Biden to meet with GOP lawmakers to discuss virus relief

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden is set to meet Monday afternoon with a group of 10 Republican senators who have proposed spending about one-third of the $1.9 trillion he is seeking in coronavirus aid, though congressional Democrats are poised to move ahead without Republican support.

An invitation to the White House came hours after the lawmakers sent Biden a letter Sunday urging him to negotiate rather than try to ram through his relief package solely on Democratic votes. The House and Senate are on track to vote as soon as this week on a budget resolution, which would lay the groundwork for passing an aid package under rules requiring only a simple majority vote in the closely divided Senate.

The goal is for passage by March, when extra unemployment assistance and other pandemic aid expires. The meeting to be hosted by Biden would amount to the most public involvement for the president in the negotiations for the next round of virus relief. Democratic and Republican lawmakers are far apart in their proposals for assistance.

As a candidate, Biden predicted his decades in the Senate and his eight years as Barack Obama's vice president gave him credibility as a deal-maker and would help him bring Republicans and Democrats to consensus on the most important matters facing the country.

But less than two weeks into his presidency, Biden showed frustration with the pace of negotiations at a time when the economy exhibited further evidence of wear from the pandemic. Last week, 847,000 Americans applied for unemployment benefits, a sign that layoffs remain high as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage.

“I support passing COVID relief with support from Republicans if we can get it. But the COVID relief has to pass — no ifs, ands or buts,” Biden said on Friday.

In the letter, the Republican lawmakers reminded Biden that in his inaugural address, he proclaimed that the challenges facing the nation require "the most elusive of things in a democracy: Unity.”

Cassidy separately criticized the current Biden plan as “chock-full of handouts and payoffs to Democratic constituency groups."

“You want the patina of bipartisanship ... so that’s not unity," Cassidy said.

Jared Bernstein, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said Biden remains willing to negotiate but that officials needed to see more details from Republicans. At the same time, Bernstein pressed the administration's argument that doing too little to stimulate the economy could have enormous impact on the economy in the near- and long-term.

“Look, the American people really couldn’t care less about budget process, whether it’s regular order, bipartisanship, whether it’s filibuster, whether it’s reconciliation," Bernstein said. “They need relief, and they need it now.”

Portman and Deese were on CNN’s “State of the Union,” and Deese also was interviewed on NBC's “Meet the Press.” Cassidy and Bernstein appeared on ”Fox News Sunday" and Richmond was on CBS' “Face the Nation."