Biden, congressional leaders didn't get anywhere on infrastructure during big White House meeting

Key Points
  • President Joe Biden hosted the Democratic and Republican leaders from both houses of Congress on Wednesday at the White House, the first such meeting of his presidency.
  • Topping the agenda was Biden's infrastructure-focused American Jobs Plan.
  • Following the meeting, Republicans said the two sides had not yet agreed on the definition of "infrastructure," and they doubled down on their refusal to revisit the 2017 GOP tax cuts to pay for improvements.
(L-R) House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Vice President Kamala Harris, President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi meet in the Oval Office of the White House on May 12, 2021 in Washington, DC. The administration says that President Biden is hoping to find common ground in his meeting with Congressional leaders.
Doug Mills | Pool | Getty Images

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden hosted the Democratic and Republican leaders from both houses of Congress on Wednesday at the White House, where they discussed the president's infrastructure plan for nearly two hours but made little headway on a consensus.

This was the first time in his presidency that Biden had met in person with the so-called Big 4: Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, and Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California. Vice President Kamala Harris also attended the meeting, which took place in the Oval Office.

Former GOP Congressman Eric Cantor on path to a bipartisan infrastructure agreement
Former GOP Congressman Eric Cantor on path to a bipartisan infrastructure agreement

"We're going to talk a lot about infrastructure today. And 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," Biden said at the outset.

Following the meeting, McCarthy and McConnell spoke briefly to reporters.

McConnell said that nearly all of the conversation with the president revolved around infrastructure, and that there is "a bipartisan desire to get an outcome" on it.

US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell(L)speaks to the press as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy listens, following their meeting with US President Joe Biden and Democratic congressional leaders at the White House in Washington, DC, on May 12, 2021.
Nicholas Kamm | AFP | Getty Images

But he added that the two sides still needed to "define what infrastructure is," suggesting that they had not made significant progress on the most basic elements of a negotiation.

A White House readout of the meeting said the attendees had "agreed there was a need for investment" in infrastructure, but did not cite any other progress.

Pelosi sounded the most optimistic of the attendees, saying after the meeting that she felt "more optimistic now that we will do [infrastructure] in a bipartisan way. But we'll see."

The first piece of Biden's two-part domestic policy agenda is the $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan, which is aimed at a broad array of infrastructure spending that spans both traditional projects like roads and more progressive efforts like expanded broadband.

Republicans have objected to Biden's plan to classify projects like expanded broadband and electric vehicle charging stations as "infrastructure."

McConnell also reiterated the GOP's firm red line on raising the corporate tax rate, which was slashed in 2017 under then-President Donald Trump, in order to fund any of Biden's proposals.

"We're not interested in reopening the 2017 tax bill. We both made that clear with the president. That's our red line," McConnell said. "This discussion ... will not include revisiting the 2017 tax bill."

The second part of Biden's agenda is the $1.8 trillion American Families Plan, which proposes funding for four additional years of free universal education, subsidizing child care for middle-class families, and expanding paid family leave and child tax credits.

During his presidential campaign, Biden promised to reach across the aisle and find areas of consensus between the two parties, something he said would help to repair the deeply divided nation.

Yet Republicans say the only way Biden could hope to win bipartisan support for any part of his legislative agenda is by whittling down his infrastructure plan to less than half of its current size, and funding it not with tax hikes on corporations, as Biden proposes, but with user fees on drivers and transit riders.

As for the family and child-care plan, few, if any potential areas of compromise have emerged so far.

Biden also found himself seeking common ground with a fractured Republican Party, further complicating the political calculus.

Wednesday's meeting took place just hours after House Republicans expelled Rep. Liz Cheney, Wyo., from her position as GOP conference chair over her refusal to embrace Trump's lie that the 2020 election was rigged.

On Thursday, Biden is scheduled to meet with six Republicans senators who serve as the ranking members of committees with jurisdiction over infrastructure: Sens. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, John Barrasso of Wyoming, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey and Roger Wicker, Mississippi's senior senator.

This meeting has the potential to yield more concrete areas of agreement than Wednesday's leadership meeting did.