Jul 29, 2021 - Politics & Policy

First look: Biden adviser Donilon touts infrastructure deal

Mike Donilon walks off Marine One

Mike Donilon. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

One of President Biden’s closest advisers, Mike Donilon, believes swing voters want Congress to pass the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal, and embrace solutions where the two parties "meet in the middle,” according to a memo first reported by Axios.

Why it matters: While Biden has faced doubters — especially in his own party — about his ability to work with Republicans, a core group of advisers, including Donilon, is convinced the president’s political fortunes rest on his ability to transcend partisanship.

  • “President Biden ran on the message that we need to bring people together to meet the challenges facing our country and deliver results for working families,” Donilon writes in his memo.
  • “While a lot of pundits have doubted bipartisanship was even possible, the American people have been very clear it is what they want.”

Driving the news: After months of negotiations, the Senate voted 67-32 Wednesday on a procedural measure to move forward on the bipartisan agreement to repair roads, bridges and waterways.

  • The actual text of the bill still needs to be drafted, and receiving the 60 votes needed for final Senate passage is not assured. A vote could come at the end of the week.
  • The Senate bill would then face an uncertain future in the House, where progressives like House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) have all but declared it dead on arrival.
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said she won’t hold a vote on the Senate bill until the upper chamber also moves on a separate $3.5 trillion package for “human” infrastructure, including big-ticket items like universal preschool, free community college and paid leave.

The big picture: Biden’s campaign strategy, as well as his theory of the presidency, is that the American people want to see Washington function again by defeating COVID-19, lowering unemployment, increasing wages and improving health care.

  • On Wednesday, he traveled to a truck factory in Pennsylvania — a state that helped deliver the presidency for him — to announce new “Buy America” provisions, talk up the economy and tout the bipartisan deal.

But, but, but: Biden’s economic and infrastructure message has been overshadowed by concern over the Delta variant, with America deeply divided on the new CDC guidance that vaccinated Americans should wear masks indoors in large parts of the country.

  • Republicans are unloading on the president and accusing him of backtracking on vaccine mandates and mask requirements.
  • On Thursday, Biden will announce plans to force unvaccinated federal workers to undergo rigorous testing if they aren’t vaccinated.

Go deeper: Donilon cites a variety of public polls to make his case that “a majority of voters in battleground congressional districts want a new infrastructure bill passed with bipartisan support."

  • He also argues that "voters see political polarization as the leading challenge for the country.”

The bottom line: Biden’s top advisers were willing to compromise with Republicans on the specifics of the infrastructure package to prove the broader point that bipartisanship isn’t dead.

  • Now, he needs to convince members of his own party — some of whom think he compromised too much and received too little.

Read the memo.

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