Republican leaders say they told President Joe Biden on Wednesday that they’re drawing a “red line” on hiking certain taxes to fund the President’s infrastructure spending proposal, an anticipated hurdle that has arisen during a crucial week for the White House’s infrastructure priorities.
The discussion between the GOP leaders and Biden took place during the President’s first bipartisan meeting with the top four members of congressional leadership at the White House.
Meeting attendees included Vice President Kamala Harris; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat; Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican; and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican.
After the meeting, McConnell and McCarthy told reporters that almost all of their hour-and-a-half meeting was about infrastructure and that they both made clear that they’re not willing to budge on the 2017 tax cuts signed into law by former President Donald Trump, calling the issue the GOP’s “red line.”
“I think that it is safe to say there is certainly a bipartisan desire to get an outcome,” McConnell said. “Clearly, Senate Republicans are not interested in revisiting the 2017 tax bill. I think the President and the vice president understand that.”
He also said individuals in the room agreed that they’d next work on how they would be defining infrastructure.
McCarthy argued that “raising taxes would be the biggest mistake you could make.”
“You won’t find any Republican that will go and raise taxes and that’s the worst thing you can do in the economy — when you are watching inflation, gas prices are going up, and it has not been this high since President Biden was vice president,” McCarthy said.
The House GOP leader also said Biden briefly discussed the ongoing issues in Israel during the meeting.
Schumer said the group had “a good meeting” and discussed “a lot of different subjects.” But he did not answer a question about McConnell’s red line.
“Basically, we said that we would explore the places where we could agree on and come to bipartisan agreement on those. So, we’re going to see which areas there are areas of agreement in some degree of detail based on Biden’s plan,” Schumer said.
A White House statement about the meeting said the President “expressed appreciation for the important priorities on which the parties had been able to work together so far” and that he “emphasized that whatever differences exist between the parties, the real competition is between the United States and the rest of the world.”
Biden projected a similar message of unity during the start of the meeting, telling reporters in the Oval Office: “The bottom line here is we’re going to see whether we can reach some consensus on a compromise.”
“We’re going to talk a lot about infrastructure, to see if there’s any way that we can reach a compromise that gets the people’s work done and is within the bounds of everyone agreeing,” Biden said.
The meeting came hours after Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney lost her position in the House Republican leadership for repeatedly publicly rejecting former President Donald Trump’s lie that he won the 2020 presidential election. The House Republican Conference is expected to replace Cheney with New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, who has a less conservative voting record than Cheney but has emerged as one of Trump’s top defenders.
Wednesday’s meeting marked McConnell and McCarthy’s first time in the West Wing since Biden took office, according to an administration official. While Biden has kept up public promises to find bipartisan areas to compromise, both McConnell and McCarthy have — at least publicly — largely promised they’d do everything to stop Biden’s agenda.
That opposition has taken different forms — McCarthy voted against certifying Biden’s win in the Electoral College in the hours after the January 6 riot at the White House and McConnell has said publicly that “100% of my focus is on stopping this new administration.”
But those topics, as well as the ouster within the House Republican Conference, were not on the agenda. And following their time in the Oval Office, none of the parties had indicated those political issues were brought up.
Infrastructure was to be the major focus of the meeting, but Biden also hoped to discuss police reform given the progress on reaching a bipartisan deal in recent weeks, according to one senior official ahead of the meeting.
No one at the White House was under any illusions that a deal would be struck on any major issue during the first joint meeting between Biden and the four congressional leaders, but the President saw it as an important avenue for reaching out across the aisle.
“The President has been clear from as far back as his campaign that he believes these discussions and engagements are important in and of themselves,” a senior White House official said ahead of the meeting.
Even though Wednesday’s meeting is the big ticket item this week, the White House is equally — if not more — focused on Thursday’s meeting with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and other Republican senators as an avenue for progress on infrastructure.
In recent days, the White House has intensified its negotiations with members of Congress over Biden’s broad spending proposals. Members of the administration have said they have a goal of seeing real progress on infrastructure legislation by Memorial Day, which is just about two-and-a-half weeks away.
White House staff held a series of internal meetings over the weekend to prepare for this week’s meetings and have stayed in close contact with lawmakers and congressional staff on infrastructure, a White House official said.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has worked the phones with daily calls to lawmakers to discuss the administration’s proposals, per one official. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm this week is courting bipartisan members of Congress, governors, and stakeholders in the labor and business sectors, another official told CNN.
Biden is meeting with several members of Congress this week to move his plans on infrastructure forward. He met with key moderates, West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin and Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, at the White House earlier this week, as well as longtime ally Sen. Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat who has worked with Biden for decades. Manchin and Sinema are key votes, as both Democrats oppose changing the Senate’s rules to allow legislation to pass with a simple majority instead of the required 60-vote threshold needed to end debate, which could greatly affect the size and scope of the President’s legislative agenda.