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AOC cautions Biden to avoid being 'limited by Republicans' on infrastructure bills

“This is our one big shot," Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said, "not just in terms of family, child care, Medicare, but on climate change.”
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WASHINGTON — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., called on President Joe Biden not to be “limited by Republicans” as the White House tries to negotiate a narrow pathway forward on a bipartisan infrastructure agreement.

On Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” the progressive Democrat addressed the hesitation of some Republican senators to support a deal after Biden signaled that Democrats plan to move forward with a more robust plan of their own at the same time. She argued that the nation’s needs are too acute to give in to calls to only pass a smaller-scale compromise.

“In those areas where there is agreement, Republicans are more than welcome to join so that we can get this work on infrastructure done. But that doesn’t mean the president should be limited by Republicans, particularly when we have a House majority, we have 50 Democratic senators and we have the White House,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

“This is our one big shot, not just in terms of family, child care, Medicare, but on climate change.”

Biden and Republican lawmakers announced Thursday that they had reached a bipartisan infrastructure deal, but support for it has wavered in the days since amid pressure from both sides.

Democrats, like Ocasio-Cortez, want Biden to go beyond physical infrastructure with a broader bill that addresses things like climate change mitigation.

But when Biden openly linked the passage of both bills — Biden said Thursday he believed “investment in our physical and human infrastructure are inextricably intertwined” and would only sign both pieces of legislation “in tandem” — Republicans balked, saying they didn't expect the White House to explicitly link the two bills.

The White House sought to damp down those concerns on Saturday, releasing a statement from Biden where he said he would seek to pass the bipartisan deal “without reservation.”

Biden is set to travel to Wisconsin on Tuesday as the first stop in a nationwide tour to promote the infrastructure package, the White House said.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., who was part of the negotiations with the White House, said that he hoped Biden’s new statement was “enough” to placate those GOP concerns and rally support behind the bipartisan deal. He added that since Republicans believe that the significant spending in the Democratic proposals is “bad for our country,” an attempt to condition both bills on each other “would probably sink both.”

“We don’t want to be party of something that might coerce the passage” of the Democrats’ plan, Cassidy said.

“This [bipartisan] infrastructure bill is good for America, for all Americans. It is going to make us more productive, it’s going to create lots of jobs. If you sink both, we lose the advantage of that which is in our hand, which is this infrastructure bill."

Cassidy said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., "will favor" the deal if it can be pulled off.

"Now, he didn't appreciate the president throwing a wrench in there saying the two are tied together," Cassidy said of the bipartisan agreement and the reconciliation effort. "Thats's not what we were told and so of course that caused a little bit of a 'Hmmm, let's think about this.' But I think Mitch McConnell wants infrastructure as much as anyone else. He wants the jobs this will create. I think Leader McConnell will be for it if it continues to come together as it is."

Elsewhere on the Sunday political talk show circuit, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., told ABC's "This Week" that he believes the two-track approach — featuring both the bipartisan deal and a reconciliation package — will advance and said he looks forward to giving his input in that process as well. For that second package, Manchin said he would like to raise the corporate and capital gains tax rates to help pay for the additional spending.

"I’m willing to meet everybody halfway," he said. "If Republicans don’t want to make adjustments to a tax code which I think is weighted and unfair, then I’m willing to go reconciliation. That’s how you’re able to do it."

"But if they think in reconciliation I’m going to throw caution to the wind and go to $5 trillion or $6 trillion when we can only afford $1 trillion or $1.5 trillion or maybe $2 trillion and what we can pay for, then I can’t be there," he added.

Speaking to Biden's perspective, top White House official Cedric Richmond told CNN's "State of the Union" that whether Biden would sign the bipartisan agreement without the reconciliation-based component is not "a yes-or-no question," adding, "we expect to have both bills in front of us to sign" and that "the president is focused on the historic nature of the deal and actually getting it passed, making sure it gets to his desk."

Other leading Republican negotiators of the bipartisan package expressed optimism about its chances Sunday. In an interview with "This Week," Sen. Rob Portman , R-Ohio, said he was happy to see Biden's statement this weekend clarifying his position on the two legislative efforts.

"And I'm glad they've now been delinked and it's very clear that we can move forward with a bipartisan bill that's broadly popular, not just among members of Congress, but the American people," he said.

On "State of the Union," Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah., said he takes Biden "at his word" about signing the newly agreed to infrastructure package.

"I am totally confident the president will sign up if it comes to his desk," he said. "The real challenge is whether the Democrats can get their act together and get it on his desk. And I think the battle that's going on is not with Republicans. Republicans are going to support true infrastructure that doesn't raise taxes."

Ben Kamisar reported from Washington, D.C. Allan Smith reported from New York.