In early April, it was already obvious how the infrastructure debate would unfold. President Biden was clearly committed to trying to work out a bipartisan compromise with Republicans, with the realization that it'd be necessary to pursue other progressive goals through a separate package.
In fact, this was the course GOP leaders encouraged the president to take. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of the Senate Republican leadership, told Fox News in early April, "My advice to the White House has been, take that bipartisan win, do this in a more traditional infrastructure way and then if you want to force the rest of the package on Republicans in the Congress and the country, you can certainly do that."
The Missouri senator was hardly alone. Several prominent Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), publicly acknowledged the two-track approach to infrastructure: Democrats would work on one bipartisan bill, while simultaneously preparing a related bill that would be pursued -- without the GOP's backing -- through the budget reconciliation process.
And so, when the White House and a group of Senate Republicans reached an agreement last week on an infrastructure plan, Democratic leaders said exactly what everyone expected them to say: the majority party would move forward with their infrastructure plans by passing the bipartisan package and a reconciliation package.
GOP leaders were outraged -- or more accurately, GOP leaders pretended to be outraged. The fact that Democrats planned to connect the dual tracks, Republicans said, was an unforgivable slight that threatened to derail the entire initiative.
The tantrum clearly wasn't rooted in good faith. What's more, practically everyone seemed to realize that the tantrum wasn't rooted in good faith. And yet, much of the political world went along with the theatrics anyway, as if there was some degree of sincerity in Republican complaints about Biden and Democratic leaders having gone too far.
Eager to prevent the bipartisan deal from completely unraveling, the White House walked back the comments that GOP senators pretended not to understand.
"My comments also created the impression that I was issuing a veto threat on the very plan I had just agreed to, which was certainly not my intent," Biden said in a statement. "I intend to pursue the passage of that plan, which Democrats and Republicans agreed to on Thursday, with vigor," Biden added. "It would be good for the economy, good for our country, good for our people. I fully stand behind it without reservation or hesitation."
For now, Senate Republicans involved in the negotiations are saying the bipartisan agreement is still likely to pass, thanks largely to Biden's clarification. But for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the presidential statement wasn't good enough.
[McConnell said] he is "calling on" Biden to urge House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) to "follow his lead." ... "Unless Leader Schumer and Speaker Pelosi walk-back their threats that they will refuse to send the president a bipartisan infrastructure bill unless they also separately pass trillions of dollars for unrelated tax hikes, wasteful spending, and Green New Deal socialism, then President Biden's walk-back of his veto threat would be a hollow gesture," McConnell wrote.
Of course, McConnell is poised to oppose both packages anyway. In fact, his posturing is little more than a not-at-all-veiled effort to disrupt the entire process.
Democratic leaders would be wise not to take his demands seriously. For one thing, they don't work for the minority leader. For another, even if Pelosi and Schumer were to scramble to make McConnell happy, he'd simply move on to his next steps to prevent any progress on the president's infrastructure priorities.