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A growing chorus of Democrats is calling on President Joe Biden to pull the plug on bipartisan infrastructure negotiations, arguing the talks are going nowhere fast and risk derailing major parts of his policy agenda.
An advertisement funded by a coalition of liberal groups, whose leaders are close to the White House, putting pressure on Biden and Congress to include child care, paid leave and home care for the aging and disabled in the infrastructure package, was set to begin airing Thursday during primetime on CNN. The ad debuted the same day Republicans unveiled their latest counteroffer, which many Democrats critiqued as insufficient.
The coalition, made up of more than a dozen groups, is pushing Biden to take initiatives that are currently part of two separate proposals — known as the jobs and families plans — and fold them into one larger legislative package that Democrats could pass on a party-line vote in the Congress.
“We certainly want the president to make the pivot with Congress to move this package, the entire package, forward quickly,” Ai-jen Poo, director of Caring Across Generations and senior advisor to Care in Action, said in an interview. “His own timeline has sunsetted in terms of giving some space for the potential for a bipartisan solution here.”
Caring Across Generations is pushing for access to affordable long-term care for families, which Poo said should not be put into a secondary bill that includes Biden’s agenda for families. Care in Action advocates for domestic workers, including nannies and caregivers, and is paying for the commercial.
The six-figure national ad buy, which is expected to be the first in a series of ads from the #CareCantWait coalition, is the latest example of the growing public pressure Biden is under from his supporters to walk away from the infrastructure negotiating table with Republicans.
Biden allies, including some moderate Democrats on Capitol Hill, are increasingly encouraging the White House to put all of its efforts into legislation that can pass without Republican support in the U.S. House and Senate and deliver on more of the president’s campaign promises this summer.
All told, the Democratic-backed legislation would cost more than $4 trillion and would be paid for raising taxes on businesses and high-income earners.
Yvette Simpson, CEO of the liberal group Democracy for America, said Biden’s efforts to work with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are “jeopardizing his credibility” in a way that could depress Democratic turnout in the 2022 midterm elections.
“It looks like he doesn’t know what he’s doing,” she said of Biden. “He needs to continue to show that he can be a leader and that Republicans aren’t going to run his administration and keep them from making progress.”
The White House previously said that if it had not reached a deal with Republicans by Memorial Day, it would assess its options for advancing Biden’s jobs agenda.
Biden told reporters that he had a brief conversation with West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican who is playing a lead role in the negotiations.
“I told her we have to finish this very soon. And there’s another Republican group that also wants to talk. But we’re going to have to close this down soon,” Biden said.
The White House said in a statement shortly after Biden’s remarks that it wants “clear direction” for jobs and infrastructure legislation by the time Congress returns to Washington following recess the week of June 7.
“Our focus is on continuing to work on having these discussions and negotiations through the course of next week,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Thursday. “We’ll be in touch with Republicans and Democrats through the course of the recess week, and we’ll look forward, when they resume, seeing what our path forward looks like.”
A second group of senators that included Democrats such as moderate West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Utah Republican Mitt Romney, who voted to convict former President Donald Trump in the impeachment trial earlier this year, are putting together their own proposal that Psaki indicated the White House would also consider.
Paski said that funding for care initiatives remain a priority for Biden as negotiations continue, noting that even as he agreed to come down on the cost of his plan last week from $2.3 trillion to $1.7 trillion in an attempt to reach Republicans, those proposals remained intact.
White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre also sought to reassure apprehensive Democrats who view Biden as desperate to make a deal with Republicans, telling McClatchy on Wednesday that the White House would not take “whatever we can get” in order to achieve a bipartisan result.
“This is what he knows and understands and what he’s really good at. He’s good at getting bipartisanship. And that’s what the American people really want us to try to do,” Jean-Pierre said. “But at the end of the day, he’s not going to … sacrifice the things he believes in. But he wants to also do this in good faith.”
Republicans rolled out a $928 billion infrastructure counterproposal Thursday morning that included money for broadband internet and public transit. They propose to pay for the plan by repurposing funds from previous COVID relief bills.
Sen. John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican, warned that members of his party were not willing to support the spending levels Democrats are proposing.
“If that’s the direction that they want to go, they can try it,” Barrasso said at a press conference. “They’re not going to have even a single Republican support for that approach.”
One moderate Democratic lawmaker, who asked not to be named in order to discuss private conversations, said there is an urgency in the House for legislation to pass by the July 4 recess so Biden can sign it before members of Congress are scheduled to leave Washington for the entire month of August. The lawmaker expressed a personal preference for Democrats to pass their own package without Republicans, while noting that it is important to others to let the process with the GOP play out first.
Sen. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, told reporters during a Thursday afternoon call that he also believes that Congress needs to act by the end of July or the beginning of August, and that effort is unlikely to involve Republicans.
“But I think for the time being, we’ll just give President Biden additional time to continue that negotiation,” Markey said.