President Joe Biden responded on Wednesday to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s comment that “100%” of his focus is “on stopping this new administration,” asserting that he had heard such threats from the Kentucky Republican before and worked through them.
When asked Wednesday whether he still thought he could work with McConnell after the Senate minority leader had committed to obstructing the new administration, Biden chuckled.
“Look, he said that in our last administration, (with former President) Barack (Obama, that) he was going to stop everything – and I was able to get a lot done with him,” Biden told reporters in the State Dining Room, following remarks touting the administration’s new restaurant revitalization fund.
“Again, look – everything I’m proposing that be done to generate economic growth, employment, and put us in a position where we can out-compete any other country in the world with research and development, and moving ahead: I pay for it.”
The clash between Biden and McConnell comes as the two navigate unique challenges – the President looking to balance soliciting Republican support for his infrastructure plan with actually getting it passed, and the minority leader watching a brewing fight in the other chamber over House Republican Liz Cheney, who stands to lose her leadership post over remarks criticizing former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims that he won the 2020 election.
McConnell had been asked about that conflict and whether he’d do anything to support Cheney when he instead pivoted to say his attention was squarely on stymieing Biden’s plans.
“One hundred percent of my focus is on stopping this new administration,” McConnell responded, turning away from the actual question that was asked. “I think the best way of looking at what this new administration is the President may have won the nomination, but Bernie Sanders won the argument about what the new administration should be like. We are confronted with severe challenges from the new administration and a narrow majority in the House and a 50-50 Senate to turn American into a socialist country, and that’s 100% of my focus.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki poked at McConnell when asked about his comments earlier Wednesday, suggesting the administration’s focus was on benefiting the country instead of stopping a political opponent.
“Well, I guess the contrast for people to consider is 100% of our focus is on delivering relief to the American people, on getting the pandemic under control, and putting people back to work, and we welcome and support engagement and work with the Republicans on that,” Psaki said.
Still, Biden on Wednesday signaled openness to working with Republicans, pointing to an upcoming meeting with West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito.
“I’m going to meet the Republicans next week when they get back in,” Biden said. “I’m willing to compromise, but I’m not willing to not pay for what we’re talking about.”
When speaking to reporters in Rhode Island on Wednesday, Vice President Kamala Harris was also asked about McConnell’s comments. She echoed the President, saying the administration will still work to try and find bipartisan agreement.
“We are sincere and serious about the potential to actually get something done together. We believe it’s possible, and we’re not going to give up on that until it becomes evident that it’s not possible,” Harris told reporters.
Despite McConnell’s stark assertion, Sen. Joe Manchin, a centrist West Virginia Democrat, told CNN’s Chris Cuomo later Wednesday on “Prime Time” that he believed debating bills and seeking compromise were necessary elements to maintaining the Senate’s role – and a viable route to advancing Biden’s policies under the chamber’s narrow majority.
“That’s one person,” Manchin said when pressed on McConnell’s “100%” comment. “He’s not controlling all of that, I can assure you – we would not be having the discussions. There wouldn’t be an offer on the table of five or six hundred billion dollars of infrastructure (as) a starting point, which I think is a good starting point.”
“I have faith that democracy will survive – but it can only survive as the republic that we know here, that we live in, is if there is a two-party system, at least a two-party system, but also a Senate that has minority input,” Manchin said, adding, “I don’t know what (McConnell’s) reasoning is for that (comment), but I can assure you, there are Republicans working with Democrats to want to make something happen and something work.”
This story has been updated with additional details Wednesday.