White House holding call with senators to drum up bipartisan support for Covid-19 relief package

The call, slated for 3 p.m. EST, is part of the administration’s attempts to build bipartisan support for the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, coined the American Rescue Plan, which Biden has deemed a top legislative priority in the early days of his term. Brian Deese, the director of the White House’s National Economic Council, will host the call with as many as 16 senators — eight Democrats and eight Republicans were invited.

“President Biden and his advisors will continue to engage and consult bipartisan groups of lawmakers, including today, to make the case why urgent action is needed to get relief to hard-hit communities and families and more resources to public health officials so we can ramp up vaccinations,” one White House official told CNN.

CNN has reported that Biden’s stimulus proposal already faces Republican objections, and Senate Democrats have been laying the groundwork to use a rare procedural tactic known as reconciliation to pass major parts of the package if Republicans stall their efforts.

Pressed earlier Sunday on whether the President will hold out for bipartisanship agreement to pass the package amid growing reports of Republican unease, White House chief of staff Ron Klain said the administration does want to see the proposal passed quickly, but that engaging both sides is not the “enemy” of speed.

“We’re reaching out to people,” Klain said. “I don’t think bipartisanship and speed are enemies of one another. The need is urgent.”

Deese told reporters Friday that the goal was to be “reaching out to members of Congress from both parties to make the case for the rescue plan and to engage with them (and) understand their concerns,” a mandate from Biden himself.

Among the Republican senators invited to join the call is Mitt Romney of Utah, who told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” earlier Sunday that while he wants to “hear what the White House has to say” on its proposal, he’s worried about the prospect of the US borrowing more money “for things that may not be absolutely necessary.”
White House wants Democrats to be patient on stimulus talks as Biden pushes for bipartisan path, officials say

But the senator noted that “Republicans like me have demonstrated (that) we’re open to compromise” and have “demonstrated a capacity to compromise.”

Responding later on the same program to the Utah senator’s comments, Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who caucuses with the Democrats, told Bash, “Well, I don’t know what the word compromise means. I know that working families are living today in more economic desperation than since the Great Depression. And if Republicans are willing to work with us to address that crisis, welcome. Let’s do it.”

But Democrats, he said, cannot “wait weeks and weeks and months and months to go forward.” Sanders was not among the senators invited onto the White House call, according to CNN’s tally.

Sanders, the incoming chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, has voiced support for Democrats using reconciliation to pass major parts of the relief package if Republicans stand in the way.

“We’re going to use reconciliation — that is 50 votes in the Senate, plus the vice president — to pass legislation desperately needed by working families in this country right now,” he said, shrugging off the possibility of Republicans not supporting the package.

CNN’s Lauren Fox and Phil Mattingly contributed to this report.

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