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Speakers Hail Centrists, Willingness to Compromise at Infrastructure Bill Signing

November 16, 2021 by Dan McCue
President Joe Biden delivering remarks before signing the bipartisan infrastructure bill on Nov. 15, 2021. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — It wasn’t the best afternoon for holding a bill-signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House. As the hour approached, the temperature plummeted and at times the wind sweeping across the wide lawn gusted to 35 miles per hour.

But one was hard-pressed to find a frown in the crowd when after a series of speeches by invited dignitaries and himself, President Joe Biden walked to a small table on the temporary stage and finally signed the $1 trillion infrastructure he’d pushed so hard for.

Moments earlier he told the large, bipartisan gathering seated before him that he had a single message for the American people:

“America is moving again,” he said. “And your life is going to change for the better.”

To many of his listeners — some shivering, some bouncing from foot to foot to keep warm — the statement was as bittersweet as the fading sunlight that passed through the red and yellow and orange leaves that still clung to trees on the historic property.

Monday was a day for celebrating the power of centrism and the spirit of compromise. But no one imagines the divisiveness on Capitol Hill will be any less intense as the House approaches a possible Friday night vote on the president’s broader $1.85 trillion social and climate spending package and with the kickoff to the 2022 midterm elections just around the corner.

And yet the president took great pains to thank the Democrats, Republicans and Independents who worked to pass the infrastructure bill, even as many congressional Republicans chose to sit the bill-signing out.

He also warmly acknowledged the cheers of the governors and mayors in attendance “from red states and blue states” as he spoke of the bridges and roads and airports and seaports that will now be repaired after, in many cases, decades of neglect.

“Folks, too often in Washington, the reason we didn’t get things done is because we insisted on getting everything we want,” Biden said. “With this law, we focused on getting things done. 

“I ran for president because the only way to move our country forward in my view was through compromise and consensus,” he said.

In fact, if there was a theme the White House wanted to drive home Monday, it was that, in the words of White House Spokeswoman Jen Psaki, “there hasn’t been a big, historic, impactful bipartisan bill-signing here for some time … and we are grateful for the support of everyone on both sides of the aisle.”

Psaki went on to say the president will continue to be open to working in a bipartisan fashion on a range of legislation.

“The president’s view is there are many ways that we can do exactly that,” she said during her afternoon briefing with reporters on Monday. “That’s why the American people voted for us. 

“And you all also know that he’s an individual who thinks consensus is a good thing, that compromise is a good thing, and that good things can get done when people don’t just  say, ‘It’s my way or the highway.’”

A half-hour or so later, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., a controversial figure during the final weeks of negotiations — President Biden would refer to her from the stage as “the most determined woman I know” — said the final product of all those discussions “represents the substantive policy changes that some have said are no longer possible in today’s Senate.

“How many times have we heard that bipartisanship isn’t possible or that important policy can only happen on a party line? Our legislation was the opposite,” she said.

“The senators who negotiated this legislation showed how to get things done. The senators in our group of 10 effectively represented the needs of the regions they represent … and they always focused on practical outcomes.

“This is what it looks like when elected leaders set aside differences, shut out the noise and focus on delivering results on the issues that matter most to everyday Americans,” Sinema said.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said the infrastructure bill signed by Biden would have a positive impact on every single American and would for decades to come.

“This is what can happen when Republicans and Democrats decide we’re going to work together to get something done,” he said.

“The bipartisan process that resulted in this historic investment began with a meeting about eight months ago, with my colleague, Senator Sinema,” he said, explaining that they met out of dissatisfaction with the plan initially advanced by the administration.

“And as we spoke, we saw that by removing the proposed tax hikes and shrinking the package in terms of what was considered infrastructure, there was an opportunity to find bipartisan consensus and finally fix the nation’s outdated infrastructure,” Portman said.

Eventually, the original 10 senators, who remained the chief negotiators, expanded to a group of 22, evenly divided in terms of party affiliation, and that group was joined by the House Problem Solvers Caucus, led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa.

“Our work was guided by a few simple principles: that the bill would be for infrastructure only, that there be no tax increases and no linkage to the broader partisan reconciliation process,” Portman said. “Instead, we agreed this would be a truly bipartisan process, working from the middle out, not the top down. There were plenty of bumps along the way. But we got there because we were all committed to ultimately delivering a result to the constituents we represent.

“This bipartisan support for this bill comes because it makes sense for our constituents, but the approach from the center out should be the norm, not the exception,” he continued. “We have a responsibility to do better. The American people want to see us coming together. They know that despite our differences, we should be able to figure it out and work together and solve the problems of the day. We can start by recognizing that finding common ground to advance the interests of the American people should be rewarded, not attacked.”

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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