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Biden basks in Senate infrastructure victory briefly overshadowed by Cuomo

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he would resign as the Senate passed a bipartisan infrastructure bill, detracting from one of the most significant moments of Biden's presidency.

WASHINGTON — Tuesday marked a day presidential candidate Joe Biden promised voters he would deliver: A big infrastructure package passed the Senate with robust bipartisan support.

But mere minutes after 19 Senate Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the measure, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo grabbed the spotlight by announcing his resignation, temporarily bumping the legislative achievement off TV and supplanting the Senate vote on front pages and new sites.

"We were planning for a different headline-making news event today," a White House aide said.

Press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that Cuomo didn't give the White House notice that the resignation was coming; other White House aides used words like "stunned" and "surprised" to describe the moment. Biden, Psaki said, was meeting with members of his senior team to discuss the Senate vote and to prepare a speech about the milestone accomplishment when Cuomo said he would step down.

The announcement came a week after New York's attorney general alleged in a scathing report that Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women, including employees, and at the exact moment his onetime ally was poised for a victory lap.

"Leave it to Andrew Cuomo to rain on the parade of his perceived enemies as he exits," said Nelini Stamp, the director of strategy and partnerships for the progressive Working Families Party, which has long tangled with Cuomo in New York. "Fortunately, today's vote is on just a small part of the Democratic package."

Biden wasn't deterred.

"This historic investment in infrastructure is what I believe you, the American people, want, what you've been asking for for a long, long time," Biden said in a speech Tuesday afternoon at the White House. "This bill shows we can work together."

But after the speech, Biden was peppered with questions from reporters about Cuomo. "I respect the governor's decision, and I respect the decision that he made," Biden said.

Psaki, asked about Cuomo's timing, said Americans were "most focused on the fact that 69 members of the Senate, 19 Republicans, joined the Democratic caucus to take an important step forward," adding, "That's my bet in terms of what people are talking about at home."

David Axelrod, former senior White House adviser and a top strategist for both of Barack Obama's presidential campaigns, noted on Twitter that Biden had called on Cuomo to resign last week.

"Today, Cuomo announced his resignation at the exact hour the U.S. Senate handed Biden a huge victory on infrastructure. Maybe it was a coincidence but in his timing, Cuomo stepped all over Biden's big story," Axelrod said.

Before Democrats largely abandoned Cuomo, Biden and Cuomo were like-minded allies from the party's moderate wing — old-school Catholic politicos with blue-collar sensibilities whose paths had crossed several times over their decades in public life.

When Cuomo was considering his own 2020 presidential bid, he ended up endorsing Biden before Biden had even entered the race. And in spring 2020, in the early days of the Covid pandemic, when Cuomo was giving daily updates watched by millions, Biden called him "the gold standard of leadership."

But their relationship frayed as allegations against Cuomo piled up, and he found himself increasingly isolated.

"Governor who resigned?" quipped Melissa Byrne, a progressive strategist working to cancel student loan debt, who joked that Biden won Cuomo's resignation and the infrastructure bill on the same day. "Huge day for President Biden."

White House officials have stressed publicly and privately the importance of communicating Biden's accomplishments to the public, from the American Rescue Plan to the infrastructure deal.

That may prove difficult enough in competition with news about the resurgent Covid pandemic, which Biden had hoped to put in the rearview mirror at this point in his administration.

"Only the governor knows whether the timing was intentional or not," said a Florida-based Democratic strategist, Steve Schale, founder of Unite the Country, a pro-Biden super PAC that spent about $50 million on his behalf last year.

"But what is good about today is the brave women who stepped forward were able to get some sense of justice, and the American people are getting a bipartisan infrastructure package that will modernize our nation," he said.

"Those two things will live on far longer than the governor's scheduling decision," he said.