes in it cannot leave the nation short of its pressing needs.’
‘He reiterated, however, that he will not slow down work on this urgent crisis response, and will not settle for a package that fails to meet the moment,’ she added.
The 10 Republican senators proposed a compromise plan that is about one-third of what Biden wants to spend, clocking in at $600 billion for
Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who has taken the lead for Republicans on the COVID relief issue, called it a ‘productive cordial two-hour meeting’ with the president.
But, she noted, there was no deal.
‘It was a very good exchange of the views. I wouldn’t say that we came together on a package tonight. No one expected that in a two-hour meeting, but what we did agree to do is to follow up and talk further at the staff level and amongst ourselves, and with the president and vice president on how we can continue to work together on this very important issue,’ she told reporters after it ended.
The lack of an announcement of the deal is an indication Biden doesn’t need one – and he knows it.
Shortly before his meeting with GOP senators began, Democratic Congressional leaders
Biden didn’t show his hand when reporters were let into the Oval Office for a photo spray at the start of his meeting with the Republicans.
The president didn’t answer any questions but joked he felt right at home surrounded by senators.
‘I feel like I’m back in the Senate,’ the president quipped as he sat in the Oval Office with the Republicans seated socially distanced around him and Vice President Kamala Harris. Everyone wore face masks.
President Joe Biden (C) and Vice President Kamala Harris (L) meet with Republican Senators, lead by Senator Susan Collins (2nd R), alongside Lisa Murkowski (R), Senator Mitt Romney (bottom L) and Bill Cassidy (bottom R) to discuss a coronavirus relief plan
Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who has taken the lead for Republicans on the COVID relief issue, called it a ‘productive cordial two-hour meeting’ with the president but noted there was no deal
Nine of the 10 Republican senators were in the Oval Office. Republican Senator Mike Rounds called into the meeting.
‘President Biden was joined in the Oval Office by aides and by nine of the Senators who had signed on to the letter – Senator Rounds participated in the meeting via phone,’ a White House official said.
After the sit down, Collins noted the senators were appreciative Biden picked them for his first Oval Office meeting as president with members of Congress.
‘We are very appreciative, that as his first official meeting, in the Oval Office of the president, he chose to spend so much time with us, in a frank and very useful discussion,’ she said.
She expressed hope that a bipartisan deal was possible.
‘Finally let me just say, that we have demonstrated, in 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 5 times,’ she said. ‘I am hopeful, that we can once again, pass a 6 bipartisan COVID relief package.’
The Republican senators also did not answer any questions.
When all is said and done, Biden may not need any of their votes.
Pelosi and Schumer’s resolution contains a provision for a process called ‘reconciliation’ – a legislative procedure that allows them to prevent the use of the filibuster in the Senate and lets the legislation pass with a simply majority of 51 votes.
With an even 50-50 split in the upper chamber and Vice President
Republicans have protested such a move, saying it goes against Biden’s call for unity.
Allowing passage by a simple majority would also allow the Senate to deal with the federal budget and coronavirus relief before Donald Trump’s impeachment trial begins next week.
Republican senators sat socially distanced in the Oval Office and everyone wore face masks
‘I feel like I’m back in the Senate,’ President Joe Biden quipped as he sat down with Republican senators in the Oval Office
Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer introduced their budget proposal that also will pave the way for Joe Biden to pass his $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan without any Republican support
President Joe Biden told Republican Senator Susan Collins he was ‘anxious’ to talk COVID relief
At her daily press briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki downplayed expectations of the sit down.
She said of Biden’s meeting with the GOP Senators: ‘What this meeting is not is a forum for the president to make or accept an offer.’
She added of Biden: ‘His view is that the size of the package needs to be commensurate with a crisis crises we’re facing the dual crises we’re facing. And why he proposed a package that’s $1.9 trillion.’
Biden spoke with Schumer and Pelosi on Sunday about relief legislation.
Psaki’s hardline along with the resolution from the Democratic leadership appears to leave little room for compromise to emerge from the White House meeting.
The ten Republican votes, combined with the backing of 50 Democrats and independents, would be enough to move bipartisan legislation quickly through the Senate.
‘Mr. President, we recognize your calls for unity and want to work in good faith with your administration to meet the health, economic and societal challenges of the COVID crisis,’ the 10 GOP senators – including Susan Collins, Mitt Romney and Lisa Murkowski – said in a statement on Monday.
Announcing the Democratic proposal on the Senate floor Monday afternoon, Schumer said: ‘The only thing we cannot accept is a package that is too small or too narrow to pull our country out of this emergency. We cannot repeat the mistake of 2009 and we must act very soon to get this assistance to those so desperately in need.’
He noted that Republican input would be welcome.
‘There is nothing in this process that will preclude it from being bipartisan. We welcome Republican input,’ he said.
It’s unclear when the Senate will vote on the plan. The House is posed to pass it on Wednesday.
Republican Senator Susan Collins said they had a ‘cordial’ two-hour meeting with President Joe Biden in the Oval Office on Monday night
Schumer will need the support of every Democratic senator, including conservative Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona
The proposal from the Democratic leadership is in line with what Biden wanted in his COVID relief measure: $1,400 per-person and per-child direct payments, an extension of Unemployment Insurance programs through September 2021, and more money for state and local governments.
The GOP offer doesn’t include money for state and local governments, includes a smaller weekly unemployment benefit and a smaller stimulus check.
Schumer will need the support of every member of his caucus in order to get both through the Senate.
Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia refused to say last week if he would vote for the resolution.
Harris did local interviews in West Virginia and Arizona last week, which was seen as the White House putting pressure on Manchin and Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema.