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Biden weighs going big on infrastructure — or going bipartisan

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: U.S. President Biden attends drive-in car rally in Duluth, Georgia
President Joe Biden attends the Democratic National Committee's "Back on Track" drive-in car rally to celebrate the president's 100th day in office at the Infinite Energy Center in Duluth, Ga., on April 29, 2021.Evelyn Hockstein / Reuters

WASHINGTON — Go big or go bipartisan?

When President Biden first faced this question earlier this year regarding his Covid-19 relief plan, he decided to go big, opting for his $1.9 trillion package over the Senate GOP’s offer of $600 billion. (Notably, those 10 Senate Republicans never made another counteroffer to split the difference between the two proposals.)

Now Biden is confronting the exact same question over his $2 trillion-plus infrastructure/jobs plan versus the Senate GOP’s counteroffer of nearly $568 billion. But this time, it appears the bipartisan negotiations are much more serious than they were back in January.

On Thursday night, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., said she had a “constructive” call with Biden over the GOP’s proposal. And on “Meet the Press” yesterday, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, agreed that the prospects for a bipartisan compromise on infrastructure are more promising than they were on Covid-19 relief.

“I think it's going to be a better opportunity. And frankly, if the White House is going to work with us, this is a deal we can do. Infrastructure has always been bipartisan,” Portman said.

But the answers to these three questions will determine whether Biden goes big or bipartisan.

One, how do you pay for it? Or do you even pay for it?

Democrats want to pay for their infrastructure/jobs package by raising the corporate tax rate, while Republicans oppose that and have instead proposed user fees and finding other savings.

Two, how quickly do Republicans come to the negotiating table? Or do they drag their feet?

Mindful of how Senate Republicans stalled on Obamacare in 2009, the Biden White House “wants to see counteroffers to Biden's $2.25 trillion infrastructure plan by the middle of this month, and if progress isn't being made by Memorial Day, officials will reassess their strategy of trying to build bipartisan support, said a person familiar with the negotiations,” NBC’s Sahil Kapur and Shannon Pettypiece report.

And three, what does Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., want? Does he demand regular order and insist that good-faith compromise is still possible?

Or is he eventually OK with Democrats going big and alone — as long as the bill is good for West Virginia?

Of course, there’s one additional question if Democrats and Republicans are able to come together on a slimmed-down infrastructure package: Do Democrats then use reconciliation to pass all the other stuff they currently want from their infrastructure package — like on climate, on elder care and on corporate taxes?

Two Republicans advance to Texas House runoff as Democrats are shut out

In this past weekend’s free-for-all special congressional election in Texas' Sixth Congressional District, the Top 2 finishers were both Republicans, resulting in Democrats getting shut out of a runoff in a district that Donald Trump carried by just 3 points in 2020.

Republican Susan Wright — the widow of Rep. Ron Wright, R-Texas, who passed away in February, creating this vacancy — got 19.2 percent of the vote, and fellow Republican Jake Ellzey got 13.8 percent.

Wright and Ellzey will compete in a runoff that will be set after last weekend’s vote gets certified.

Democrat Jana Lynn Sanchez got 13.4 percent of the vote, finishing behind Ellzey by a mere 354 votes.

In fact, had Sanchez received the 1,000 votes that the seventh-place finishing Democrat in this field of 23 candidates got, she would have more than qualified for the runoff.

So as the Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman notes, Democrats’ failure to make the runoff was both a story about poor Democratic turnout and the party not picking one candidate for its voters to get behind.

Wasserman adds, however: “But strategically, they were right not to throw away millions: TX Rs will get to redraw it before 2022, so it doesn't matter for the majority.”

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

More than 19 percent: The share of the vote won by GOP frontrunner Susan Wright during Saturday’s special election in Texas, which saw two Republicans advance to a runoff.

32,575,434: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 30,701 more than Friday morning.)

581,211: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 1,815 more than yesterday morning.)

245,591,469: The number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S.

29.1 percent: The share of Americans who are fully vaccinated

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