The media analysis of the current debacle on the infrastructure bill vote will inevitably focus on the ideological divides in the Democratic Party, but this narrative ignores the larger story. This was President Joe Biden’s choice. Instead of taking a major bipartisan win, he created this mess.
Less than two months ago, the infrastructure bill passed the Senate overwhelmingly with 69 votes, including the support of 19 Republican senators and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. This tremendous success was only possible because Biden directly engaged in talks with a bipartisan group of 10 senators and promised that the infrastructure bill would not be linked to the $3.5 trillion spending bill.
Almost immediately, members of the president’s party warned him not to squander the momentum from the Senate vote; 29 Republican members of the House Problem Solvers Caucus had already committed to supporting it. Many of them played a direct role in crafting the bill.
I worked closely with these members in hammering out the compromise legislation and saw their deep commitment to rebuilding America’s crumbling infrastructure firsthand. If the infrastructure bill had been put on the floor of the House the next day or soon after, it would have passed the House with overwhelming support.
But Speaker Nancy Pelosi refused to take this quick victory, ceding to the demands of the far Left to use the bipartisan infrastructure bill as leverage for the $3.5 trillion package. When he could have pushed back or even just remained quiet, the president explicitly endorsed this partisan strategy.
As bipartisan support for the bill began to collapse, the White House ignored outreach from Republicans and made no effort to assuage concerns that the two bills would be linked back together. The administration made it clear that it was only interested in negotiations within the Democratic Party, not bipartisan negotiations. Even 48 hours before the vote, President Joe Biden was refusing to lobby his own party for the bill. According to “an official with firsthand knowledge of the president's mindset,” his view was, “You're Democrats, and you're with your president or you're not.”
There’s no doubt that former President Donald Trump’s threats against Republicans supporting the bill and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s decision to whip against it played a role in this outcome. But, ultimately, it was Biden who promised to restore bipartisan cooperation in Congress. Biden argued that his decades of experience in Washington as a senator and vice president would bring back competence to the legislative process. It was Biden who promised to decouple the infrastructure and reconciliation bills and then went back on his word.
In today’s toxic political environment, major bipartisan achievements do not happen on their own. That takes leadership. Unfortunately, the president was not willing to provide it.
Larry Hogan is governor of Maryland.