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Senate Republicans denounce 'extortion' and threaten to tank Biden's bipartisan infrastructure deal

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Kevin McCarthy
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California. AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
  • Republicans are fuming at Biden for tying passage of a bipartisan infrastructure plan to approval of a party-line bill.

  • One key Republican signaled he could pull out of the deal.

  • "It seems like the momentum in the Republican caucus is to abandon this deal," a former GOP aide told Insider.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

President Joe Biden said on Thursday "we have a deal" in reference to a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal, but major chunks of the Republican Party were icy about its prospects on Friday.

Sen. Lindsey Graham was perhaps among the most aggressive lawmakers denouncing it. On Friday, Politico reported that the South Carolina Republican would not back the plan. "No deal by extortion!" he tweeted.

The stumbling block is that Biden tied the deal's final passage to a separate party-line bill that's poised to contain many Democratic social priorities on education, healthcare, and childcare.

"If this is the only thing that comes to me, I'm not signing it," Biden said at the White House on Thursday, referring to the bipartisan package.

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy seized on exactly those remarks on Friday to explain his opposition. "It's one big deal. It's not separated," the California Republican said. "I just don't see any Republican supporting that structure."

Key Senate Republicans also signaled their opposition. Sen. Jerry Moran, one of the 10 Republicans who signed onto the deal with Biden, showed signs of wavering on the framework given the president's commitment to secure approval of a separate reconciliation bill, Bloomberg reported.

Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, another of the Republican negotiators, told reporters on Thursday he was "a little blindsided" by Biden's pledge to only approve the bipartisan plan only if a party-line package reached his desk.

Other Republicans who forged the deal, like Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio or Susan Collins of Maine, have refrained from commenting publicly so far. But there are signs that the GOP could ultimately ditch the plan.

"I can't imagine Senate Republicans agreeing to a deal that Democrats are going to rip up before the ink is dry," Brian Riedl, a former Portman aide, told Insider.

"It seems like the momentum in the Republican caucus is to abandon this deal," said Riedl, now a budget expert at the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute. "The fact they feel lied to and misled by the president gives them a pretty clear justification for pulling out. This isn't a matter of 'we got cold feet and changed our minds,' it's that the president changed the deal after we got an agreement."

The $1 trillion infrastructure deal was focused on physical infrastructure like roads, bridges, broadband, and water projects. But it omitted many Democratic priorities like tax hikes on corporations and in-home elder care.

Still, some Republicans had floated striking a bipartisan deal in a bid to kill a Democrat-only package. "I think a value that could come from this is the reduced pressure of justification that Democrats may feel," Moran said earlier this month. "If we do nothing, those that want to change the rules or use reconciliation have a stronger case to make."

Some other Republicans may be responding to a separate Lindsey Graham quote, summing up his feelings about how the negotiations with Biden turned out: "Most Republicans could not have known" that Biden would tie the two bills together, Graham told Politico. "There's no way. You look like a f---ing idiot now."

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