President Biden on Wednesday afternoon met with a gaggle of labor leaders he described as “close friends” to debate his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan and to urge input on an attempt to bolster American infrastructure that's expected to follow.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said Tuesday that the president views infrastructure as “one of the areas where there’s opportunity to work together” with Republicans, but she didn't provide details on what would happen after the stimulus bill.
“We haven’t yet determined what the next priority forward would be, but he is engaging with his policy team,” Ms. Psaki said. She also wouldn’t say whether he planned to move forward with his broad economic agenda or a bill focused on infrastructure.
Mr. Biden met Wednesday with several labor leaders including Richard Trumka, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.; Sean McGarvey, president of North America’s Building Trades Unions; Terry O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America; and James T. Callahan, general president of the International Union of Operating Engineers. Also at the meeting was Lonnie R. Stephenson, the international president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, who served on Mr. Biden’s transition advisory board.
Many of those labor leaders have real sway with Mr. Biden and vocally opposed his decision to rescind the construction permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline, because they said it also killed good union jobs. They were also expected to press him on his plans to replace lost energy jobs.
Sitting in the oval office with the labor leaders on Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Biden called all of them his close friends.
“A lot of these folks have been my friends for a long, long, long time,” he said.“As they say in parts of my state, these are the folks that brung me to the dance.”
Mr. Biden noted that the United States is ranked “like 38th in the world in terms of infrastructure, everything from canals to highways to airports, to everything we can do and we need to do to make ourselves competitive in the 21st Century.”
Ms. Psaki said earlier in the day that central to the meeting would be the president’s “desire to create good paying union jobs” and that Mr. Biden believed a clean energy plan and new union jobs could “simultaneously happen.”
“When he put out his clean energy plan last year, he had union leaders and environmentalists at the same table agreeing to the path forward,” Ms. Psaki said.
Earlier in the day, vice president Kamala Harris appeared on NBC’s “Today” show on Wednesday to promote the stimulus bill, which so far has no Republican support in Congress. Her appearance followed Mr. Biden’s participation in a CNN town hall on Tuesday night, where he projected optimism that his ambitious plan would help restore the economy.
Ms. Harris called it “a plan about getting our schools back open.”
She added: “It’s going to be safer for our schools to reopen when we can get our schools the infrastructure needs, like helping them with their ventilation systems, helping them create social distancing with barriers, the things that are necessary to get them back open in a safe way.”
But Scott Sloofman, a top aide to Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, attacked her statement for using what he called faulty math. He noted that only a sliver of the money for schools in the plan could be spent this year. “If the American Rescue Plan’s funding can’t be spent this year, what does it actually have to do with schools reopening safely?” Mr. Sloofman said.
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