If this is the only thing that comes to me, I’m not signing it.
- President Joe Biden
Saturday[i] saw both President Biden and former-President Trump making news lines. The day foreshadowed the slide into the 2022 midterm congressional elections and possibly the 2024 presidential. It’s a present that bodes badly for the president’s climate and society agendas and a future I had hoped would remain in the past.
Trump held what was billed as just the first of his revenge rallies. In the case of The Donald, one hardly needs to ask revenge for what? Trump takes any disagreement with him to be a reason for retribution. Ostensibly he was in Wellington, Ohio supporting his former staffer Max Miller in his bid to oust Representative Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH) in next year’s Republican primary.
Not one for subtlety, Trump described Miller’s opponent as a grandstanding RINO, not respected in DC, who voted for the unhinged, unconstitutional, illegal impeachment witch hunt. Gonzalez, who comes from a Cuban-American family, was first elected to Congress in 2019. He played football as an Academic All-American at Ohio State—credentials usually sufficient to guarantee a successful political career in a state that has voted for Republican presidential candidates since 2000.
Trump’s motto these days isn’t to Make America Great; it’s to Save America. From what you ask? I think I have this straight--from what he’s fond of calling the socialist, communistic, coastal elites, who want nothing more than to be left alone to molest children in the basement of a Washington pizza establishment.
Warming up Saturday’s crowd was Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who, along with her House-mate Matt Gaetz (R-FL), leads the America First movement. The movement is a barely concealed racist notion of America’s remaining true to its white, western European roots.
Greene is an unrepentant supporter of QAnon, a far-right conspiracy theory that even the two leading Republicans in Congress, Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), have condemned as loony lies. McConnell has said this about Ms. Greene:
Somebody who’s suggested that perhaps no airplane hit the Pentagon on 9/11, that horrifying school shoot-ings were pre-staged, and that the Clintons crashed JFK Jr.’s airplane is not living in reality.
Pardon my spending quite so much time describing what happened on a warm night in northern Ohio. I assure you it’s germane to the debate going on in Congress about climate and infrastructure.
Biden spent much of his Saturday at Camp David walking back a comment he made two days before as part of his announced support for a $1.2 trillion infrastructure framework brought to him by a group of 21 senators (G21)—eleven Republicans and ten Democrats. I’ve written before that the work of the Senate group was still very much in progress. Given all the devils lurking in the considerable details, progress promises to be slow and contentious.
The $1.2 trillion compromise framework was $1 trillion below Biden’s initial infrastructure offering—a proposal that went far beyond traditional projects like building and fixing new roads and bridges. Biden’s American Jobs Plan included most of the climate and society-related initiatives left out of the bipartisan proposal, e.g., a net-zero carbon power sector by 2035 and public investments in-home healthcare services for the elderly.
Notwithstanding all the work ahead, the infrastructure agreement was a significant victory for Biden. It gave meaning and possibility to his professed way of doing business on Capitol Hill. As a candidate, the president described himself as a consummate dealmaker. He promised voters he would break through the hyperpartisan barriers that have made governing the nation all but impossible over the entirety of the past two decades.
During his driveway press conference, surrounded by G21 members, Biden said he hadn’t given up on the climate and society-related initiatives in his original proposal. He articulated what was being openly discussed along Pennsylvania Avenue and the K Street corridor where the organizations and firms making up much of the Washington lobbying corps have taken up shop--a two-track approach. What wasn’t in the infrastructure bill would be included as part of the budget reconciliation process.
Then, it happened. The president said if this [the reconciliation bill] is the only thing that comes to me, I’m not signing it. It’s in tandem. (Emphasis added) The concerning word here was tandem.
Biden’s comment unleashed tensions in the Republicans standing with him in front of the White House palpable enough that anyone watching the “presser” on C-Span could feel them. Why such tensions if the proposed two-step strategy was hardly a secret?
To paraphrase the psalms, Biden saying what he did delivered moderate Republicans like Murkowski, Collins, and Romney into Trump’s hands to be ruled over by the former president and leading conservative Republicans in both the House and Senate.
Senator McConnell couldn’t resist the chance to say that Biden caved to the left-wing of his party. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) said Biden was engaging in extortion and made the GOP members of the G21 look like f…ing idiots.
Biden spent the weekend walking back his comment. He went on record saying he was a stand-up guy, and it wasn’t his intent to suggest the passage of the infrastructure bill was contingent on passage of a reconciliation bill that included the climate and society provisions lost to the compromise.
In smoothing the feathers of the G21 Republicans, the president ruffled those of the progres-sives in the House and Senate. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who chairs the Senate budget committee, said that infrastructure would go nowhere without a firm, absolute agreement about the provisions of the reconciliation bill.
House Speaker Pelosi agreed with Sanders and said clearly, if ungrammatically--
There ain’t gonna be no bipartisan bill unless we have a reconciliation bill.
As a veteran political negotiator, Biden should know better than to say some of the things he does. It’s one thing to mix up the names of countries or reminisce about events that never happemed. It’s quite another to say something that hardens the parties’ positions in an already arduous negotiation and then to say oh, never mind.
In the end, I commend my mother’s words to President Biden--words I myself should have paid more attention to—there are things in this world better left unsaid—at least for the moment.
[i] Saturday June 26, 2021.
Photo courtesy of Suzy Brooks and Unsplash
Joel B. Stronberg
Joel Stronberg, MA, JD., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.