President Joe Biden’s two individual meetings with key Senate Democrats on his infrastructure plan – the first in a series of high stakes meetings at the White House this week – were productive and revolved around shared goals, according to a White House official.
Biden hosted Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia for nearly an hour and Sen. Tom Carper, who hails from Biden’s native Delaware, for even longer in conversations designed to both take the temperature of two key committee chairmen and discuss paths forward on his top agenda item.
Biden’s conversation with Manchin dealt primarily with the need to rebuild key infrastructure nationwide, the official said, a priority that both have made clear. The official said the conversation also had a keen focus on rural communities – a priority for Manchin.
Carper, a long-time ally of Biden who – as chairman of the of the Senate Environment and Works Committee – will play a central role in crafting the infrastructure bill, discussed the need for meaningful investment infrastructure.
The meetings with Manchin and Carper come in a crucial week for the White House, with Biden set to meet later this week with the top four congressional leaders and a group of Senate GOP senators on infrastructure.
Biden has made clear both publicly and privately he’s genuine in his desire to see if there’s a pathway toward a bipartisan agreement on spending for physical infrastructure. While he has put a $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal on the table, he has said he is open to hearing ideas from Republicans and compromise – to a point. Top Biden advisers describe Biden’s intent as genuine – and that he’s willing to spend the coming days talking to Republicans to see if there is a pathway forward.
Manchin, a linchpin moderate for Senate Democrats, has also stated publicly he will not go along with any Democratic efforts to move forward unless there is an effort to find a bipartisan deal. The Senate is split evenly with Vice President Kamala Harris positioned as the Democrats’ tie-breaking vote, making Manchin a prominent figure in his party as he could make or break the President’s infrastructure goals.
Speaking to reporters late Monday afternoon, Manchin described the meeting with Biden in positive terms but did not provide specifics of what a total price tag could be for a bipartisan compromise.
“He just knows there’s a lot of need out there, and he wants to make sure we meet that need,” Manchin said.
Carper, who hails from Biden’s home state of Delaware and is close to the President, is known for maintaining good relationships with Republicans and is in the midst of bipartisan talks over surface transportation reauthorization bill that may serve as a vehicle for pieces of Biden’s infrastructure proposal.
That has raised the stakes for the next few weeks, with the White House looking for progress by Memorial Day and more progressive Democrats itching to push forward on Biden’s legislative plans as soon as possible.
A group of Senate Republicans, led by West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, sent a $568 billion counter proposal to the White House last month, and staff-level discussions have been ongoing between the two sides in the days since. Biden and Capito spoke by phone recently, and Capito will join a group of Senate Republicans in the Oval Office to meet with Biden on Thursday.