Jan 21, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Inside Ron Klain’s message to allies

Ron Klain is seen attending a Cabinet meeting with President Biden.

Ron Klain attends a Cabinet meeting last July. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain told allies and staff during a conference call Wednesday night President Biden wants to include funding for child and elder care in any revised Build Back Better agenda, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: Klain’s comments came after his boss failed to mention those two priorities during his earlier news conference, while explaining how he planned to revive his agenda and pass it in “chunks” in the face of concerted opposition.

  • Klain’s private comments are yet another indication the White House has a core set of priorities it plans to fight for, and it hasn’t given up on convincing Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to support big parts of the president’s agenda.
  • The programs Klain listed during the call were not intended to be exhaustive, a White House official told Axios.
  • The official said the White House doesn't plan to engage on specifics or timelines for any final package.
  • Cedric Richmond, director of the Office of Public Engagement, and Jennifer O'Malley Dillon, deputy chief of staff, also were on the call.

During his nearly two-hour news conference, Biden suggested he'd try to build support for a package around universal preschool and some $555 billion to fight climate change.

  • He then cut himself off and insisted he wouldn’t negotiate in public.
  • What he viewed as discipline was received with alarm in interested quarters.
  • Klain's call was pre-scheduled and occurred at 7pm, an hour after the president finished.

The big picture: Manchin has made clear he won’t support a $2 trillion bill — and wants to see inflation recede before considering any additional spending.

That's led most progressive lawmakers to now publicly say what was unmentionable in December: They’ll settle for a smaller bill.

  • Even before Biden announced his scaled-back approach Wednesday, Senate Democrats were warming to the idea of salvaging what they can. Axios' Alayna Treene was hearing from senators that they are ready to pursue a smaller bill.
  • White House National Economic Council director Brian Deese called a package that included clean energy, child care and health care “doable” on Thursday morning during an interview with Bloomberg TV.
  • "Right now, it’s determining how big that chunk can be through the reconciliation process," White House press secretary Jen Psaki later told reporters. She explained the White House still plans to rely on just Democratic votes to pass any BBB legislation.
  • The president himself was clear Wednesday an extended child tax credit and free community college wouldn't be among his initial targets, but he'd fight for them in a future package.

What they are saying: “I want to make sure that we do pass something this year, we have to get everything that is possible into that bill,” said Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.). “Use climate as the foundation.”

  • “It’s important that we don’t give up hope, and we keep working to find some version of these programs that we can get turned into law,” Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), told Axios.
  • “Failure isn’t an option here, and progressives know that,” said Sean McElwee, executive director of Data for Progress, a progressive think tank.
  • “The reality is progressives are not the impediment to the president’s agenda, and will in fact be advocating for Build Back Better in whatever form makes it across the finish line,” he said.

But but but: Some progressives still have an all-or-nothing approach.

  • “We are not interested in a slimmed-down Build Back Better package, especially as we talk about the issue of climate,” said Rep. Jamal Bowman (D-N.Y.).

Go deeper: White House officials appear to be coalescing around a deal that includes four main pillars: climate, child and elder care, universal preschool and additional money to stabilize the Affordable Care Act.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include that Cedric Richmond and Jennifer O'Malley Dillon also were on the call.

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