Biden’s ‘Big 4’ Meeting: President Meets Top Congressional Leaders

President Biden met with the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and the Senate in a bid to “reach some consensus,” he said.

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Biden holds his first meeting with the top four congressional leaders to discuss infrastructure.

President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris meeting with the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate in the Oval Office on Wednesday.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

May 12, 2021, 8:07 a.m. ET

President Biden met on Wednesday with Republican and Democratic leaders from both houses of Congress for the first time since taking office, but the discussion appeared to make only modest progress toward resolving disagreements on Mr. Biden’s proposals to spend $4 trillion on infrastructure and families.

The closed-door meeting at the White House included Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader; Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader; and their counterparts in the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Representative Kevin McCarthy of California. Vice President Kamala Harris also attended.

As the group assembled in the Oval Office, Mr. Biden told reporters that he hoped to find common ground on infrastructure spending. He joked that he would like to just “snap my fingers” to achieve that goal despite fierce Republican opposition to his plans.

“The bottom line here is we’re going to see whether we can reach some consensus on a compromise,” Mr. Biden said. “We’re going to talk a lot about infrastructure.”

After the 90-minute meeting ended, the Republican leaders said it had been productive. But both Mr. McConnell and Mr. McCarthy said they remained unwilling to consider any of the tax increases that Mr. Biden has suggested to pay for the spending.

“You won’t find any Republicans going to go raise taxes,” Mr. McCarthy said, referring to Mr. Biden’s desire to increase taxes on wealthy Americans that were lowered in the 2017 tax bill. “I think it’s the worst thing to do in this economy.”

He and Mr. McConnell also said that their membership remained at odds with the president about how to define infrastructure spending. Republicans have balked at Mr. Biden’s $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan, which would increase spending on home health aides, colleges and broadband as well as more traditional infrastructure targets like roads and bridges. And that is separate from the $1.8 trillion the administration has requested for the American Families Plan, which seeks to expand access to education, reduce the cost of child care and support women in the work force.

“We first have to start with a definition of what is infrastructure,” Mr. McCarthy said. “That’s not home health. That’s roads, bridges, highways, airports, broadband.”

Mr. McConnell told reporters that he hoped Senate committees would handle the president’s proposals through the normal legislative process, which could increase the chances of a deal. Returning to the Capitol, Democratic leaders framed the meeting as a modest sign of progress.

“It took us a few steps forward,” Ms. Pelosi said. Her Senate counterpart, Mr. Schumer, said that the two parties would “try hard” to get an agreement and called the meeting a “first step.”

But both sides remain dug in on key parts of the president’s proposals, and it is unclear whether they can agree to break the infrastructure plan up into two bills: one narrower, bipartisan measure and a larger jobs and tax bill.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Tuesday that Mr. Biden would not accept “inaction” or legislation that would raise taxes on people making less than $400,000 per year.

“Those are not areas where he is going to move,” Ms. Psaki said.

In remarks on the Senate floor before the meeting, Mr. McConnell gave no indication that he expected a major reconciliation with the Democratic president, who Mr. McConnell asserted had veered toward far-left liberalism after campaigning on bipartisanship.

And in a campaign text to supporters shortly after the meeting, Mr. McCarthy sought to raise money by saying, “I just met with Corrupt Joe Biden and he’s STILL planning to push his radical Socialist agenda onto the American people.”

Zach Montague contributed reporting.

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