White House officials on Tuesday downplayed the need to lock down a deal on President Joe Biden’s expansive Build Back Better agenda ahead of his overseas trip to meet with other global leaders in Europe.
The president is scheduled to attend a United Nations conference on climate change on Monday and Tuesday of next week, a meeting where Democratic leaders had hoped Biden would be able to showcase the environmental protection provisions of his administration’s signature legislative objective. But key components of that social spending plan, including some provisions to combat climate change, remain under negotiation between Democrats on Capitol Hill, and it is unclear whether lawmakers will strike a deal before Biden departs for Europe on Thursday.
Biden has personally expressed his hope that Congress could vote on his administration’s social spending package this week, but both White House press secretary Jen Psaki and national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Tuesday that the president’s negotiating positions at the U.N. climate change conference would not be diminished if he does not have a domestic deal in hand when he arrives.
“I don’t think world leaders will look at this as a binary issue: is it done, is it not done,” Sullivan said. “They’ll say, ‘Is president Biden on track to deliver what he said he’s going to deliver?’ And we believe one way or the other he will be on track.”
Democrats in recent days have expressed optimism that they are nearing a breakthrough toward an agreement on Biden’s social spending package, originally billed at $3.5 trillion over 10 years but has since been whittled down closer to $1.5 trillion due to reservations from key Senate holdouts.
But only days remain until Biden is due to travel to Europe, meaning time is running out to reach a handshake deal, let alone the time-consuming process of passing a bill through the reconciliation process.
“I think what the allies are looking at is the effort that President Biden has undertaken to design and now negotiate an ambitious, effective, practical set of investments in climate, clean energy, infrastructure and economic development in the United States,” Sullivan said. “They want to see the United States making these investments. They also recognize that the United States has a set of democratic institutions, has a Congress, that this is a process that it needs to be worked through.”
Sullivan’s comments were echoed shortly afterward by Psaki.
“These global leaders are sophisticated,” she said. “They’re familiar themselves — although they all have different systems — with how you legislate here in the United States. They watch closely. They know it can take some time.”
Psaki said even if a deal doesn’t materialize by the time Biden is due to meet with his counterparts from other countries but Democrats are “on the verge” of an agreement, then “global leaders take note of that too.”
She also dismissed the need for Biden to remain in Washington in order to seal negotiations.
“There are phones on Air Force One, and also in Europe, and so he will continue to be engaged even as we move to the trip,” she said.
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