Aides to President Biden and Democrats on the Hill are pushing him to take a harder line for a big coronavirus relief package than he otherwise would, surprising some in the White House orbit, according to a report.
Politico reported Wednesday that one Biden adviser was taken aback by the White House's Monday night statement that took a harsh line against a coronavirus relief proposal from a group of 10 Republican senators. The statement followed a meeting between the Republicans and Biden to discuss their ideas. The Republicans' proposal is just over $600 billion while Biden's is $1.9 trillion.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that "Congress must respond boldly and urgently, and noted many areas which the Republican senators’ proposal does not address... he will not slow down work on this urgent crisis response, and will not settle for a package that fails to meet the moment."
But one Biden adviser told Politico the statement "sounded more like" it came from White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain "than Joe Biden."
"The GOP plan wasn’t a joke. I looked at it and said, ‘OK, the midpoint between $600 billion and $1.9 trillion is about 1.2 or 1.3,'" the person told Politico. "I was a little surprised we hit back that hard. It’s not like our plan is perfect and there’s nothing we can improve. Vintage Biden would not have been that harsh."
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this report.
That sentiment is not just held by a single anonymous Biden adviser, but by top Senate Republicans who expressed it at a Tuesday press conference.
"I talked with the president yesterday morning and then... he met with 10 of our members for a couple of hours last night," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday. "And at lunch we had an opportunity to talk to the members that were in the meeting hoping that we could find a bipartisan way forward. Our members who were in the meeting felt that the president seemed to be more interested in that than his staff did, or that it seems like the Democratic leadership of the House and the Senate are."
McConnell added: "They've chosen a totally partisan path."
"It is Feb. 2, it's Groundhog Day, and things keep repeating themselves," added Senate Republican Whip John Thune, R-S.D. "The president continues to repeat himself and say he wants to work with Republicans in Congress on a bipartisan solution to coronavirus relief. And Sen. Schumer repeatedly undermines any efforts at bipartisan cooperation."
If the White House and the 10 moderate Republicans who spoke with Biden are able to come to an agreement -- no guarantee given the wide gulf between their proposals -- they would have enough votes to break a filibuster from other Republicans and pass a coronavirus plan under regular order in the Senate.
But nevertheless, Democrats are moving ahead with the procedural steps they'd need to pass a plan under what's called budget reconciliation, a once-per-fiscal-year gambit that allows the Senate to go around a filibuster on budget and fiscal-related legislation.
Psaki said in her press briefing Tuesday that just because the Senate is moving ahead under reconciliation, the chamber wouldn't be precluded from passing a plan that gets votes from both chambers.
But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday that Biden remained committed to a large coronavirus package and told Democrats to "move boldly and quickly," even if Republicans are left behind.
Schumer added Wednesday that Democrats will meet with Biden in person on coronavirus relief and that they are "united in our resolve" for a big relief package.
It's not totally clear, however, that Democrats have the votes within their own caucus to move Biden's coronavirus relief package on party lines via reconciliation, as moderate Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has expressed misgivings about such a move.
Manchin voted Tuesday to move ahead with the reconciliation process but didn't commit to voting for any final product during an interview with Fox News.
"What I have told everybody, I made it very clear, from the president of the United States to all of my colleagues, we're gonna make this work in a bipartisan way," Manchin told "Special Report" host Bret Baier. "My friends on the other side are going to have input, and we are going to do something we agree on."
Asked whether or not that comment meant that he was a "no" vote on a $1.9 trillion Biden coronavirus plan, Manchin said that Democrats don't have the votes to do that.
"They can't do it down the line," he said.