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Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

Some swing voters say President Biden needs to better explain who'll pay for his $2 trillion infrastructure plan — and they'll only back bipartisan legislation that's paid for by corporations, not the middle class.

Why it matters: These takeaways from our latest Engagious/Schlesinger focus groups offer crucial context for an administration basing much of its legislative strategy on polls showing Americans notionally favor spending on roads, bridges, job training and broadband access.

  • The two April 13 sessions included 13 women and men — from a mix of the most competitive swing states — who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 but Biden in 2020.
  • While focus groups are not statistically significant samples like polls, their responses show how some voters in crucial states are thinking and talking about national priorities and expectations for Biden.

The big picture: Democrats say they want bipartisan support for Biden's American Jobs Plan but they'll push to pass infrastructure spending legislation on party-line votes using the budget reconciliation process if Republicans won't join with them.

  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said Republicans won't support Biden's proposal.
  • Eight out of the 13 swing voters said infrastructure in America is in need of immediate attention. But 11 said getting bipartisan support for infrastructure legislation is very important to them. And 12 said it's very important that the bill be paid by corporations rather than middle-class Americans.
  • None said Biden is doing a good job of explaining to the public how he'll pay for his plan. None wants the federal government borrowing money to pay for it.

What they're saying: These swing voters used words like "highways," "bridges," "transportation" and "broadband" to describe how they'd define infrastructure.

  • "Part of it is creating more jobs … I agree with spending it toward that," said Luis R. from Florida.
  • Some said housing also could be considered infrastructure. Several balked at a price tag of $2 trillion or more.

The bottom line: Engagious President Rich Thau, who moderated the focus groups, said swing voters "need these three assurances: Both parties in Congress will support the final infrastructure bill; it won’t be financed by more borrowing, and wealthy Americans and large corporations will pay the tab — not them."

Go deeper

Exclusive: White House meeting with members of Problem Solvers Caucus

Members of the Problem Solvers Caucus discuss the COVID-19 relief bill in December. Photo: Oliver Contreras/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Top White House officials will meet Wednesday with a bipartisan coalition of House lawmakers as the administration tries to enlist moderates to support the president's infrastructure proposal.

Why it matters: The meeting is something of an olive branch after President Biden's team courted groups of progressives to back the $2.2 trillion package.

John Frank, author of Denver
Apr 14, 2021 - Axios Denver

Colorado charges forward on new rail line through Denver

The proposed map for an expanded rail service by Amtrak. Photo: Amtrak.

The sepia-toned images of a rail expansion to the West, along with its promise of commerce and population growth, is suddenly a modern vision in Colorado.

Driving the news: First, Amtrak released a proposed map that shows a new regional rail line along the Front Range, running 300 miles from Cheyenne south through Denver to Pueblo. Then state lawmakers introduced a bipartisan bill to provide funding and guide planning.

  • U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper expressed his support, and so has Gov. Jared Polis, both Democrats.
  • "We feel like it's realistic and the timing is essential right now," Senate President Leroy Garcia (D-Pueblo) told John.

The renewed attention on an old idea comes on the heels of President Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure plan, which includes $80 million to expand Amtrak's network.

  • The state-level legislation would create a Front Range Passenger Rail District that could seek approval for a special sales tax up to 0.8 percentage points to generate money for the new rail line.

"We really think that this corridor is ready — it’s long past ready," Amtrak President Stephen Gardner told state officials Monday, the Denver Post reported.

Reality check: Biden's infrastructure plan is not a done deal and neither is a state-level tax hike, given the failure of recent ones on the Colorado ballot.

  • The project is also expected to take a decade or longer to finish.
  • "This isn’t something that happens overnight," said Sal Pace, a former state lawmaker and Pueblo County commissioner who is working on the initiative, according to The Colorado Sun.

The intrigue: The price tag is estimated as high as $14 billion, but state officials suggest a patchwork of current tracks could make it possible faster and with costs closer to $2 billion, the Post reported.

This story first appeared in the Axios Denver newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.

Pelosi's Republican playbook

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

As Republicans fight among themselves, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is showing the myriad ways she deals with the GOP herself.

Between the lines: We've seen Pelosi cut opponents off at the knees, like she did with President Trump, or pretend to forget their names, as she did to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). Now she's feeding oppo research against her House counterpart, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), so others can use the same harsh rhetoric to frame the Republicans as the party of dysfunction.

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