By Doina Chiacu
WASHINGTON – Republican Senate negotiators on an infrastructure deal were optimistic about a $1.2 trillion bipartisan bill on Sunday after President Joe Biden withdrew his threat to veto the measure unless a separate Democratic spending plan also passes Congress.
U.S. Senator Rob Portman said he and his fellow negotiators were “blindsided” by Biden’s comments on Thursday after a rare bipartisan compromise to fix the nation’s roads, bridges and ports.
“I was very glad to see the president clarify his remarks because it was inconsistent with everything that we had been told all along the way,” Portman said in an interview with ABC.
Moments after announcing the bipartisan deal on Thursday, Biden appeared to put it in jeopardy with his comment that the infrastructure bill would have to move “in tandem” with a larger bill that includes a host of Democratic priorities that he hopes to pass along party lines.
“If this is the only thing that comes to me, I’m not signing it,” he said.
The comments put internal party pressure on the 11 Republicans in the group of 21 senators who endorsed the infrastructure package to abandon the agreement.
Biden issued a statement on Saturday that essentially withdrew that threat, saying that was “certainly not my intent.”
“We were glad to see them disconnected and now we can move forward,” Portman said on Sunday.
Senator Bill Cassidy said he hoped members of the divided Senate could move beyond the controversy stirred by Biden’s remarks on Thursday.
“I think leader (Mitch) McConnell will be for it, if it continues to come together as it is,” Cassidy said on NBC.
Another Republican involved in the bipartisan talks, Senator Mitt Romney, said he was confident Biden would sign the bipartisan bill if it reaches his desk without a separate Democratic spending plan.
“I do take the president at his word,” Romney said in an interview with CNN.
White House adviser Cedric Richmond, however, would not say whether Biden would sign the bipartisan infrastructure and jobs legislation even if he does not have a larger spending bill to go with it.
Richmond said in several television appearances on Sunday that Democrats expect to get both bills to the president’s desk.
“We don’t have to talk about conditions,” Richmond told “Fox News Sunday.”
In addition to the 11 Republicans who already endorsed the deal, at least five more Republicans would likely vote for the measure, Democratic Senator Jon Tester said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
“I think we’re also going to see bumps in the road as this goes forward through the process,” Tester said. “In the end, we’ll get this through the Senate.”