In an attempt to pressure Democrats in Congress into a compromise, President Joe Biden will be presenting his case directly to American voters.
Pacing Baltimore’s Center Stage theater Thursday night during a town hall moderated by CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Biden brought Americans deeper into the negotiations than he ever has before, laying out details of his discussions with the two holdout Democrats in the Senate, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
It turned a harsh public spotlight on the two Democrats holding up his domestic agenda and marked a forceful new phase of Biden’s own involvement in the process.
Biden has been soft with Sinema, Manchin and Sinema up until now. This was because they were unable to accept the proposed $3.5 billion price tag for a bill with expanded healthcare and child care provisions and authorized paid family leaves. But on Thursday, the President used his bully pulpit to broadcast the two lawmakers’ negotiating positions. Biden stated that Manchin has opposed measures to penalize coal production from his state. Biden will work with Manchin in order to divert funds toward battery storage, solar wind, and other incentives that would foster innovation. They could also reduce carbon emissions and encourage consumers to switch to cleaner sources of energy. “Look, Joe’s not a bad guy,” Biden said. “He’s a friend and he’s always at the end of the day come around.”
Sinema has chafed at raising corporate taxes, and Biden said he’s trying to convince her to support a plan to make sure that corporations that currently pay no tax would pay at least 15% in federal tax. Sinema supports Biden’s climate proposals, he said, but so far she isn’t on board for a “single penny” of tax increases on the wealthy or a corporate tax hike.
These negotiations are still ongoing. Biden stated that Democrats have been considering a proposal to provide vouchers worth hundreds of dollars for dental care in a push towards expanding Medicare coverage. Biden also noted that there was another side to the story.Thursday night, he acknowledged that certain proposals might be dropped from the bill. This included his plan to provide free community college. But First Lady Jill Biden is an educator, and Biden said he’d keep pushing for the community college provision: “I’m going to get it done and if I don’t, I’m going to be sleeping alone for a long period of time,” he said.
Biden pitched his proposals as a way for working families crunched by child care and medical bills to get “breathing room” in their home budgets. As he has before, he recalled how his father “worked like hell” and would come home at the end of a long day and talk about how “all I need is a little breathing room.” Biden spoke of the “sandwich generation”—people taking care of small children and elderly parents at the same time—and said he is trying to get tax breaks and cheaper health care to help families fighting rising healthcare costs and struggling to afford childcare. Biden’s effort to get businesses to give 12 weeks paid parental leave has been pared down in the negotiations to four weeks, he said. “The reason it’s down to four weeks is because I can’t get 12 weeks,” Biden said.
Baltimore isn’t Biden’s only stop to promote his agenda. He spoke Wednesday in Scranton (Pennsylvania), where he grew up. Tuesday will see him fly to Newark to speak about the bill’s social spending and bipartisan infrastructure bills. The bill would include funding for New Jersey projects worth more than $10 million and support the Gateway Tunnel underneath the Hudson River. Biden will headline a rally for Democrat Terry McAuliffe, locked in a tight Virginia governor’s race widely seen as an early referendum on Biden’s job as President, in Arlington on Tuesday evening.
Biden can use his power to achieve other goals if Democrats reach an agreement over the infrastructure and social spending bill. As he’s worked on those massive spending packages, two other major initiatives Biden campaigned on—strengthening voting rights and curtailing police brutality—have languished. Biden was directly challenged by one audience member to answer a question about Black voters feeling let down because he has not been able to solve these problems. Once the spending proposals are done, Biden said, he will get “deep into my ears” on addressing police brutality and voting rights.
Biden went further on Thursday night than he has before saying he would be open to Democrats eliminating the filibuster, which would allow them to pass bills with a simple majority, on voting rights “and maybe more.”