Ask yourself: What kind of president goes to Capitol Hill and urges members of his own party not to vote for one of his top legislative priorities?
Answer: The same president who threatened to veto his own bill.
Recall that in June, President Joe Biden announced he had reached a $1.2 trillion infrastructure deal with a bipartisan group of senators – and then promptly declared he would veto that deal unless Congress also approved a massive, Democrat-only social spending bill. “If this is the only thing that comes to me, I’m not signing it,” he declared.
His gaffe blindsided Republicans and nearly blew up the deal. Biden was forced to backtrack two days later – issuing a lengthy statement declaring he had not intended to issue a veto threat, and giving Republicans his word the two bills were not linked and that he would pursue the passage of the infrastructure plan “with vigor.”
Well, last week, Biden broke his word. Instead of calling off House progressives who had taken the infrastructure deal hostage, he effectively gave them his blessing to hold up the legislation until there was a deal on a separate reconciliation bill. In so doing, he violated his promise not to link the two pieces of legislation – as well as his promise to work vigorously to pass it.
Rather than work to persuade progressives to allow the infrastructure deal to pass, Biden never even asked for their votes. On “Fox News Sunday” this week, Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., told host Chris Wallace, “What the Progressive Caucus has said is we will do what the president wants to do. Chris, I didn’t get one call from the White House saying that we want the infrastructure bill to pass first.”
Quite the opposite, it appears the White House actively encouraged progressives to block it. The New York Times reported that in meetings and discussions with progressive lawmakers, White House chief of staff Ron Klain was “blunt about the president’s belief that Democrats need to reach a framework agreement on broader social policy legislation before they can approve the infrastructure measure.” Politico said “Biden’s aides are very careful to say they never crossed the line and actively whipped against their own bill, which would have been a serious betrayal of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.”
They did not have to actively whip against the bill. Their failure to whip for it was message enough to progressives.
Just when you thought Biden had plumbed the depths of presidential incompetence, he finds a way to reach a new low. At a time when he desperately needed a win, he instead tanked his own bill. In so doing, he undermined Pelosi – his own House speaker – who was working in good faith to deliver on her promise to pass the legislation by Sept. 27.
He also betrayed Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, the infrastructure plan’s chief Democratic sponsor, whose vote Biden desperately needs to pass a reconciliation bill. Sinema reportedly warned Biden that if the House did not pass the bipartisan bill by Sept. 27, she would not vote for any reconciliation bill. Is she more likely to vote for one now that she knows Biden encouraged progressives to block her infrastructure bill – or after the president refused to condemn left-wing activists who followed Sinema into a bathroom stall, declaring her harassment was “part of the process”?
Biden also betrayed the infrastructure plan’s Republican sponsors. After the veto threat fiasco, he assured them that the bills were not linked – and promised he would get the infrastructure deal through the House. Based on those assurances, they put their own reputations on the line and persuaded their GOP colleagues to support the deal, which passed the Senate with 19 Republican votes. Biden not only broke his own word to the bill’s Republicans sponsors; he also made those Republicans break their word to their colleagues.
It is very difficult to recover from such betrayals. Biden has irreparably damaged his ability to work across the aisle, something he will regret if Republicans take back the House or Senate – or both – in the 2022 midterms. And he has burned a Democratic senator who literally holds the fate of his legislative agenda in her hands.
The ineptitude is stunning.
– Follow Marc A. Thiessen on Twitter @marcthiessen.