US President Biden to host first White House talks with Republican leaders

President Joe Biden pledged to work with both parties to advance his policy goals. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - President Joe Biden will hold his first White House meeting with top Republican leaders from Congress on Wednesday (May 12) in search of common ground on his proposals to spend trillions of dollars on United States infrastructure, education and childcare.

Mr Biden, a Democrat and former longtime US senator from Delaware, has sought to reduce partisan tension in Washington and pledged to work with both parties to advance his policy goals, which face stiff opposition from Republicans.

Wednesday will be the first time he has hosted Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and House of Representatives Republican leader Kevin McCarthy in the Oval Office.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will join their Republican counterparts in the meeting.

Just before the White House meeting, Mr McCarthy presided over the ousting of Representative Liz Cheney from the House Republican leadership team because of her refusal to back former President Donald Trump's false claim that he won the 2020 election, not Mr Biden.

Mr McCarthy, the chamber's top Republican who has sought to placate Mr Trump, has cast her dismissal as necessary to unify Republicans and reclaim control of the House in 2022.

McCarthy was among the 147 Republicans in Congress who voted in January to try to block the certification of Mr Biden's election win, hours after a deadly assault on the US Capitol by Trump supporters.

Congressional Democrats are giving Mr Biden plenty of room to try to broker a deal, but they are preparing for the possibility of moving a massive spending bill along strictly party lines if Republicans do not join in negotiations, according to multiple interviews with congressional and White House sources.

"We're not going to wait a long time if we don't see that agreement is possible, and I think the president will determine that, and we'll determine it as well," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Democrat, told reporters on Tuesday.

Not a single Republican voted for Mr Biden's US$1.9 trillion (S$2.5 trillion) Covid-19 relief plan that passed in March.

Congressional Democrats may still struggle to retain the necessary support of enough of their own members to pass Mr Biden's spending proposals through both chambers, where they have slim majorities.

They are betting the sheer volume of the spending measures will include enough attractive items to overcome any internal opposition, the sources told Reuters.

Mr Biden's US$2.25 trillion infrastructure bill and a US $1.8 trillion education and childcare plan have met with sharp resistance from Republicans in Congress, with disagreements over the price tag, scope and funding proposals.

The ideas, and Mr Biden's intention to tax wealthy Americans and companies to cover the cost, are popular with voters from both parties.

'How we can work together'

Mr McConnell has vowed not to support Mr Biden's infrastructure and jobs plan.

"I'm going to fight them every step of the way, because I think this is the wrong prescription for America," Mr McConnell said last month.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Tuesday that Mr Biden hoped to find common ground with Republicans on his legislative goals and would not try to solve the party's identity battle.

"Here's what I can assure you: The focus of this meeting is not on the future of the Republican Party," she said.

The White House said Mr Biden hoped to focus on areas where the two sides could work together rather than on areas of disagreement.

"He's invited bipartisan leaders to come to the White House to have a discussion about where we can find common ground and how we can work together," Ms Psaki said.

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