While Biden’s first address to Congress on Wednesday was met with near-universal praise from Democrats both within and outside the House chamber, it was panned by Republicans, including a handful of moderates who attended the event.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), pointing to the combined price of Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, $2 trillion infrastructure plan and $1.8 trillion families plan – all of which Biden touted in his speech – told reporters his reaction to the speech was “$6 trillion and counting.”
“I’m sure Bernie [Sanders] was happy,” said Romney, a prominent member of a bipartisan group of 20 mostly moderate senators, adding that Biden clearly wants Republican votes on his proposals but hasn’t shown a willingness to “[meet] in the middle.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) echoed Romney’s concerns about cost, telling reporters Biden’s proposals are “pretty expansive spending on top of spending” paid for with tax increases, which she said “makes it very difficult for it to be truly bipartisan.”
In a later statement, Murkowski criticized Biden’s relief bill, his lack of recognition for the Trump administration’s role in vaccine development and his “unprecedented spending spree,” adding that she was “left with a strong concern at the lack of bipartisanship shown in the first 100 days.”
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who is retiring in 2022, told reporters he thought Biden’s bipartisan overtures on criminal justice reform and infrastructure were “positive” and said there is room for compromise on gun control, but added, “We’ve heard that before, and it hasn’t resulted in bipartisan action.”
Biden laid out a sweeping policy agenda in his speech, pitching Congress on his $2 trillion infrastructure plan and his $1.8 trillion family and education plan, as well as the pro-union PRO Act, a $15 minimum wage and other progressive policy priorities.
“The devil is in the details,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) told reporters when asked for his reaction to the speech, during which he took copious notes and rarely joined with Democrats in applause. Manchin, one of the most conservative Senate Democrats and a pivotal vote on party-line legislation, said the speech was “delivered well. Very well done” but declined to offer specific opinions on Biden’s proposals.
One Senate Democrat openly criticized Biden over the speech. Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) said in a statement he shares Biden’s “urgency in fixing our broken immigration system” but added, “what I didn’t hear tonight was a plan to address the immediate crisis at the border, and I will continue holding this administration accountable.”
What To Watch For
Lawmakers of both parties and the White House are engaged in talks on infrastructure and criminal justice reform, with the hope of striking bipartisan consensus – though it’s far more likely infrastructure spending will be passed through budget reconciliation, which bypasses the need for Democrats to get 10 Republican votes on most bills.