Sen. Mitt Romney says he trusts Biden on infrastructure reversal

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, one of the lawmakers negotiating a bipartisan infrastructure package, said Sunday that President Biden had “calmed” the waters — after roiling them days earlier by saying he wouldn’t sign the legislation unless it was paired with a more ambitious bill.

“I do take the president at his word,” Romney said on CNN's “State of the Union.”

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When Biden announced the major infrastructure deal on Thursday, he celebrated the agreement as a sign that he could navigate bitterly divided Washington politics. But he quickly undermined the negotiations by saying he would only sign the legislation if it were presented to him “in tandem” with a separate bill that includes other Democratic spending priorities.

“If this is the only thing that comes to me, I’m not signing it,” Biden said.

Democrats had been pursuing a two-track process on the two packages. They hoped a bipartisan compromise on infrastructure could overcome the 60-vote filibuster threshold in the Senate. That legislation amounted to $1.2 trillion in spending over eight years, with more than $500 million in new spending.

And Democrats aimed to pass the more expansive package, called the American Families Plan, via the complicated reconciliation process for budget legislation, which only requires only 50 votes, allowing it to pass on a partisan vote if Democrats are unified. The American Families Plan tackles a host of other Democratic priorities, including education and climate change, and includes tax hikes on wealthy Americans.

President Biden discusses infrastructure negotiations in the White House on Thursday.
President Biden discusses infrastructure negotiations in the White House on Thursday. (AP/Evan Vucci)

Biden’s statement Thursday took Republican negotiators like Romney by surprise, kicking off a tumultuous 48 hours.

“Over the weeks and weeks in negotiations with Democrats and with the White House on an infrastructure bill, the president’s other agenda was never linked to the infrastructure effort,” Romney said Sunday.

“I didn’t understand the president to take that position,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.

Other negotiators were even more blunt.

“No deal by extortion!” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., exclaimed on Twitter. “It was never suggested to me during these negotiations that President Biden was holding hostage the bipartisan infrastructure proposal unless a liberal reconciliation package was also passed.”

Biden worked the phones in an attempt to salvage the negotiations, and the president issued a lengthy statement Saturday walking back his Thursday comments.

CNN anchor Jake Tapper, left, interviews Sen. Mitt Romney on Sunday. (Screenshot: Twitter/@CNNSotu)
CNN anchor Jake Tapper, left, interviews Sen. Mitt Romney on Sunday. (Screenshot: Twitter/@CNNSotu)

“My comments also created the impression that I was issuing a veto threat on the very plan I had just agreed to, which was certainly not my intent,” he said.

He added: “The bottom line is this: I gave my word to support the Infrastructure Plan, and that’s what I intend to do. I intend to pursue the passage of that plan, which Democrats and Republicans agreed to on Thursday, with vigor. It would be good for the economy, good for our country, good for our people. I fully stand behind it without reservation or hesitation.”

Romney said Sunday that he takes Biden “at his word,” adding that the president is “a man of honor.”

“A lot of my colleagues were very concerned about what the president was saying on Friday. But I think the waters have been calmed by what he said on Saturday,” Romney told CNN. “And, look, I called the White House, and the White House called around to each of us who had been negotiating and said, ‘OK, look, we’re going to make clear exactly what the president means.’”

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