(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden on Wednesday held his first meeting at the White House with the “big four” congressional leaders, saying they would see whether they can “reach some consensus or compromise” on his proposed costly infrastructure plan.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy were joined by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
It’s the first time Biden has met with McConnell and McCarthy in the Oval Office since becoming president and it came days after McConnell said he was focused “100%” on “stopping” Biden’s agenda.
Afterward, McConnell and McCarthy told White House reporters that the group focused on infrastructure in the nearly two-hour meeting — saying they made it clear Republicans would support only a much narrower version of Biden’s plan and only if changes to the Trump administration’s 2017 tax cuts were off the table.
“That’s our red line,” McConnell said of the tax cuts, which slashed the corporate rate from 35% to 21%, while signaling optimism on infrastructure, saying, “there is certainly a bipartisan desire to get an outcome.”
“I think the first step is obviously to define what infrastructure is definition of it, and we all think, all agreed, to work on that together,” McConnell said, a point McCarthy echoed, adding that infrastructure is “not home health — that’s roads, bridges, highways, airports, broadband.”
“I don’t favor having a top-down dictation as to what this package looks like, but rather a consultative process, in which everybody in my conference is involved in it,” McConnell continued.
Wednesday’s meeting is also the first for the four congressional leaders inside the Oval Office since one with former President Donald Trump imploded in October 2019, ending with Pelosi walking out.
Vice President Kamala Harris also joined the leaders in the Oval Office, and all six wore masks.
“I’m happy to have the House and Senate leadership here,” Biden told reporters briefly at the top of the meeting. “You can see, Senator McConnell and Leader McCarthy and Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Schumer.”
“When I ran, I said I wasn’t gonna be a Democratic president, I was gonna be a president for all American,” Biden continued. “And what the bottom line here is: We’re gonna see whether we can reach some consensus on a compromise, on moving forward.”
Biden said they’re going to discuss infrastructure “to see if there’s any way we can reach a compromise that gets the people’s work done and is within the bounds of everyone agreeing.”
The meeting was set to discuss “policy areas of mutual agreement,” according to the White House, and comes as Biden seeks to push his $2 trillion infrastructure package forward.
The entire interaction with reporters in the Oval Office was limited to just one minute and 15 seconds, during which Biden only took one reporter’s question: “How do you expect to do that, sir?”
“Easy, just snap my fingers, it’ll happen,” Biden sarcastically responded.
McConnell has said he thinks an infrastructure package should cost no more than $800 billion, among other policy issues he’s vowed to fight the president on.
It also came on the heels of House Republicans voting in a closed-door, conference-wide meeting on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning to oust Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney from her No. 3 leadership position because she spoke out against the former president.
With much of the attention in Washington focused on that vote to remove Cheney, Biden was asked, “Given what’s happened with Kevin McCarthy and his leadership, can you trust him to work with him?”
Biden appeared to say, “yes,” with a light laugh, before reporters and photogaphers were ushered out of the room.
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