Biden sets out to prove Republican lawmakers are on the wrong side of history. Here's how they're helping him

Biden sets out to prove Republican lawmakers are on the wrong side of history. Here's how they're helping him
(Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky looks on as President Joe Biden delivers remarks on COVID-19 vaccine production Wednesday, March 10, 2021, in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House.

President Joe Biden met Monday with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to talk infrastructure. Coming out of the meeting, his message was clear: "I'm prepared to negotiate as to the extent of my infrastructure project, as well as how we pay for it," Biden said. "It's going to get down to what we call 'infrastructure.'" He also said "Everyone acknowledges we need a significant increase in infrastructure."

The message worked for one of the Republicans in the room. "Those are all the exact words that I wanted to hear going into the meeting," Republican Rep. Garret Graves of Louisiana, a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told the AP. "And so that was really encouraging." One of the Democrats in the room, Sen. Alex Padilla of California, attested to the collegiality in the room. "Nobody stormed out yelling 'no.'" That's probably because Rand Paul and Ted Cruz weren't invited.

Instead, Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi gets to play the role of obstructor, though he might be a bit more civil in doing so. He came out of the meeting saying "clearly there are parts of this program that are non-starters for Republicans." He was mostly speaking about partially undoing the 2017 GOP Tax Scam that still hasn't produced any jobs. Wicker told Biden that partially restoring the taxes to 28% (pre-2017 they were 35%, now they're at 21%) "would be an impossible sell."

So yes, you can see how going right to the middle and landing on 28% would be an absolutely outrageous compromise for the Republicans that West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin insists will be happy to find middle ground to help pass this bill. Manchin suggests a rate of maybe 25%—which isn't the middle.

That could be part of Biden's strategy here. On the one hand, demonstrating that he is willing to consider Republican ideas and inviting them to sit down and talk seems a fool's errand. Because they will never agree to help him. So there's the other hand—leading Manchin to the self-realization that he's an idiot. It could work. Because Republicans, however nice Biden is to them, will never help pass this bill.

Meanwhile, Biden is maintaining the position that opposing this bill on the basis of that tax increase is politically very dumb for Republicans (and Manchin) because ordinary people are 'sick and tired of being fleeced. Kerry Eleveld has all the recent (and some historical) polling there, demonstrating that for at least the past six years, more than two-thirds of the American voting public has said corporations "don't pay their fair share" in taxes. On Biden's specific plan, 65% say "yes, raise corporate taxes to do that."

Biden is taking that polling, as well as all the other polls, into his Oval Office meetings with Republicans. He's telling them flat-out that "Republican voters agree with what I'm doing." His team sends that message every chance they get.

"If you looked up 'bipartisan' in the dictionary, I think it would say support from Republicans and Democrats," senior Biden adviser Anita Dunn told reporters this weekend. "It doesn't say the Republicans have to be in Congress." That's reinforcing what Biden himself said in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago when he unveiled the new infrastructure package. "Everybody said I had no bipartisan support," on the COVID-19 relief package. "The overwhelming bipartisan support were Republican—registered Republican voters."

Biden's message last week is very close to Biden's message to Republicans Monday. "Debate is welcome, compromise is inevitable, changes are certain," Biden said last week. "I would like Republican—elected Republican—support. But what I have now is, I have electoral support from Republican voters. Republican voters agree with what I'm doing."

So is Biden putting on a show for Manchin (and Kyrsten Sinema, the Arizona Democrat who decided that her flaky maverick pretense this year would be supporting the filibuster)?

He says no: "I"m not big on window dressing, as you've observed." Meanwhile, he's certainly going to make sure that Manchin knows that West Virginia got a D grade for its infrastructure. Using a combination of private and public data, the White House has graded every state, reporting on the condition of roads, bridges, power grid, health, broadband availability, and housing affordability as well as other metrics.

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