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Biden's Early Legislation Decisions Win Praise From Strategists

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have just under three months of evidence of how President Biden intends to push legislation through Congress. He has said he would like bipartisanship but also that he can't wait long for it. When he laid out his $2 trillion infrastructure plan, for example, he said he hopes he can negotiate with Republicans, but also, quote, "inaction is not an option," which means Democrats may well pass something themselves if they can. NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro has been talking with political professionals who are watching the president. Domenico, good morning.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What are you hearing?

MONTANARO: Well, people I talked to this week, Democrats and Republicans, said from a communications standpoint, Biden and his team deserve high marks. They said his legislative rollout so far have been more organized and disciplined, certainly than former President Trump but also better than Obama or Clinton. They compared his team's approach actually more to George W. Bush. The two men aren't very similar from a policy standpoint, but they said both of their teams are very methodical. One Bush veteran, though, said that Biden's team may be just taking advantage of D.C.'s, quote, "Trump hangover" by engaging in just straightforward communications tactics.

INSKEEP: Just focusing on the basics suddenly seems impressive to the professionals in either party (ph).

MONTANARO: Right.

INSKEEP: I get that. How do congressional Republicans view the president's tactics, though?

MONTANARO: Well, I mean, from a policy standpoint, they certainly don't agree with how big he wants to go with a lot of his measures. But even they'll concede privately that they wish Trump would have acted similarly and been as methodical for the positions they cared about and feel like they would have gotten more done. But yes, Republicans point to the fact that, you know, Biden campaigned on his ability to work across the aisle, but so far, there haven't been a lot of bipartisan wins. The COVID relief bill obviously was pushed through with a partisan maneuver only requiring majority vote. And they - you know, the Biden team may very well try to do the same thing this time if they can't get Republicans on board, too. But Biden's team, look, they said that they're pretty comfortable if the law - if the plan is popular, that they're fine going that route.

INSKEEP: Republicans have taken kind of a traditional Republican position toward this infrastructure bill, that it's just lots of spending, that it's a liberal wish list, which is a phrase Mitch McConnell has used. How has the president answered that?

MONTANARO: Well, look, there has been this debate. Certainly Republicans want him to stick to, quote, "traditional" infrastructure - existing roads, bridges and highways, do those repairs. But Biden himself does not see infrastructure as simply repairs. He sees it as transformational. He spoke about it this week. And let's take a listen to what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Two hundred years ago, trains weren't traditional infrastructure either until America made a choice to lay down tracks across the country. Highways weren't traditional infrastructure until we allowed ourselves to imagine that roads could connect our nation across state lines.

MONTANARO: So you can hear there Biden really wants to go big. He's not shying away from this debate. And Biden, you know, he's 78 years old. He's very much thinking about his legacy. He even met with historians in the White House last week. And, you know, this is - he's fewer than 100 days into the job.

INSKEEP: And so he's pursuing this expansive view of infrastructure that does include other kinds of infrastructure - water pipes, broadband, the electric grid and so forth. But the bill is big enough that some in his own party are concerned.

MONTANARO: Absolutely. In the Senate, you know, they have the narrowest of majorities. One defection from any Democrat certainly kneecaps any ability for Democrats to pass anything. And we've seen a little bit of this, you know, balancing act that they have to do with moderates and progressives. Think about West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin. He doesn't want the the corporate tax rate to be hiked as high as Biden wants it to go. And you think about someone like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the House, progressive, she feels that this bill should be five times bigger. So Biden really wants to transform the infrastructure of the country.

INSKEEP: NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro, always a pleasure talking with you.

MONTANARO: Thanks, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.