Biden: On third thought, maybe I won't veto the infrastructure bill

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

Watching the chaos engulfing the White House since the announcement of the bipartisan infrastructure deal has turned into something bordering on infotainment at this point. First, Biden’s massively bloated proposal was deemed to be dead in the water by most observers. Then, the “grand bargain” took everyone by surprise, primarily because the progressives in Joe Biden’s party had seemed insistent that there wasn’t going to be a deal that didn’t include all of the “human infrastructure” items on the Democrats’ wishlist. Act three came when Biden almost casually announced on Thursday night that the bipartisan deal wasn’t happening unless the rest of the original package went through via reconciliation at the same time. This sent the Republicans who agreed to the smaller deal scrambling, while Biden pretended that nobody should be surprised and that was always part of the plan.

Now, with the entire mess on the verge of collapse, the President has changed his tune again. It’s not just another flip-flop, however. Biden is claiming that he never meant to imply that he would veto the compromise if it passed as a standalone measure. As of last night, the White House was making it sound as if he’d planned to sign it all along. Can someone please get Jen Psaki to circle back to this and tell us what the heck is going on? (Wall Street Journal)

Mr. Biden said Saturday that his earlier comments “created the impression that I was issuing a veto threat” on his proposal, “which was certainly not my intent.”

“The bottom line is this: I gave my word to support the Infrastructure Plan, and that’s what I intend to do. I intend to pursue the passage of that plan, which Democrats and Republicans agreed to on Thursday, with vigor,” he said in a statement. Mr. Biden will travel to Wisconsin on Tuesday to discuss the merits of the agreement, according to a White House official.

The statement marked a reversal by the president in a bid to preserve bipartisanship support of the infrastructure deal that his comments had cast into doubt.

If the idea of a veto threat “was not his intent,” he certainly had a funny way of showing it. In fact, those were pretty much the exact words he chose when he said he “wouldn’t sign” the bipartisan deal unless second package was also passed.

When AP picked apart this toxic stew on Friday, he judged most of the Republican outrage at the veto threat to be kabuki theater. That’s one theory as to what’s been going on backstage in the Senate minority caucus. If we’re to believe this, it would mean that the Senate Republicans would get to look like they aren’t the Party of No by agreeing to the trimmed-down bill. Then, when Joe Manchin flipped on them and agreed to pass the “human infrastructure” bill via reconciliation, they could all act outraged and dodge responsibility for it.

The blame for that plan falling apart now falls on Joe Biden’s shoulders for saying aloud the part that was only supposed to be “assumed.” I’m not sure that’s the correct read here, however. I would first like to know how the “I’m not going to sign it” statement made it onto the stage and past Biden’s lips. He was clearly trying to calm down the AOC branch of the party who wanted to ram the whole thing through which is understandable. But was this a planned strategy or just an example of Joe speaking off the cuff and losing the plot for a moment? If the former, it was obviously a pretty bad move in strategic terms. He immediately blew the cover of the eleven Republicans who were ready to vote for the compromise, starting the fire that’s continued to rage over the weekend.

Then comes the second act, in which Joe Biden has turned the spotlight on King Joseph of West Virginia. Will Manchin really feel free to go back on his claims that he wouldn’t back any more major spending bills without at least some bipartisan support? There still won’t be any GOP votes for the “human infrastructure” bill. And yet it sounds like the Democrats are counting on Manchin to declare that once the compromise bill is passed, his work is done and his party can return to their reconciliation plans for the rest of the wishlist.

But that’s not what Manchin has been saying all along. He spoke of “major spending bills” in a plural fashion. And the second bill in this pair will almost certainly be more than another trillion dollars with virtually none of it having to do with actual infrastructure. The Democrats will have surrendered the veneer of passing an “infrastructure” bill that nearly everyone can agree should be a priority at that point. All that will be left is a giant basket of Easter eggs for liberals. If Manchin goes along with reconciliation at that point, he no longer gets to play the role of Mr. Bipartisan and Chuck Schumer’s team won’t have any reason to keep kissing his butt.

With all that in mind, the fate of neither of these potential bills is certain at the moment. But the one thing we can say for sure is that Biden has managed to throw both the gang of eleven Republicans and Joe Manchin under the bus in one fell swoop.