GOP senators say deal can go ahead after Biden walkback

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks to Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), following a bipartisan meeting with U.S. senators about the proposed framework for the infrastructure bill, at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 24, 2021.

Kevin Lemarque | Reuters

U.S. Senator Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said Sunday that the bipartisan infrastructure deal can move forward, following President Joe Biden’s clarification that he’ll sign the bill even if it comes without a reconciliation package.

The president had said last week that he’d refuse to sign the deal unless the two bills came in tandem, a remark that angered and surprised Republican lawmakers.

After backlash from Republicans including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Biden released a lengthy statement on Saturday walking back the comment and reiterating full support for the deal.

“We were all blindsided by the comments the previous day, which were that these two bills were connected,” Portman said during an interview with ABC’s “This Week.”

“I’m glad they’ve been de-linked and it’s very clear that we can move forward with a bipartisan bill that’s broadly popular not just among members of Congress, but the American people,” Portman said. He added there’s been “good faith” from both parties throughout negotiations.

The second bill, called the American Families Plan, would have spending for Democrat-backed issues like climate change, child care, health care and education. It would be passed through reconciliation, a process that doesn’t require Republican votes to pass through Congress.

Administration officials have called the issues in the reconciliation package “human infrastructure,” while the bipartisan infrastructure bill focuses primarily on improving roads, bridges and broadband.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that McConnell will likely favor the infrastructure deal, but that “he didn’t like the president throwing a wrench in there.”

In a statement, Biden said his remarks “created the impression that I was issuing a veto threat on the very plan I had just agreed to, which was certainly not my intent.”

The president also requested that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., schedule the bipartisan deal and reconciliation bill for Senate action and anticipates both bills to go to the House.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, a key negotiator of the deal, said he believes enough Republicans will support the infrastructure bill to get it passed and he’s confident the president will sign it.

“A lot of my colleagues were very concerned about what the president was saying … but I think the waters have been calmed by what he said on Saturday,” Romney said during an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

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