by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
President Joe Biden’s reversal over the weekend on a threat to block bipartisan infrastructure legislation unless it arrives on his desk alongside a massive spending package is the latest example of an administration that has proven susceptible to outside pressure.
Biden’s backtrack came in a rare Saturday statement, in which he claimed his remarks about infrastructure days earlier had been misunderstood. The president said Thursday that he would not support a bipartisan infrastructure bill, which emerged from negotiations that he endorsed, without a partisan spending bill arriving on his desk “in tandem.”
“If this is the only thing that comes to me, I’m not signing it,” Biden said in a speech unveiling the White House-backed infrastructure deal on Thursday.
Republicans quickly balked at the president’s demands, expressing frustration that Biden had pitched the bipartisan deal in a way that gave the impression GOP negotiators had agreed to a plan that greenlighted an ambitious liberal package. Prospects for the deal Biden had fought so hard to achieve dimmed significantly after his Thursday speech.
By Saturday, Biden had reversed course in an effort to save his bipartisan proposal, acknowledging that his comments had “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.”
Biden’s attempt to tie the two pieces of legislation together, however, was a concession to the left flank of his party in the first place. Some liberal lawmakers had threatened to withhold their support of a bipartisan deal — which omitted most of the climate, healthcare, and social programs Biden initially proposed — without a guarantee that the Senate would pass a partisan bill containing those things using a procedure, known as reconciliation, that would allow Democrats to do so with only 50 votes.
The reversal of strategy was not the first time the White House has caved to pressure from the Right, Left, or center.