WASHINGTON – The two players in the most important relationship in Washington finally are ready for a face-to-face meeting.
President Joe Biden’s sit-down on Wednesday with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and other congressional leaders comes as the White House accelerates its efforts to reach a bipartisan infrastructure agreement — or at least aims to show it’s trying. But McConnell is plainly stating in advance that he’s not interested in the plan as proposed.
The president's meeting with McConnell, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy is the first formal gathering of the “big four” congressional leaders since the president took office — a late start after a tumultuous new year. But the timing is crucial for White House’s outreach on Biden’s two-pronged $4 trillion American jobs and families plans.
At the center are Biden and McConnell, two stalwarts of the Senate who have traded expressions of friendship but whose ability to find political common ground seems limited. In a Washington controlled by Democrats by the slimmest of margins, it's unclear if they actually need each other to accomplish their political goals.
Republicans have balked at the size of Biden's proposals — a sweeping plan that moves beyond roads and bridges to dramatically expand the social safety net — and at the president’s plan to pay for it with tax increases on the wealthy and corporations.
But in recent days, Biden has deliberately and publicly opened the door further to compromise, explicitly saying that he was willing to negotiate the size of the overall package and the size of the tax hike. That echoes what White House staffers have been telling their Capitol Hill counterparts in the last week, according to administration officials.
But it takes two to compromise. McConnell will arrive at the White House on Wednesday “cleareyed” about what Biden wants, according to a Republican familiar with his thinking who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the internal deliberations, and about whether the president truly needs his help to pass the legislation.
Just days before the meeting, the Republican leader said his goal was simply, and essentially, to halt the Democratic president’s agenda.