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For Biden, uniting Democrats on infrastructure is like herding cats

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Credit: Pool via TNS / Stefani Reynolds

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For now, getting Republican support is of secondary importance in building momentum behind President Joe Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure plan. It will be enough of a challenge to get Democrats pulling in the same direction.

Climate activists and progressive Democrats are gearing up for a fight over fossil fuel subsidies, which Biden proposed eliminating, something some centrist Democrats could push back against, Politico reports. The corporate tax rate may still climb from its low, Trump-era levels but perhaps not up to the 28% that Biden's plan started out with.

The rules of the reconciliation process, which require that provisions affect federal revenue or outlays, also could kill other aspects of the plan that Senate Democrats hoped to put over the top with their own 50 votes instead of the 60 that are unreachable without bipartisan backing. That makes prospects shaky for the pro-union Protecting the Right to Organize Act, which Biden recommended be included as part of the infrastructure package.

A day before Biden's planned Monday meeting with a bipartisan group of lawmakers, leaders on both sides of the aisle indicated their willingness to negotiate on the details of the bill, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez. But congressional Republicans and Biden administration officials appearing on the Sunday political talk-show circuit remained largely entrenched in their positions.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said: "We're going to negotiate. But we can't just sit here and let the clock run out, because the American people can't wait. This work can't wait." Defending Biden's expansive definition of what constitutes infrastructure, Buttigieg said: "To me, it makes no sense to say, ‘I would have been for broadband, but I'm against it because it's not a bridge. I would have been for eldercare, but I'm against it because it's not a highway.’ These are things the American people need." Buttigieg defined infrastructure as "what makes the economy move?"

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican in his chamber, said he believed "there are Republicans who would vote" for a narrower infrastructure package. "If they’re interested in roads and bridges and perhaps broadband, there’s a deal to be had there," Thune said. Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 House Republican, said a deal "would need to actually focus on infrastructure, not on so many of the additional Green New Deal spending priorities."

That's what worries progressive Democrats and environmental groups who have criticized the president’s proposal for not going far enough and not allocating enough money to tackle climate change.

Janison: Not promising them everything

Still shy of his term's 90-day mark, Biden doesn’t have enough of a record to assess successes and failures. But so far, his public statements reveal an effort to manage expectations, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. The calibrated tone of his statements might stand out only in contrast to his predecessor Donald Trump's sloppy and extravagant vows.

When he announced narrow gun-control orders last week in response to mass shootings, Biden acknowledged that broader reforms such as banning assault weapons would need congressional action that's proved elusive. "We’ve got a long way to go — it seems like we always have a long way to go," he said.

On Wednesday, as he pitched his $2.3 trillion tax-and-rebuild plan, Biden noted the compromises that would have to shape its details and scope. He called the debate "welcome," compromise "inevitable" and changes in his plan certain.

On Tuesday, Biden bumped up the deadline for all U.S. adults' eligibility for coronavirus vaccines. He could do this knowing that many states already had that goal well on its way to fulfillment. While hailing this as "good news," Biden was quick to add what would prove to be his sternest expectation management of the week. "Let me be deadly earnest with you: We aren't at the finish line. We still have a lot of work to do. We’re still in a life-and-death race against this virus," he said.

Trump's stink bomb in GOP tent

The Republican National Committee paid more than $100,000 to hold a fundraiser at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort and hear the former president deliver a party-unity message. They didn't get what they paid for.

Going off script, Trump lambasted Republicans who didn't fall in line with his schemes to overturn the election results, especially Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who he called a "dumb son of a bitch." He also went after McConnell's wife, Elaine Chao, who served for almost four years as Trump's transportation secretary until she quit shortly after the deadly U.S. Capitol insurrection.

"I hired his wife. Did he ever say thank you?" Trump said. He mocked Chao for resigning in response to the Jan. 6 violence and Trump’s behavior that day. "She suffered so greatly," he said with sarcasm. He later called McConnell a "stone-cold loser." Trump also said he was "disappointed" in his vice president, Mike Pence, for refusing to block Congress' final affirmation of Biden's election victory (a power Pence didn't have) and — according to The New York Times — advanced an extravagantly ridiculous fraud claim about Democrats paying $500 million on a "lockbox" to mark votes.

Moving to other targets, he attacked Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert — "Have you ever seen anybody that is so full of crap?" — and said someone recently suggested to him that COVID-19 vaccines should be called the "Trumpcine."

Some in the crowd turned thumbs-down on Trump's performance. "It was really nasty," one attendee told a Washington Post reporter. "It was horrible, it was long and negative," another observed to Politico. "We are much better off if we keep focusing on the Democrats. Period," said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich as he left Palm Beach on Sunday, according to The Associated Press.

Liz Cheney: End embrace of insurrection

Cheney on Sunday condemned Trump's relentless claims of election fraud and his attempts to whitewash his complicity in the Capitol riot.

"You know, the former president is using the same language that he knows provoked violence on Jan. 6th," she said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "We need to be focused on embracing the Constitution, not embracing insurrection," said Cheney, accusing Trump of attacking "the rule of law."

Cheney's refusal to along with Trump's fictions incited GOP far-right voices to rise against her, none louder than Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, who sought unsuccessfully to oust her from her leadership post and even flew to her home state to urge voters to reject Cheney in a 2022 GOP primary.

Asked about Gaetz's current predicament — he's under federal investigation for possible crimes including sex trafficking of a 17-year-old girl — Cheney said that "as the mother of daughters, the charges certainly are sickening."

Needles and need

With Michigan a new epicenter of the coronavirus infections, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, speaking on "Face the Nation," faulted the Biden administration for not surging vaccine doses and resources to the state weeks ago.

On the same show, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer reiterated her plea for more vaccine doses, saying that it's "important to recognize where there might need to be some adjustments along the way."

Jeffrey Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said Friday that Michigan would not be allotted extra doses, stressing the need to be equitable and fair to other states.

"Now is not the time to change course on vaccine allocation," Zients said Friday. "There are tens of millions of people across the country in each and every state and county who have not yet been vaccinated — and the fair and equitable way to distribute the vaccine is based on the adult population by state, tribe and territory."

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments on Long Island and beyond by Newsday's Jesse Coburn. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • In the latest Republican-on-Republican retribution over Trump's defeat, Nevada’s Republican Party voted to censure Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, accusing her of failing to fully investigate allegations of fraud. She responded that her own party was attacking her for refusing to "put my thumb on the scale of democracy."
  • Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said on CBS' "60 Minutes" that the U.S. economy is set to make a turnaround, with increased growth that should provide more jobs. He also had a coronavirus caveat: "The principal risk to our economy right now really is that the disease would spread again. It's going to be smart if people can continue to socially distance and wear masks." The interview was recorded Wednesday and aired Sunday.
  • With Trump's encouragement, former NFL star Herschel Walker said on Fox News' "Sunday Morning Futures" that he's considering running for Senate in Georgia against Democrat Raphael Warnock in 2022. Walker is a native of the state and played for the University of Georgia but has been a longtime resident of Texas. He also played in the 1980s for Trump's New Jersey Generals in the failed United States Football League.
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is emerging as a top Republican contender to seek the presidency in 2024 if Trump doesn't run, The New York Times writes. An ally describes DeSantis' brand as "competent Trumpism," though there are sharp divisions over how he has handled the coronavirus pandemic in the Sunshine State.
  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" that the United States is concerned about China’s aggressive actions against Taiwan and warned it would be a "serious mistake" for anyone to try to change the status quo in the Western Pacific by force.

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