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Biden's still on the road, trying to sell Americans on his spending bill


It's another week and another iteration of the same story here in Washington. Congress is still debating President Biden's big domestic spending agenda, albeit a now scaled-down version of that plan, and the president continues to try to pitch this plan to the American people. The other day, he was at a town hall in Baltimore hosted by CNN, trying to project confidence that he can get a deal done but also acknowledging that he's got challenges with members of his own party. And, of course, there is still much to be negotiated. Here to talk about all of this is my fellow NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Good morning, Franco.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Asma.

KHALID: President Biden has been asked repeatedly whether he can get a deal. Franco, what do you see as the biggest obstacle, you know, beyond the two senators in his own party who were not on board with his initial plan?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, there are a few. I mean, he - as you noted, he's projecting optimism, but there are some big issues that need to be resolved. The biggest one is taxes and how to pay for the plan. Biden has repeatedly said his spending ambitions would be paid for by the most wealthy Americans and corporations. And as you know, it was a popular line on the campaign trail. But he said opposition from Senator Kyrsten Sinema over certain tax increases was a challenge. Of course, another big issue, climate...


ORDOÑEZ: ...Biden faces opposition from Senator Joe Manchin, who opposes a key part of Biden's climate agenda, a $150 billion plan to move utilities away from fossil fuels. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, though, said on Friday that the negotiations have basically moved to the nitty gritty and that while they may not get everything they want, it is critical that they get what they can.


JEN PSAKI: Compromise is not a dirty word. We will get nothing if we do not have 50 votes. The alternative is not a larger package. The alternative is nothing.

ORDOÑEZ: And she emphasized that while it's likely to survive, what is likely to survive would be historic, including billions for child care and early education, help for seniors, as well as a child tax credit, though some of that will be scaled down.

KHALID: So, Franco, let's talk about what these negotiations look like. You know, the president and his staff are notorious for saying to reporters that they do not negotiate in public. And yet on CNN the other day, Biden seemed uncharacteristically chatty in terms of willing to share what programs could survive, what could be cut - more than we've heard before.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, he didn't just talk policy. He also revealed some of the political calculations behind that policy. He talked a lot about his conversations with Senator Manchin, for example, and Manchin's concerns that coal workers in his state of West Virginia could lose jobs if some of those climate initiatives were put in place too fast. So Biden offered an alternative.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I've been saying to Joe, look. I'll take - if we don't do it in terms of the electric grid piece, what we'll do is give me that $150 billion. I'm going to add it...

ORDOÑEZ: He went on to say that he'd use the money to do other things that Manchin didn't oppose, such as putting electric wires underground to help prevent forest fires.

KHALID: So, Franco, the president has a short week here in Washington, D.C., before he travels on to Europe to meet the pope and then join world leaders for a climate summit. What can he get done?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, Jen Psaki also said Friday that the hope is to have some resolution before he leaves Washington, but she would not give any new deadlines. She said he'll continue this week to have talks with members of Congress. Tomorrow, he's back on the road, heading to New Jersey, where he'll push for his agenda. You know, Thursday, he leaves for Rome, where he'll meet the Pope and then join a G20 leaders summit. And then it's off to Glasgow for the climate summit. And it's widely thought that if the summit is going to lead to key agreements, Biden really needs to bring some clarity on how America is going to cut its emissions.

KHALID: That's NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Thank you so much, Franco.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.
Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.