What to Know in Washington: Biden Seeks Deal with Personal Touch

As President Joe Biden pushes ahead with sweeping plans to spend trillions of dollars on infrastructure and the U.S. social safety net, White House advisers are counting on his personal touch with Congress — including chummy calls with lawmakers — to win over skeptics in both parties.

He’s taken the lead in engaging with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), the top Republican negotiator on a bipartisan infrastructure package. But the hands-on lobbying is beginning to show its limits, as the White House on Friday rejected the latest GOP offer for being too small to address administration objectives. Biden’s pledge to keep talking — with another call with Capito coming today — is adding to pressure among Democrats to forgo the Republicans.

“If the president can accomplish his goals through bipartisan agreement, then more power to him,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). “But time is perishable here. People have been willing to give them some time, but time is running out on their own schedule.”

Van Hollen speaks as someone who’s directly experienced Biden’s outreach. The president called him earlier this year after seeing him on TV promoting his agenda and wanted to thank Van Hollen for fighting for his administration. The call of thanks was so unexpected that Van Hollen said he didn’t immediately pick up the phone.

It’s in keeping with Biden’s longtime modus operandi. He’ll sometimes call lawmakers if he sees a news article or an op-ed that mentions them, and he’s phoned Republican friends in the past when they won tough primary elections. Lately, he’s been reaching out to centrist Democrats, like Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), to make sure they’re okay with policy details. Read more from Nancy Cook.

Photographer: Shawn Thew/EPA/Bloomberg
Biden and First Lady Jill Biden walk across the Ellipse near the White House after exiting Marine One in Washington, D.C., on Friday.

Meanwhile, the bipartisan talks on a U.S. stimulus and infrastructure bill are headed for a “big week” and there’s no firm deadline yet for a deal, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said. Read more from Tony Czuczka and Yueqi Yang.

Happening on the Hill

Today’s Agenda: The Senate returns today, with plans to consider the nomination of Julien Xavier Neals to be a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey. House lawmakers will meet for committee work, with no floor action planned.

  • Click here for a complete list of the week’s hearings and markups.

Manchin Says He Won’t Back Voting Rights Bill: Manchin said yesterday he’ll vote against the For the People Act passed by House Democrats, and also will not support ending the filibuster rule. Without Manchin’s vote, the sweeping voting reform legislation—approved by the House in March without a single Republican vote—seems doomed to fail in the evenly-split Senate. The Democrat announced his position in an op-ed for the Charleston Gazette-Mail in his home state. Read more from Ros Krasny.

Uphill Fight Versus Pharma on Orphan Drugs: Legislation meant to prevent drugmakers from blocking new opioid addiction treatment medicines from coming to market faces tough prospects in the Senate this year, even though advocates say it’s a layup for lawmakers. The bill looks to fix an issue in the nation’s orphan drug development rules that was exploited largely by one company, Indivior, for a blockbuster opioid treatment. Supporters say it’s hard to argue against clearing the way for addiction treatment medicines as overdose deaths rise. Read more from Alex Ruoff.

Lawmakers Say Cyber Ransom Payments Should Be Disclosed: More transparency is needed into what kind of cash payments are made after ransomware attacks, a top Democrat said, following a recent spate of cyber-attacks aimed at U.S. companies. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, spoke days after a top U.S. meat producer needed to shutter facilities that account for almost a quarter of American beef supplies after a cyber incident. Read more from Ros Krasny and John Gittelsohn.

Politics & Influence

Trump Starts Public Re-Emergence: Donald Trump began his public re-emergence with a rambling speech in which he aired longstanding grievances, highlighted his actions as president, and decried Biden and Democrats for undoing them. The ex-president spoke for about 90 minutes at the North Carolina Republican Party’s convention in Greenville on Saturday night. He’s expected to restart campaign-style rallies this summer, as Republicans look to take control of Congress in next year’s midterm elections, and continues to hold out the prospect of running for the White House again in 2024. Read more from Mark Niquette.

  • Also at the event, Lara Trump, his daughter-in-law, said she wouldn’t run for the open Senate seat in her home state of North Carolina in 2022. She had been considering a campaign for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Richard Burr (R). “No for now, not forever,” the wife of Eric Trump said in Greenville. Her father-in-law then endorsed Rep. Ted Budd for the Republican primary, Niquette reports.
  • The ripples of Trump’s splash into the 2022 midterm elections may not hit any state harder than North Carolina, which has been narrowly decided in the past four presidential elections, is one of five states with a retiring Republican senator and is among a relatively slim set of states with competitive races that will determine the Senate majority. Kenneth P. Doyle has more.

