President Joe Biden met Republican criticisms of his economic proposals head-on Friday, citing disappointing jobs data as a call to action for more government spending and brushing aside concerns that generous expanded unemployment benefits have kept Americans from returning to work.
It was an example of the President, who’s already shown he’s getting down to work on substantive issues, using current headlines to amplify his efforts to sell that work. In the face of far-worse-than-expected economic data, which critics were eager to pin on his administration, Biden stayed relentlessly on message – turning the poor numbers into a messaging tool. Headlines about the GOP, meanwhile, continued to be dominated by former President Donald Trump’s looming influence, which congressional Republicans did little to quell as they moved closer to ousting a Trump critic from leadership.
While Biden has hit the road to make his case to voters, he’s not exactly ignoring Republicans down Pennsylvania Avenue. Facing resistance to the size and scope of his plans from Republicans (and even some Democrats), he’ll soon meet with congressional leadership from both parties at the White House, followed by GOP senators whom he hopes will work with him to find an infrastructure compromise.
“Look, (when) we came to office – we knew we were facing a once in a century pandemic and a once in a generation economic crisis. We knew this wouldn’t be a sprint. It’d be a marathon,” Biden said Friday after the jobs report was released. “We never thought after the first 60 days that everything would be fine. Today there’s more evidence that our economy is moving in the right direction. But it’s clear we have a long way to go.”
As Biden has embarked on his tour to make the case for roughly $4 trillion in new spending through the American Families Plan and the American Jobs Plan, his opponents have often centered their pushback – not just on the cost of those plans – but also the notion that the economy is already recovering and that additional aid in the form of Biden agenda items like boosting the salaries of home health care workers is unnecessary when the recovery is moving at a rapid clip.
Biden refuted that argument Friday as he made the case that his plans would help blue collar workers who have been left behind in the economic gains of the last decade: “Let’s not let up. We’re still digging our way out of a very deep hole we were put in. No one should underestimate how tough this battle is,” he said.
Friday’s jobs report, showing the US economy added 266,000 jobs in April instead of the 1 million economists were expecting, handed Biden a new tool in his arsenal as he tries to circumvent Republican opposition by directly persuading Americans to back the next phase of his plans.
In response, he defended his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan – which parceled out checks of up to $1,400 to eligible recipients as well as a $300 federal boost to weekly jobless payments and aid to small businesses – arguing that economic influx would take more time to show results fueling the economy.
White House officials were clearly surprised by the new job numbers Friday, especially given the expectations.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told reporters that her best guess would have been higher, but that she’s watched data long enough to know it’s “extremely volatile.”
“There are often surprises and temporary factors, and one should never take one month’s data as an underlying trend,” she said. Yellen predicted that the US economy would reach full employment next year, but added, the “road back is going to be somewhat bumpy.”
Biden will confront GOP arguments against his plans next week when he meets a cadre of Republican senators led by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia. Many Republicans have outright rejected Biden’s call to raise the corporate income tax rate to 28%, although he suggested this week he was open to a rate of between 25% and 28%, to pay for his proposals.
In addition to Capito, Biden will meet with Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo, Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey and Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker. A White House official said the President “appreciates their engagement,” adding that the “ongoing dialogue” on the jobs plan is “high priority.”
During a gaggle Friday, members of the President’s “jobs Cabinet” – a group that is trying to persuade lawmakers to support the plans – said they were hopeful about the opportunity for compromise. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said there is “optimism that there will be a (bipartisan) agreement in large chunks,” while Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo emphasized that Biden has “been clear since the beginning that he’s open to compromise.”
While attempting to stay unified in their economic message, House Republicans appeared to be moving ahead with replacing Rep. Liz Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican, as conference chair to punish her for rejecting Trump’s “big lie” that the election was stolen from the former President. The shakeup inside the conference has subsumed all other news in Washington this week, making it difficult for the GOP to stay focused on their opposition to Biden’s plans.
Rep. Elise Stefanik is poised to replace Cheney in a vote as soon as next week after marshalling the votes needed by demonstrating her loyalty to Trump, despite concerns about her conservative credentials and her harsh comments about his rhetoric and policies four years ago when she claimed that she would be an independent voice.
Other Republicans who, like Cheney, voted to impeach Trump have been feeling heat from their constituents at home. On Friday, the Ohio Republican Party Central Committee voted to censure and call for the resignation of Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez for his vote on impeachment.
The central committee also censured the nine other House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump from other states, an illustration of the punishing mood of the former President’s base and how far out of bounds they are willing to go to show their loyalty to him.