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Critical Time for Biden Agend 10/18 06:08

   President Joe Biden is entering a crucial two weeks for his ambitious 
agenda, racing to conclude contentious congressional negotiations ahead of both 
domestic deadlines and a chance to showcase his administration's 
accomplishments on a global stage.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Joe Biden is entering a crucial two weeks for 
his ambitious agenda, racing to conclude contentious congressional negotiations 
ahead of both domestic deadlines and a chance to showcase his administration's 
accomplishments on a global stage.

   Biden and his fellow Democrats are struggling to bridge intraparty divides 
by month's end to pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill and a larger social 
services package. The president hopes to nail down both before Air Force One 
lifts off for Europe on Oct. 28 for a pair of world leader summits, including 
the most ambitious climate change meeting in years.

   But that goal has been jeopardized by fractures among Democrats, imperiling 
the fate of promised sweeping new efforts to grapple with climate change. 
There's also rising anxiety within the party about a bellwether gubernatorial 
contest in Virginia and looming Senate fights over the federal debt limit and 
government funding that could distract from getting the president's agenda 
across the finish line.

   Biden is trying to stabilize his presidency after a difficult stretch marked 
by the tumultuous end of the Afghanistan war, a diplomatic spat with a longtime 
ally and a surge in COVID-19 cases that rattled the nation's economic recovery 
and sent his poll numbers tumbling.

   His team has continued its strategy -- one that served it well during the 
campaign and earlier this year -- of blocking out the outside noise to stay 
focused on a singular mission, this time to pass the two-part package that will 
give Democrats a platform on which to run in next year's midterm elections.

   "These bills, in my view, are literally about competitiveness versus 
complacency, about opportunity versus decay, and about leading the world or 
continuing to let the world move by us," Biden said Friday while pushing the 
legislation in Connecticut.

   Yet beneath the White House's pleas for patience -- reminding people that 
hard things take time -- is a bubbling sense of urgency that a deal needs to be 
struck rapidly.

   For the White House, there are the explicit target dates, including an 
end-of-month deadline on transportation funding and Biden's upcoming foreign 
trip. But there are also more abstract imperatives: proving Democrats can 
deliver on their promises to voters and protecting Biden's waning political 
capital.

   With new urgency, the administration has sent signals to Capitol Hill in 
recent days that it is time to wrap up negotiations, that a deal needs to be 
reached, according to two White House officials who spoke on condition of 
anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss private 
conversations. Biden himself has expressed impatience and will be increasing 
his own personal outreach this week to push lawmakers to find a compromise and 
bring the bills to a vote, the officials said.

   West Wing officials are still optimistic that an agreement will ultimately 
be struck, but there are also fears that the messy, drawn-out negotiation has 
clouded the tangible benefits of what Biden aims to deliver to voters.

   Biden sought to address some of that when he traveled to Hartford, 
Connecticut, last week to showcase initiatives to sharply reduce the cost of 
early childhood care -- perhaps one of the only pieces of the legislation that 
is a lock to make the final package.

   Even Democratic leaders are divided on the best way to shrink the overall 
price tag of the package in order to win over more votes. Biden said Friday he 
prefers including all of the wish-list proposals but trimming down the length 
of the programs to cut costs. His thinking is that a future Congress can vote 
later to extend programs that the American people will find popular.

   But days earlier, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested the opposite tack -- 
approving a narrower set of programs to last for a longer time period.

   Some Democrats have pushed for passing the bipartisan infrastructure deal by 
Oct. 31 even if the larger social services package is not settled, a move many 
progressives dislike because they could lose leverage for the latter bill.

   The fate of climate change provisions is particularly perilous.

   West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin's objections to a program aimed at speeding 
the nation's transition away from fossil fuels threatens the heart of Biden's 
plans to combat climate change just before he tries to assert American 
leadership on the issue at the upcoming global conference in Scotland.

   The Democrats' razor-thin margins in both houses of Congress have empowered 
individual lawmakers like Manchin and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, vexing 
fellow lawmakers and the White House. White House aides have not abandoned the 
clean energy program but are exploring alternate means to string together a mix 
of policies to cut emissions, officials said.

   Abandoning the provisions could wound Biden in Glasgow, at a summit that the 
administration has held out as a vital opportunity not just to combat climate 
change but to reassert U.S. leadership on the issue after four years of 
retrenchment under President Donald Trump. The United States will be bringing a 
major footprint to the gathering -- including former President Barack Obama -- 
but it risks falling behind European nations that have taken more concrete 
steps to cut emissions.

   Biden's stop in Scotland early in November will follow his participation in 
a summit of world leaders in Rome. But Chinese President Xi Jinping's decision 
to skip the gatherings -- delaying the first meeting between the leaders of the 
two superpowers -- could diminish their relevance. Still, Biden is expected to 
meet in Italy with French President Emmanuel Macron as the men look to repair 
relations after a U.S. submarine deal with Australia scuttled a French contract 
and led the French to briefly withdraw their ambassador from Washington.

   Also looming is the Nov. 2 gubernatorial election in Virginia, which is 
regarded as a referendum on Biden and the Democrats' chances of retraining 
control over Congress next year.

   Terry McAuliffe, who previously served as the state's governor, is locked in 
a closer-than-expected race with Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin in a 
state that Biden won by 10 points last year.

   McAuliffe has been surprisingly public in his criticism of the 
administration's legislative strategy, urging Democrats to pass the 
infrastructure bill before Election Day to give him something to show voters. 
White House officials privately expect McAuliffe to emerge with a narrow win 
and believe they can ignore worries about a smaller-than-expected margin of 
victory.

   But a tight outcome, or a Youngkin win, could rattle Democrats uncertain 
about Biden's political coattails -- potentially making them less likely to 
take risky votes for his agenda -- and would buoy Republicans heading into the 
midterms.

 
 
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