WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden is putting his foot on the gas pedal and moving ahead with his plans to sell an expansive infrastructure proposal this week as he faces mounting pressure to act on other legislative priorities that have become increasingly difficult to ignore.
The president, who will outline the contours of his multitrillion dollar economic plan at an event in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, has signaled a continued laser focus on defeating the coronavirus pandemic and boosting economic growth while also confronting intractable problems like gun control and immigration following two mass shootings that unfolded within days of each other, and an increase of migrants at the southern border.
Though juggling multiple priorities is part of the job, Biden has refused to let outside challenges usurp his scripted plans for the second phase of his “Build Back Better” agenda, a political balancing act that frustrates some supporters but could have consequential implications on the success of his presidency.
“There are so many crises, so consistently. It never stops,” said Paulette Aniskoff, former deputy assistant to President Barack Obama and director of the Office of Public Engagement. “One of the big lessons from Obama was that the things he got done that were big and meaningful and had hugely high approval ratings were the things he really stuck to and focused on.”
As the head of public engagement, Aniskoff served as the White House gatekeeper for advocacy organizations, businesses and outside groups looking to get the president’s attention. Much like Biden’s steadfast commitment to the successful passage of his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package earlier this month, Obama was fixated on the 2009 Recovery Act in his first 100 days, she recalled.
“I think not getting sidetracked is how you get the big stuff done,” Aniskoff said. “While you are of course juggling and looking at executive actions … there’s just only so much you can do with executive actions. They’re not going to be permanent.”
Biden had hoped to highlight his administration’s COVID-19 response during his first press conference last week, including the doubling of his goal of administering 100 million shots in his first 100 days – a milestone his administration has already met. But the event was largely overshadowed by questions on the brewing crisis at the border, where both Republicans and Democrats have criticized the administration about the detention of unaccompanied minors at overcrowded facilities, and whether he would fulfill a campaign pledge to issue a raft of executive actions to tighten gun laws.
“It’s a matter of timing,” Biden told reporters when asked about gun control. “As you’ve all observed, the successful presidents better than me have been successful in large part because they know how to time what they’re doing. Order it, decide and prioritize what needs to be done.”
The comments were a marked departure from the urgent language he used days earlier in calling on Congress to enact gun safety measures following a deadly shooting in Boulder, Colorado, the second in less than a week. Biden said then that he didn’t “need to wait another minute” to address gun violence.
Gun control legislation or orders?Here’s what President Biden is considering
That shift in tone was disappointing to gun control advocates like Kris Brown, president of the Brady: United Against Gun Violence, a nonprofit group.
“Action on gun violence is not a matter of calendaring for the most beneficial time, it’s not a matter of timing. It’s a matter of life and death,” she said.
A focus on infrastructure
The message to advocacy groups looking for executive action was clear: It would have to wait. Instead, Biden has turned his attention to his next major initiative: his plan to rebuild bridges and technology, as well as domestic investment in clean energy, access to health care, a boost for caregivers, and overhauling the tax code. The White House has not released a dollar figure for the legislative package, but the combined cost comes with a reported price tag of up to $3 trillion.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Sunday confirmed the administration would split the package into two legislative proposals as Biden looks to shore up Republican support for his next legislative push, something he was unable to accomplish for his COVID-19 relief bill.
The president will release details this week on his plans to invest in physical infrastructure, an issue that Republicans have supported for years, Psaki told “Fox News Sunday.”
“Roads, railways, rebuilding them, that’s not a partisan issue,” she said.
The White House will unveil a second proposal later in April that “will address a lot of issues that American people are struggling with – child care, the cost of health care,” she added.
Democratic strategist Josh Schwerin said Biden’s infrastructure plan doesn’t preclude him from tackling other campaign promises.
“From a messaging perspective, it makes sense to have a big public economic goal like infrastructure that you are pushing toward. That doesn’t mean there can’t be work done behind the scenes to lay the groundwork on other legislative priorities,” he said.
While there are always complaints about in what order a president pursues his agenda, Biden is aware he will be evaluated on whether he can point to a set of legislative accomplishments that had a meaningful impact on the lives of Americans, particularly at the 2022 midterm elections, according to William Howell, a political scientist and professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy.
“There’s just so much to do that I think him taking a kind of hard-nosed assessment about what’s politically possible and moving forward on those items, and then reserving for unilateral action policy efforts in these other domains, is eminently sensible,” Howell said.
“The politics of infrastructure aren’t like the politics of gun violence. It’s about decaying roads and bridges that are not quite as safe as they once were. If you say we’ve got to always respond to the latest crisis, most of the time, you’re going to put infrastructure on the backburner.”
The president, for his part, appears to understand the magnitude of the multiple crises confronting him. Earlier this month, he hosted several prominent historians at the White House to take stock of his legislative priorities and weigh his legacy even as it’s taking shape.
Psaki said the meeting, first reported by Axios, was an open conversation to discuss the challenges facing the country and “a moment to step back and reflect and use it as lessons moving forward.”
The challenge of an evenly divided Senate
Biden, who has a long record of tackling gun control both as a senator and as vice president and who ran point on U.S.-Mexico border security under Obama, defended his decision to prioritize his economic package, referring to pressing questions on immigration and gun reform as “long-term problems” that have vexed multiple administrations.
“So we’re going to move on these one at a time, try to do as many simultaneously as we can. But that’s the reason why I focused as I have,” he said. “I think my Republican colleagues are going to have to determine whether or not we want to work together, or they decide that the way in which they want to proceed is to … just decide to divide the country, continue the politics of division. But I’m not going to do that; I’m just going to move forward and take these things as they come.”
An evenly divided Senate threatens to derail parts of Biden’s agenda, raising questions about whether he would support eliminating the filibuster, the upper chamber’s 60-vote threshold on most legislation. The president hinted to reporters at the press conference that he was open to the idea but stopped short of endorsing it.
“It’s hard to see, absent the elimination of the filibuster, comprehensive action happening on either immigration or gun safety,” Howell said. “I don’t think his attention to infrastructure is him being inflexible. I think it’s him offering a realistic assessment of what is actually possible to deliver on.”
As the administration grapples with what Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has described as the biggest surge of migrants at the southern border in 20 years, the White House has signaled that immigration is rapidly becoming a priority. Last week, Biden tapped Vice President Kamala Harris to lead the White House effort to deal with migrant influx, a role similar to the one he took as vice president, and dispatched a team of envoys to meet with Mexican government officials on a joint strategy to stem the tide.
The president also deployed a delegation of lawmakers and White House officials to visit a care facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas, where an influx of unaccompanied migrant youths are being held, but has made no plans to visit himself.
Instead, he’s focused on rolling out his economic relief plan, which could include progressive provisions like free community college, universal pre-kindergarten and paid family leave.
“I think I’d even double down on this strategy,” Aniskoff said. “Because it is so clear that COVID and the economy are the things that keep us from moving forward in a million other places.”
Source: USA Today – Breaking News