President Joe Biden hopes to use a CNN Town Hall on Thursday to help push his ambitious domestic agenda across the finish line as weeks of mostly private negotiations among Democrats appear to be reaching their conclusion.
The 8 p.m. ET event, held in Baltimore, comes amid an intensifying public push for a reworked vision to expand the social safety net, combat climate change and raise taxes on the wealthy. Biden’s public salesmanship of his Build Back Better agenda – comprised of a $1.5 trillion public works bill and the larger, still-under-negotiation spending plan – has intensified in recent days as talks near their conclusion.
Biden's White House
Without certainty on what will be included in the final package, Biden has instead been talking up the broad outlines of his vision and the values behind it. The final plan will be whittled down from the $3.5 trillion package Biden initially got behind this summer, but still contains major investments in education, health care and the environment.
He said a day earlier at an event in Scranton, Pennsylvania, that prospects for a deal were improving.
“I think we’re going to surprise them,” he said during a lengthy speech laden with nostalgia about his upbringing. “Because I think people are beginning to figure out what is at stake.”
Biden is expected to take questions from an invitation-only audience during Thursday’s event, which is moderated by CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
“We’ve made a lot of progress but we still have work to do,” the President’s senior adviser Cedric Richmond said Wednesday. “We have a good framework, but we’re still in the process of finalizing and trying to reach compromise. So you see that the President does that the best. That’s what he spent yesterday doing. And now he’s going out, taking his case to the American people.”
More than sit-down interviews or formal press conferences, Biden’s aides believe the town hall format plays to his signature brand of politics, with a knack for connecting with Americans on a personal level. At previous events, he has mentioned his son’s battle with addiction and comforted a second-grader who was afraid of contracting the coronavirus in school.
Past appearances have also come with some off-key moments, like when he told an Ohio restaurant owner in July that he would “be in a bind for a while” amid nationwide labor shortages. And he seemed to contradict his own staff when he laid out different goals for school reopening at a town hall in February.
Still, the town hall is an opportunity to realign public attention on his sweeping domestic agenda, elements of which are widely popular among the American people. Biden and his allies believe that passing the bills could help bolster Democrats in next year’s midterm elections.
Biden has voiced frustration that more of his time wasn’t spent earlier this year promoting the agenda, when opinions were still being formed on the sweeping proposals that include the bulk of his domestic promises. A chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and a string of natural disasters prevented Biden from focusing his entire attention on explaining to Americans what was included in the plans.
Now, Democrats are rushing to complete negotiations over the President’s ambitious agenda and he is applying pressure to have something concrete to tout when he departs next week for Europe for a Group of 20 summit and climate talks in Scotland.
The final stage of negotiations has come with tough decisions on what to scale down from the original $3.5 trillion package and what to strike entirely. While the outlines of those decisions have begun to emerge this week, the talks are continuing at a frantic pace.
“The President knows that he’s not going to get everything he wants in this package, nor will Speaker Pelosi, nor will leader Schumer, and nor will any member of Congress probably. And that’s what compromise and negotiation is all about,” press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Air Force One on Wednesday.
Biden’s schedule this week has been almost entirely given over to meetings with lawmakers, who have traveled to the White House in groups and individually to huddle with the President in the Oval Office.
The flurry of meetings has signaled the slogging negotiations over Biden’s domestic agenda were nearing an end, and on Tuesday the President began laying out items that had been stripped from the large budget package in order to appease moderates.
That included his long-promised plan to offer tuition-free community college, which isn’t expected to make the final cut. A child tax credit is also expected to be scaled back. And an increase in the corporate tax rate is now in question.
Other items like paid family leave, universal pre-kindergarten and expanding health care benefits were expected to remain in the final bill. And a debate continues over which provisions to combat climate change to keep in the package.