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White House dials up 'urgency' as Biden meets with Democrats on economic bill

The White House is holding a series of meetings this week to pressure Democrats to resolve their differences and reach a deal on the sweeping economic policy bill.
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WASHINGTON — As the clock ticks with few signs of progress, the White House is holding a series of meetings this week to pressure Democrats to resolve their differences and reach a deal on President Joe Biden's sweeping economic policy bill.

Biden met Monday with Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, "to continue their conversations around his visionary, popular, and transformative Build Back Better agenda," said a spokesperson for Jayapal.

He is expected to host separate meetings Tuesday afternoon with progressives, including Jayapal, and moderates, like Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., who leads the New Democrat Coalition, ahead of a self-imposed deadline of Oct. 31 to pass the Build Back Better and infrastructure bills.

"The president is certainly feeling an urgency to move things forward, to get things done. I think you've seen that urgency echoed by members on the Hill who agree that time is not unending here and we're eager to move forward with a unified path," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a key centrist holdout who has rejected the proposed $3.5 trillion level, expressed doubt that a deal could be reached by the end of the month.

"There's an awful lot that's going on. I don't know how that would happen," he told reporters Monday. "But once you get a meeting of the minds, if you ever come to an agreement, a meeting of the minds, you might be able to work something out."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., faces the challenge of unifying the party behind a proposal that Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., another centrist who is resisting some parts of the House's $3.5 trillion proposal, would support.

"It's a difficult task, but we're committed to getting it done," Schumer said, describing "productive conversations" between Democrats in recent days and pitching the bill as an effort to help Americans "climb up to the middle class and stay in the middle class."

"We still have work to do," he said Monday on the Senate floor. "Put aside our differences and find common ground within our party."

Inside the White House, officials have been upping the pressure on members publicly and privately, saying the time had come to wrap up talks, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

Biden will try again to sell the plan to the public Wednesday in his first trip as president to his former hometown, Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he has marked significant moments in the past. The White House said the trip is intended "to continue rallying public support" for the two bills.

Along with Pennsylvania, Biden has made stops this month in Connecticut and Michigan to sell the plan, but he has notably avoided Arizona and West Virginia, where he needs the support of the states' senators. Vice President Kamala Harris held an event in Nevada to promote the bills on her way back to Washington from California. Psaki said the trips are intended to draw a national audience.

Biden is preparing to head overseas next week to attend two major international summits — the meeting of the Group of 20 finance ministers in Italy and the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Scotland. The trips will keep him out of the daily flow in Washington, and administration officials had hoped to have passed new programs on climate change to tout at the summits as the U.S. looks to push other countries to take more action to reduce carbon emissions.

Psaki said the push to get the bills passed wasn't related to the coming trip.

"The good news is that there are phones and videoconference capabilities overseas for every president and individuals, so I'm not here to set new deadlines or timelines, but it is also true that we have been at this for some time," she said.

Biden spent much of Monday behind closed doors trying to hammer out a deal, including a phone call with Manchin, said a person familiar with the conversation. At an event honoring the teacher of the year at the White House on Monday, a reporter asked Biden when he would make a deal with Manchin.

"I'm going to go do that right now," Biden replied.

Jayapal has led the push to hold up Biden's other domestic priority, an infrastructure overhaul, until Congress reaches a deal on his larger bill, which she fears centrist lawmakers would shrink or sink if the transportation legislation becomes law.

Jayapal and Manchin met in person Monday to discuss the Build Back Better plan, said two sources familiar with the meeting.