White House enters ‘hand-to-hand’ combat stage of negotiations

“They want to do this before they leave,” added Podesta. “It’s hard to do what he’s doing from Europe. It’s not that the phones aren’t working, but you can’t look anyone in the eyes across the table and then … try to say ‘yes’. It’s just much more difficult when you’re far away. ”

Biden will head off to successive summits on Thursday – first a G-20 meeting in Rome and then a climate change conference in Glasgow – as Democrats rush to get a framework for the president’s social spending bill aimed at giving a boost to give childcare, expanding health care and combating climate change. The government would prefer an agreement signed before Biden’s departure, but several key components remain unsolved.

“We should hurry,” said Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). “The President’s overseas trip is a compulsory mechanism for any Democrat or Patriot who wants the President to go with the strongest hand on this important international journey.”

“We’re not done yet, but we’re very close … closer than ever,” he added.

The White House argued Tuesday that they are working non-stop to reach an agreement and that the president holds multiple strategy meetings – often more than six – with staff and cabinet members every day, and meets with lawmakers on a regular basis. Press Secretary Jen Psaki and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan both said work would continue if necessary should Biden go overseas. A White House official quipped that “there is internet in Europe”.

But in meetings with lawmakers and advocacy groups, White House officials conveyed a sense of increasing urgency that ran counter to public trust. A source who recently met with White House officials said there was general optimism in the administration but the negotiations were “incredibly fragile and much of the fragility is not in the climate field.”

At a meeting with groups on climate and environmental justice Monday, National Economic Council director Brian Deese “scared some people in the room” with his frank assessment of the negotiations, the source said. “Because I think a lot of us assume it’s a done deal. And we’re not home yet. ”

Podesta was also optimistic about Biden’s ability to bring the Democratic factions together, but added that “until it is done, it is not done. And there is a possibility that it never will [gets done]that they literally cannot close. “

White House officials have stressed that an agreed package would be the achievement of many long-awaited progressive goals. Although a deal was negotiated well below the proposed $ 3.5 trillion starting line, administrative officials tout the generational nature of its content. On Tuesday evening, some topline numbers for key provisions of the package began to take on more concrete shape. The White House told lawmakers that the package’s climate protection provisions are expected to cost between $ 500 billion and $ 555 billion – a sizable chunk of overall legislation and a historic investment in combating global warming.

“Do you want to be part of the biggest investment in early childhood education in history? Do you want to make health care more affordable and accessible? ”Said Psaki on Tuesday. “Or do you want to make the perfect the enemy of the historical? … That’s what we’re talking about in these negotiations. “

White House officials at this week’s sessions firmly believed they had a framework by this week, the latest in a long series of self-imposed deadlines. However, some people in the talks said they took this as a sign of the government’s lack of control over the largely legislative-driven process as officials began to downplay the need to finish the deal before Biden’s departure.

Much is at stake for Biden, who has wagered much of his first year in office to pass comprehensive bipartisan law on physical infrastructure and the party’s social spending plan.

“I think it’s very unwise and a shame if we didn’t have some kind of framework agreement through which [Biden] could be judged ”, said Senator Martin Heinrich (DN.M.) and referred to the desire for an agreement before the President’s departure for his overseas trip.

Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

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