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Biden Hosts 1st Meeting With Congressional Leaders Since Taking Office


President Biden has invited a top group of bipartisan leaders in the House and the Senate to come to the Oval Office today. They're going to talk about his big economic plan. He has proposed trillions of dollars to cover infrastructure, jobs, child care, education. But is bipartisan progress on a deal even possible? NPR White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe joins us now. Good morning, Ayesha.


MARTIN: All right. So I'm going to tick off a bunch of names here. We've got the president, Vice President Kamala Harris, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and the Republican counterparts, Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell. This, to say the least - not a group you see hanging out together very much.

RASCOE: They're not usually out grabbing coffee, no.

MARTIN: (Laughter) So what are they - what are the expectations for this gathering?

RASCOE: This is Biden's first meeting with these top leaders since he got elected. He's held a lot of meetings with lawmakers, but generally, it's been with rank-and-file people. The White House is saying that they want bipartisanship. Biden and Vice President Harris - they did have bipartisan meetings on COVID aid, you know, but that didn't go anywhere. And Biden was criticized that those meetings were just for show when Democrats passed that bill without any Republican support.

Still, the White House insists that they are serious about trying to reach a deal, but the two parties are at very different places. White House press secretary Jen Psaki talked yesterday about how Biden will be approaching this gathering.


JEN PSAKI: You know, you could spend the entire meeting talking about areas of disagreement. There's no shortage of those. Or you could spend it seeking opportunity for common ground, and he's going to choose the latter.

MARTIN: I mean, that sounds really nice. Where is the common ground, Ayesha?

RASCOE: So both sides agree that traditional infrastructure needs to be overhauled - like roads, bridges, ports - and both are pushing for rural broadband access. But they disagree on whether there should be any other pieces of Biden's package included, like long-term care services, child care, education, climate measures. And because they cannot agree on what should be in the bill, they are also very far apart on how much should be spent. The president's entire economic plan is about $4 trillion. Here's what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had to say about that on KET, a public television service in Kentucky.


MITCH MCCONNELL: If this is really about infrastructure, let's talk about infrastructure, things that we can all agree on as infrastructure - roads, ports, bridges, water lines, broadband, infrastructure. The proper price tag for what most of us think of as infrastructure is about $6 to $8 hundred billion.

RASCOE: Now, the original Republican package was less than $6 hundred billion, so McConnell seems to be signaling that he's willing to spend a bit more if they focus on that kind of infrastructure.

MARTIN: But even if they agree on the definition of infrastructure, which is a huge if, they don't even agree on how to pay for it, right?

RASCOE: No. Biden wants to roll back the Trump tax cuts for corporations and wealthy people, and Republicans are opposed to that. They say it will hurt the economy. What the Biden administration argues is that it's needed to boost the economy.

MARTIN: And the president very much wants to have a bipartisan win, though.

RASCOE: Yeah, it was a big campaign promise, so the White House wants to be seen actually putting forth real effort to get Republicans, whether they actually do so or not.

MARTIN: NPR White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe. Ayesha, thank you as always.

RASCOE: Thank you.


Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Rachel Martin
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.