A lead Republican negotiator has welcomed Joe Biden’s withdrawal of his threat to veto a $1.2tn bipartisan infrastructure bill unless a separate Democratic spending plan also passes Congress.
Senator Rob Portman of Ohio said on Sunday he and fellow Republican negotiators were “blindsided” by Biden’s comments, which the president made on Thursday after he and the senators announced a rare bipartisan compromise on a measure to fix roads, bridges and ports.
“I was very glad to see the president clarify his remarks because it was inconsistent with everything that we had been told all along the way,” Portman told ABC’s This Week.
Moments after announcing the deal, Biden appeared to put it in jeopardy with his comment that it would have to move “in tandem” with a larger bill that includes a host of Democratic priorities he hopes to pass along party lines.
Biden said of the infrastructure bill on Thursday: “If this is the only thing that comes to me, I’m not signing it.”
The comments put party pressure on the 11 Republicans in the group of 21 senators who endorsed the infrastructure package.
One Republican, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, told Politico Biden had made his group of senators look like “fucking idiots”.
Biden issued a statement on Saturday that essentially withdrew that threat, saying that was never his intent.
Biden said he had “created the impression that I was issuing a veto threat on the very plan I had just agreed to, which was certainly not my intent … The bottom line is this. I gave my word to support the infrastructure plan and that is what I intend to do.”
The White House said Biden would tour the US to promote the bipartisan deal, starting in Wisconsin on Tuesday.
“We were glad to see them disconnected and now we can move forward,” Portman said.
A key Democratic senator, the West Virginia centrist Joe Manchin, told ABC he believed the bipartisan proposal could reach the 60 votes needed to become law.
“This is the largest infrastructure package in the history of the United States of America,” Manchin said. “And there’s no doubt in my mind that [Biden] is anxious for this bill to pass and for him to sign it. And I look forward to being there when he does.”
Manchin also appealed to progressives to support the bill as part of a process which will see Democrats attempt to pass a larger spending bill containing policy priorities opposed by Republicans via a simple majority.
“I would hope that all my colleagues will look at it in the most positive light,” Manchin said.
“They have a chance now to review it. It has got more in there for clean infrastructure, clean technology, clean energy technology than ever before, more money for bridges and roads since the interstate system was built, water, getting rid of our lead pipes. It’s connecting in broadband all over the nation, and especially in rural America, in rural West Virginia.”
Another Republican, Mitt Romney of Utah, said he trusted Biden’s word on the deal – and delighted in needling Democrats over the separate spending package.
“This is a bill which stands on its own,” he told CNN’s State of the Union about the infrastructure deal. “I am totally confident the president will sign up if it comes to his desk. The real challenge is whether the Democrats can get their act together and get it on his desk.
“I think the battle that’s going on is not with Republicans. Republicans are gonna support true infrastructure that doesn’t raise taxes. But Democrats want to do a lot of other things and I think they’re the ones that are having a hard time deciding how to proceed.”
A leading House progressive, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, told NBC’s Meet the Press it was “very important for the president to know that … the Democratic caucus is here to ensure that he doesn’t fail.
“And we’re here to make sure that he is successful in making sure that we do have a larger infrastructure plan. And the fact of the matter is that while we can welcome this work and welcome collaboration with Republicans … that doesn’t mean that the president should be limited by Republicans, particularly when we have a House majority, we have 50 Democratic senators and we have the White House.
“I believe that we can make sure that [Biden] is successful in executing a strong agenda for working families.”