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Politics Chat: Biden Announced An Infrastructure Deal, But There's A Long Road Ahead


Two steps forward, one step back. That's how progress to nail down an infrastructure deal is going. After months of deadlock, a bipartisan group of lawmakers seem to have a deal for at least part of President Biden's infrastructure plan. But maybe we don't. Or do we? If you have whiplash, you're not alone. We're joined now by NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow, whose neck is craning. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: (Laughter) Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) Back and forth, back and forth. On Thursday, President Biden walks out of a meeting with a group of bipartisan lawmakers. He's all smiles. It seems like a big win, and he says, we have a deal. Then he basically threatens to veto that bill unless other measures are passed, too. And now he's walking back that threat. What's going on?

DETROW: What is going on is razor-thin margins. Just a reminder - Biden cannot lose a single Democrat in the Senate. It's 50-50. He can only lose a handful in the House and pass anything, so he needs to keep Democrats happy. And that is why Biden immediately pushed for this broader bill, touching everything from clean energy policies to making child care more affordable and accessible. And then he went as far as to say he would not sign this bipartisan infrastructure measure unless that second broader bill gets to him, too.

But remember; Biden's main short-term goal is a totally different audience. It is trying to pass something with Republican support in the Senate at the same time, and he immediately damaged his prospects for getting 10 Republican Senate votes by doing that. That statement made a lot of Republicans mad, even if many Democrats were saying that anger was pretty performative. But Biden saw it as serious enough to issue this walk-back yesterday, saying, in part, the bottom line is this; I gave my word to support the infrastructure plan. That is what I intend to do. I fully stand behind it without reservation or hesitation.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So then is walk-back the right phrase? Because he's still saying, also, that he wants the bipartisan infrastructure bill as well as a much larger bill passed through reconciliation.

DETROW: A lot of this is kind of ambiguous. I would say the big, important change here is that he is no longer saying that if he only gets that relatively smaller bipartisan bill, he'll veto it. Look; you do not want to be issuing 600-word clarifications two days after you say something...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) No.

DETROW: ...If you're a politician, right? But again, this is two things at once. It's incredibly hard. He's simultaneously trying to pass something bipartisan to prove that governing can still work and also satisfy progressives who want to see Biden continue on this path of New Deal-style expansions of government, but doing it with razor-thin majorities. So he's trying to push for both of these bills to be passed by two very different coalitions of lawmakers at once during a - on a tight timeline and during a period in an administration where traditionally, historically, some of that momentum of the early days starts to wane. So this is an incredibly tough act that we're going to be talking about a lot over the next few months.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Also big this week was Vice President Kamala Harris going to the border. It's been a tough issue for the Biden administration. She's been criticized for waiting five months to go there. She was tasked with actually dealing with the border situation. So what did this visit achieve?

DETROW: Honestly, politically, it mostly just took away an attack the Republicans were repeatedly leveling on her and Biden. Probably not much beyond that. Harris did not make any major new policy announcements or anything like that. You know, when will you go to the border is a question Harris got just about every time she interacted with reporters based on how Republicans were criticizing her for this. And at the same time, the administration is under increasing pressure from immigration advocates for not making changes to Trump-era policies fast enough.

So Harris went to El Paso. She visited some sites, and she made a point of speaking to reporters and saying this cannot be boiled down to a story about optics and politics and visits. This is a real issue. It affects children. It affects families. And it's going to be a long-term solution.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow. Thank you.

DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.