WASHINGTON — The $579 billion bipartisan infrastructure deal remained on shaky ground Monday, despite efforts by President Joe Biden to save the deal he signed off on and then nearly sunk.
But his assurances were not enough for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who may hold the keys to getting the deal through the Senate.
Biden on Saturday walked back his Thursday remarks that he wouldn't sign the infrastructure bill if Congress didn't also pass a separate Democrats-only package with his remaining priorities — a demand that prompted Republicans to balk at the bipartisan deal.
Revealing the delicate balancing act, Biden's guarantees to Republicans were carefully designed not to alienate Democrats who want to see more spending on a wide range of programs that weren't included in the deal, like addressing climate change or making funds available for in-home elderly care.
Biden's assurances did appear to placate several Republican negotiators, including Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, who said on the Sunday talk shows that the agreement to build roads, bridges and public transit projects should proceed.
"I sure hope it's enough," Cassidy said on NBC's "Meet the Press," referring to Biden's clarification.
But it wasn't good enough for McConnell, who released a statement Monday demanding that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., also decouple the two packages, saying otherwise Biden's words "would be a hollow gesture."
"I appreciate the president saying that he's willing to deal with infrastructure separately, but he doesn't control the Congress and the speaker and the majority leader of the Senate will determine the order," McConnell said Monday at a news conference in Kentucky. "
McConnell also said he hasn't "decided yet" whether to support the package.
"We need to see whether the proposal is credibly paid for," he said. "But I think it's fair to say I'd like to see us get there."
Some Democrats say McConnell's demand is a nonstarter.
"It's not going to happen," Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., told NBC News on Monday. "There is no way a bipartisan deal passes the House without a vote the same day on a Senate passed reconciliation that has bold climate provisions."
Democratic leaders are operating with razor-thin margins in Congress, forcing them to keep key progressives on board in addition to winning Republican support. Democrats across the spectrum want a separate multitrillion dollar bill to approve Biden's child care, paid leave and climate change projects.
Pelosi pushed their cause, promising Thursday that the House wouldn't vote on the bipartisan infrastructure deal until the Senate passes the separate legislation that is a top priority for liberals.
That effort is likely to take months to complete. Schumer said he's aiming to formally begin the process of writing a filibuster-proof bill in July.