DOJ Says It Won’t Subpoena Reporters’ Records: The Justice Department will no longer use subpoenas to secretly gain access to reporters’ records when investigating leaks, it said on Saturday, following through on a recent pledge from Biden. Biden on May 21 said it was “simply wrong” to obtain the telephone and email records of journalists, and that he wouldn’t let it happen. Biden commented after reports that the department had obtained the records of journalists from various news organizations during the Trump administration. Read more from Elizabeth Rembert.

Ocasio-Cortez Endorses Wiley for N.Y.C.: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) endorsed Maya Wiley for New York City mayor in an event at city hall. “I’m putting Maya number one,” the congresswoman said in her speech, where she talked about Wiley’s experience in grassroots organizing and the importance of maximizing voting decisions in the city’s upcoming ranked-choice election. Read more from Elizabeth Rembert.

Obamacare Tops Supreme Court Agenda in Final Weeks: The Supreme Court heads into the home stretch of Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s first term with a list of big-money and culturally divisive cases still to be decided. Between now and the end of June, the court is due to rule in 23 argued cases, including the latest Republican challenge to the Affordable Care Act and a multibillion-dollar suit against the federal government by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac shareholders. The court is scheduled to issue the first of those remaining opinions today and Thursday. Read more from Greg Stohr.

Around the Administration

Biden’s Agenda: The president will host North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the White House today. The two will meet at 4:30 p.m. to discuss the June 14 NATO summit in Brussels as well as challenges from Russia and China, according to Biden’s schedule.

U.S. to Act Against Central American Trafficking, Smuggling: The Biden administration is expected to announce actions against trafficking and smuggling, and also hopes to launch new anti-corruption measures, during today’s visit to Guatemala by Vice President Kamala Harris. Corruption makes up a large percentage of the gross domestic product in the region, said Ricardo Zuniga, special envoy for the Northern Triangle. That in turn led to migration, which has had an impact on the U.S. and Mexico, he said at a briefing in Guatemala City ahead of Harris’s meeting this morning with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei. Read more from Jennifer Epstein.

DeVos Policies Being Undone on Sexual Assault: The Biden administration is taking the first steps this week to unravel former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s controversial policies that critics say had a chilling effect on victims of sexual assault on college campuses. The department, now led by Secretary Miguel Cardona, also plans to rewrite Trump-era rules that limited loan relief to student borrowers and weakened accountability measures for vocational programs that performed poorly. Read more from Andrew Kreighbaum.

Tai Says China Relationship Imbalanced: The trade relationship between the two largest economies in the world has “significant imbalance” and the White House is committed to leveling it, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said. “There are parts of this trade relationship that are unhealthy and have over time been damaging in some very important ways to the U.S. economy,” she said in response to a question about whether the U.S. would continue with a trade deal signed with China in January 2020 and the tariffs on Chinese goods. Read more from Bloomberg News.

Biden Wants Stable Russian Relationship: Biden said that the U.S. doesn’t seek conflict and instead wants a “stable and predictable” relationship with Russia on issues like strategic stability and arms control. His moves to extend the New START treaty for five years and impose “meaningful consequences for behaviors that violate U.S. sovereignty, including interference in our democratic elections” point to this relationship, Biden wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece published ahead of his trip to Europe, Niluksi Koswanage reports.

Yellen Says Higher Interest Rates a ‘Plus’ for Fed: Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Biden should push forward with his $4 trillion spending plans even if they trigger inflation that persists into next year and higher interest rates. “If we ended up with a slightly higher interest rate environment it would actually be a plus for society’s point of view and the Fed’s point of view,” Yellen said yesterday in an interview with Bloomberg News during her return from the Group of Seven finance ministers’ meeting in London. Read more from Saleha Mohsin.

  • Yellen proved her bona fides as a political deal-maker by leading the world’s richest economies to an agreement on global taxes that had eluded negotiators for nearly a decade. Yet what was hailed as a victory at the Group of Seven for Biden’s Treasury secretary may not carry far in Washington, where winning lawmakers’ support for the administration’s vast plans for tax and spending increases will be a far tougher challenge. Read more from Saleha Mohsin.

SEC Ousts Head of Top Audit Regulator: The Securities and Exchange Commission, led by Chairman Gary Gensler, has fired the country’s top accounting regulator, a move certain to please progressives who had demanded an overhaul of the watchdog. The SEC announced the removal of Public Company Accounting Oversight Board Chairman William Duhnke in a Friday statement. He was replaced on an acting basis with PCAOB board member Duane DesParte, Ben Bain and Robert Schmidt report.

To contact the reporters on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com; Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com

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