(CNN)President Joe Biden used a fleeting handshake moment below Air Force One this week to pitch two Republican senators on his plan for infrastructure.
An airport tarmac in New Orleans wasn’t really the setting for a full debate on his $2.3 trillion plan, which Republicans have uniformly deemed too big. But walking away, neither Biden nor his GOP greeters believed anything was off the table.
The impromptu meeting, described by people familiar with it, came as Biden is preparing to enter what he views as a critical stretch for testing the bounds of bipartisanship. Though he confessed recently he doesn’t quite “understand” Republicans anymore, Biden will have ample opportunity to try figuring them out in the days ahead.
He plans to meet Thursday with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a West Virginia Republican, and a selection of Republicans of her choosing to hear out a roughly $600 billion counterproposal to his infrastructure plan. And on Wednesday Biden will sit down with the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate to gauge just how much they can work together to advance his agenda.
In the meetings, Biden hopes to discern how serious Republicans are about passing a bipartisan infrastructure package, which he is now signaling could come in smaller than he initially proposed. This week Biden allowed publicly for the first time he could be willing to raise the corporate tax rate to only 25%, down from the 28% he initially suggested.
He and his Democratic allies in the Senate plan to use the next two weeks to make a sustained push for an agreement on a scaled-back plan, according to aides and White House officials. Some officials have set an unofficial deadline of Memorial Day to assess how much progress is really being made.
Yet looming over the talks is the President’s assessment of the opposite party as rudderless and unrecognizable from the one he thought he knew. Whether Republicans’ internal divides, and growing adherence to Biden’s predecessor, prove a barrier to cooperation remains an open question to a President and White House still hopeful to demonstrate an ability to work across the aisle.
Biden coming to grips with new GOP
A coincidence of timing only underscores the dueling GOP impulses Biden now confronts. On the same day he will meet at the White House with congressional leaders, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, Republican lawmakers will convene in a conference meeting where they appear ready to oust Rep. Liz Cheney — the House’s No. 3 Republican — from her leadership post.
That is the development that prompted Biden this week to admit he understands little of today’s Republican Party. As he seeks out even a small number of Republican votes on a potential infrastructure compromise, he is self-admittedly still coming to grips with a party he says has changed.
“It seems as though the Republican Party is trying to identify what it stands for,” he told reporters on Wednesday. “And they’re in the midst of a significant, sort of, mini-revolution.”
Already, Biden has expressed more concern about the state of the GOP than nearly anyone. Far
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