Joe Biden seeks Republican buy-in but how long before patience snaps?

It’s become a familiar process in the Joe Biden era.

Biden and Democrats say they will work with Republicans. Republicans say they want a seat at the negotiating table. Then the prospect of Democrats going alone begins to hover over the negotiations.

As Biden tries to pass an ambitious and transformative agenda as part of America’s recovery from the pandemic, he has repeatedly said he wants to bring Republicans over to his side. Yet at the same time he has tried to draw a line in the sand beyond which compromise is impossible.

It has been like that on how the Biden administration has approached tackling a coronavirus relief package. It’s been like that on confirming some of Biden’s cabinet secretaries. And it’s how Biden has approached his next set of major initiatives, which range from upgrading roads and bridges to helping Americans with childcare.

The jury on whether the White House’s political strategy will work is still out. Biden and his team have not yet walked away from talks with Republicans on major legislative proposals. But they have also actively kept the go-it-alone option alive.

Case in point: on Thursday the Republican group charged with negotiating an infrastructure deal with the Biden administration rolled out its latest counter offer, a $928bn plan with about $257bn in new spending.

When those Republican senators unveiled their latest proposal the divide between the White House’s new infrastructure spending and Republicans’ was about $1.4tn. It’s a gap that would seem like the last straw.

Less than a week before this latest proposal, Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, the lead Republican negotiator, left a meeting at the White House and released a statement from her team saying “the groups seem further apart after two meetings with White House staff than they were after one meeting with President Biden.”

But on the day Capito’s team revealed the newest offer, the senator was optimistic. She briefly spoke with Biden later on Thursday. She described the call as “very positive”.

But if there was any agreement on Thursday it was that these discussions would not last endlessly.

“He’s said this consistently and I think I feel this way too – you don’t want to drag this on for ever,” Capito added.

Biden himself said as much the same day.

“We’re going to have to close this down soon,” he said.

At stake is hundreds of billions of dollars for not just the common types of improvements an infrastructure bill would cover – like roads and bridges – but also incentives for setting up a national grid for electric vehicles, significant investments in the education system, updating research and development and improving the US supply chain.

But the sense of urgency is not unique to infrastructure negotiations. Even with Democrats controlling the presidency, Senate and the House of Representatives they have to grapple with the filibuster legislative mechanism in the Senate and slim majorities in both chambers.

As a result, there’s always a threat. With infrastructure, Democrats have allowed the possibility of passing some kind of package through a budgetary maneuver called reconciliation. And with other priorities, like a voting rights overhaul or setting up a bipartisan commission to investigate the 6 January attack on the Capitol, Democrats have increasingly shaken their fists and said something must be done if Republicans won’t compromise.

On Thursday Republicans showed just how far their interest in compromising went. The Senate failed to move forward on the 6 January commission after the bipartisan panel fell short of the filibuster’s 60-vote threshold, with just six Republican senators joining Democrats in a 54-35 vote.

Some Republicans had argued that a commission was unnecessary. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, said on Thursday that while he supported investigations into the 6 January mob attack, he saw no reason for the type of committee Democrats have been pushing.

Democrats have argued that congressional gridlock on the commission and a voting rights bill could lead even the final filibuster reform holdouts to throw up their hands.

Democrats have argued that the filibuster’s 60-vote threshold is too often impossible to achieve and effectively stalls almost all legislating in the Senate.

“There is no excuse for any Republican to vote against this commission since Democrats have agreed to everything they’ve asked for,” the Democratic senator Joe Manchin said on Thursday. “Mitch McConnell has made this his political position, thinking it will help his 2022 elections. They do not believe the truth will set you free, so they continue to live in fear.”

On infrastructure, Biden and his advisers have signaled a willingness to keep negotiating with Republicans for a few more weeks, longer than they had previously said. But Democrats’ patience is dwindling.

On Wednesday Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia stressed the importance of passing some kind of voting rights bill soon.

“I think we’ve got to get something done in time to do something about voter suppression bills that have already passed,” Warnock said.

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