March 23, 2023

WASHINGTON (AP) — In more than 50 years in Washington, Joe Biden has known that the way to influence is in the room where it happens. But in his second year as president, some of Biden’s most high-profile and impactful legislative victories have come from staying out of the way.

Summer legislative blitz has sent bipartisan bills addressing gun violence and promote the country’s high-tech manufacturing To Biden’s desk, the president is now on the cusp of securing what he calls the “last piece” of his economic agenda, suddenly reviving a Democrat-only deal on climate and prescription drugs. In a counterintuitive shift for a president who has long touted his decades of experience on Capitol Hill, Biden’s aides attribute his victory to the fact that he has been openly playing the role of cheerleader rather than legislative quarterback.

“In a 50-50 Senate, when the White House takes over a topic, it does scare off a lot of Republicans,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut. “I think all of this is on purpose. When you step back and let Congress lead, and then apply pressure and help when the time is right, that’s probably a more effective strategy to get the job done.”

Democrats and White House hope for bipartisan and non-bipartisan legislative victory four months before November election Will help revive political fortunes by showing voters what even the tiniest majority can accomplish.

Biden starts 2022 with his legislative agenda at a standstill, poll numbers are falling, and frankly admitting He made a ‘mistake’ in the role.

“The public doesn’t want me to be ‘President and Senator,'” he said. “They want me to be president and senators to be senators.”

Making a senator a senator won’t be easy for Biden, whose political and personal identity is rooted in his formative years in that chamber. He was a Senator from Delaware for 36 years and Senate President for eight years, valued for his connections on Capitol Hill and his insight as Barack Obama’s vice president.

When Biden stepped back, he left most of his direct negotiations to aides. Instead, his legislative strategy has focused more on using his role as president to provide a sense of strategic urgency to the agendas of lawmakers and voters.

For many of his aides and advisers, leaving the Senate was the key to his later success. Democrats, who hold a shaky majority in Congress but remain unified in control of Washington, are increasingly expected to fall behind Biden among supporters who want more ambitious action.

The sometimes nasty horse deals needed to win consensus often leave presidents in limbo and uninspired. The dramatic breakdown of negotiations that took place on the way to a final deal proved all the more tantalizing because Biden himself was a party to the negotiations.

In the spring of 2021, the Biden Big Show negotiated directly with Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito on an infrastructure bill, only to have negotiations broken down over the scope of the plan and how to finance it. Meanwhile, an independent bipartisan group has been quietly meeting to discuss how to overhaul the nation’s transportation, water and broadband systems. After White House approval, this became the version that was incorporated into the law.

The president next tried to strike a deal with Senator Joe Manchin on a sweeping social spending and climate package, even inviting West Virginia lawmakers to his home in Wilmington, Delawareuntil conservative Democrats suddenly pulled the plug Talks in Fox News interview.Manchin later began negotiations again, this time with only Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and the two eventually reached a deal After more than a year of legislative wrangling, the bill is now close to being approved by the Senate.

In late 2021, White House aides persuaded the president to keep quiet about his conversations with Hill, part of a deliberate effort to move negotiations on his legislative agenda out of the public eye. The West Wing was quick to learn that Biden called the lawmaker or invited the caucus to a White House meeting, but has remained silent.

The new approach has drawn criticism from the media, but the White House believes the public will not pay attention to details and will reward results.

White House spokesman Andrew Bates said Biden and his team “have been using the bully pulpit and working closely with Congress to pursue policies that reduce family costs and fight inflation, enhance our competitiveness with China, and combat gun violence.” , and to help veterans. “He also directed his cabinet, senior staff and legislative team to continually engage with key lawmakers as we work together to achieve what may soon be the most productive legislative record of any president since Lyndon Johnson” .

White House aides say some shifts also reflect the changing dynamics of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has kept Biden in Washington for most of 2021; his meetings with lawmakers are among the few ways to show he’s on the job one. As the pandemic eases and Biden is able to resume more in-person events with voters and interest groups, he is able to use these settings to get his message straight to people.

The subtle shift didn’t pay off immediately: Biden’s approval ratings just continued to slide amid legislative inertia and soaring inflation.

Over time, however, Biden’s decision to play a facilitative role rather than chief negotiator — with mixed success — began to pay off: the first substantial gun restrictions in nearly three decades, a boost to domestic semiconductors Measures for computer chip production and care for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits.

White House officials say Biden’s moving speech after school shooting in Uwald, Texas, to help motivate lawmakers to take action on gun violence — even as he pushes for broader measures, rather than giving the GOP room to strike a compromise. They point to a steady pace of speeches over the months, highlighting the need to lower prescription drug costs or take action on climate, and keep those issues in the national conversation amid the sporadic legislation.

Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, in turn, say Biden’s immediate withdrawal from the talks allows senators to build consensus among them without distracting the White House from what could be repeatedly pushed by the White House for a compromise that Republicans cannot achieve or may be seen as a compromise by some Democrats .

“The president kind of said we’re going to stay out,” Sen. Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, said of gun talks earlier this year. “I think it’s helpful.”

Laissez-faire, however, does not mean the absence of government.

Instead of staying in the room as the gun deal was nearing, White House aides stayed on the phone, explaining how the administration might interpret and regulate the law the senators were drafting. Murphy talks to White House officials on a daily basis, and when the Connecticut senator met with Biden in person in early June to provide an update, the president never gave him an ultimatum on what he would or would not sign — continuing to defer to the legislation By.

In another phase of the gun talks, the administration is rumored to be considering banning the Pentagon from selling certain types of surplus ammunition to gun dealers who then sell them commercially, according to two people familiar with the matter. But Republicans, primarily Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, have urged the White House to scrap the plans because it would run counter to what gun negotiators are discussing, said the people, who asked not to be identified because of their private information. private negotiations.

The White House eventually did so, issuing a statement to a conservative publication that it was not considering such an executive order on ammunition.

On the semiconductor package Biden plans to sign into law on Tuesday, the administration organized classified briefings for lawmakers, highlighting how China is gaining influence in computer chips and the impact on national security. Republicans have often been in touch with Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, a Biden Cabinet official who forged a friendly relationship down the aisle.

On Democrats’ partisan climate and health care packages, Manchin stressed that legislation of this magnitude would not be possible without input from the White House, though he didn’t deal directly with Biden until near the end, when the president called for it, according to people familiar with the matter. , let Manchin know that the White House will support his deal with Schumer.

Biden has yet to participate in last-minute deliberations involving Arizona Democratic Sen. Kirsten Sinema, Even as Democrats hammered out a deal that met her demands, she and the president didn’t speak.

“In his mind, Joe is a U.S. senator,” said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., the lead Democratic author of the burn pit legislation and last year who helped shape the infrastructure Law. “So he understands that making this thing work is how you do it.”

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