GOP senators quietly meet with White House on infrastructure, happy with what they hear

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Top White House officials have quietly been meeting — on the Hill and over the phone — with Republican senators who drafted a counterproposal to President Biden's infrastructure plan, multiple sources tell Axios.

What we're hearing: The GOP senators say they're optimistic the Biden administration is open to concessions and can reach a compromise. They've been heartened by their talks with White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain, counselor to the president Steve Ricchetti and legislative affairs director Louisa Terrell.

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  • One idea is reaching a bipartisan deal on "Part I" of Biden's infrastructure package — the parts that Republicans consider "traditional" infrastructure, such as funding for roads, bridges and airports.

  • That could force Democrats to tackle the second part, focused on child care, health care and climate change, via budget reconciliation.

  • The talks remain preliminary, the senators told Axios, and both sides are far from reaching any substantial deal.

Terrell and Ricchetti have made trips to the Capitol, while Klain, who doesn’t often venture to the opposite end of Pennsylvania Avenue, has joined by phone, according to a White House source with direct knowledge of the meetings.

  • Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.) are among those who have met with the White House team in person.

What they’re saying: "Administration officials have been on the Hill, even now, talking to Republican members," Wicker told Axios. "It has been on a less-formal basis. But they're good discussions. The details are being filled in."

  • "I think they're open to talking about and understanding what our proposal is and how we got to where we got," he added.

  • "If they could roll us on the whole thing, they would. I don't think they can," which is why they're so willing to meet, Wicker said.

Yes, but: The biggest sticking point with Republicans — increasing taxes to pay for the plan — remains.

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