02:03 - Source: CNN
Biden hits road to make case for policy plan
CNN  — 

President Joe Biden has few public events on his schedule this week as he works behind the scenes to secure an agreement on his domestic agenda amid deep divisions within his party.

A source familiar with the President’s private schedule says it is filled with blocks of “congressional time,” which the President uses to make phone calls, meet with lawmakers in person or talk over his legislative strategy with top aides. He’ll also participate in a CNN town hall at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday in Baltimore. The press this week comes after Biden faced calls from Democratic allies in Congress to get more involved in pressing his economic agenda.

Biden is expected to meet with Sen. Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, at the White House as soon as Monday, and officials are already making plans for another meeting with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat of Arizona, this week. While Biden is meeting with both moderates and progressives in groups at the White House on Tuesday, Manchin and Sinema are expected to get a solo audience with the President. Other Democrats have accused the two moderates of holding up a deal in the 50-50 Senate.

While Biden periodically has “congressional time” on his schedule, the source told CNN there is much more than normal this week. Biden leaves Washington next week for a trip abroad to the G20 in Rome and United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, so aides are carving out more than usual in hopes of reaching an agreement before he departs.

Biden will bring over two groups of House Democrats to the White House on Tuesday as officials ramp up the efforts to secure an agreement on the President’s sweeping domestic agenda, according to a White House official.

Biden will hold one meeting with moderate members and a second with progressive members, the official said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden “spent the weekend continuing his deep engagement on behalf of his economic growth agenda for the middle class, speaking with members who represent the full spectrum of views of Hill Democrats about the pathway forward on both his human infrastructure and physical infrastructure plans.”

Psaki confirmed that Biden met with Rep. Pramila Jayapal at the White House on Monday and the series of meetings with moderate and progressive members. She said the administration is “encouraged by the accelerated pace of talks,” and when asked if anything specific has changed in recent days, she said the President is “certainly feeling an urgency to move things forward to get things done.”

“I think you’ve seen that urgency echoed by members on the Hill, who agree that time is not unending here and we are eager to move forward with a unified path to deliver for the American people,” she said.

When asked if Biden feels a need to mediate the continued sparring between Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, and Manchin, Psaki said Biden has been in touch with both senators to better understand the path forward and what the priorities are to each of them.

White House officials and congressional leadership staff have been engaged for several weeks with Manchin – as well as Sinema – as they work to narrow down key issues with the proposal, two people involved said.

It’s described as a granular process, and one aimed at addressing the concerns of Manchin and Sinema – which differ significantly – while also maintaining the key principles Biden and progressives have pushed for in the proposal.

People involved in the talks say there has been tangible progress over the course of the last week, though the most significant decisions still haven’t been made. Those involved are aware the window is tight for a final agreement, driven both by deadlines – an October 31 expiration of surface transportation funding legislation – and Biden’s trip abroad.

Factors outside of Washington’s control have also played a role, notably a gubernatorial race just across the Potomac River from the capital.

While the Virginia gubernatorial race isn’t an overarching concern in the talks themselves, people involved said, Democrats have become increasingly focused on trying to secure a legislative victory to enhance their chances in that race.

Yet White House officials have been careful not to place a defined deadline on talks, even as they have made clear the time window for drawn out negotiations is coming to a close.

The goal in the talks themselves has essentially been figuring out ways within a roughly $2 trillion proposal to shift money across different areas and programs to come close to addressing the goals, if not the scale, initially intended in Biden’s $3.5 trillion package.

White House and congressional officials have worked for several weeks to address Manchin’s opposition to a cornerstone clean energy standard, pressing to map out additional clean energy tax incentives and credits, as well as other tax and emissions policies to try and meet the overall objectives. CNN reported over the weekend that the program may be split from the legislative package in order to assure Manchin’s support.

Similar efforts are underway around other areas of concerns raised by Manchin and Sinema, ranging from the paid leave provisions to the extension of the expanded child tax credit, officials said.

The idea, to a degree, is that the talks aren’t about a binary choice of dropping entire programs or doing all of Biden’s proposals for a shorter duration. Instead, it’s a mix and match of the two, with an effort to address the goals laid out by Biden and progressives in at least some form throughout the proposal.

It’s something Biden alluded to when he spoke to reporters on Friday.

“I’m of the view that it’s important to establish the principle on a whole range of issues without guaranteeing you get the whole 10 years,” Biden said. “It matters to establish it. You pass the principle, and you build on it.”

White House advisers have mapped out this week to keep Biden flexible for lawmakers visits or even a potential trip to Capitol Hill if it is viewed as potentially beneficial. The Washington schedule will largely be determined by the pace of negotiations, as Biden continues to ramp up his public pitch on the proposals outside of the White House. Biden is scheduled to visit his hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania, on Wednesday.

Despite growing pressure from Democrats for Biden to lay down a firm line with Manchin and Sinema, that isn’t planned in the near term, official said, given the progress that has been made in the talks to this point.

Yet Democrats on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue involved in the discussions acknowledged that at some point it is likely Biden will have to make clear to the two moderate senators that it is time to move forward. That decision, if made, would be made jointly by Biden, Pelosi and Schumer, who have maintained a united front throughout the talks.

That point, however, hasn’t been reached yet, officials said.