President Biden backed away from a corporate tax hike to pay for his massive social spending plans on Thursday night, as he offered a concession to holdout centrist Democrats and claimed he was close to a deal.
But he also drew a red line during a CNN town hall, saying he would not introduce a work requirement for people getting child tax credits.
The event, in front of an invited audience in Baltimore, was a chance to deliver his message directly to the public while his own party remains divided in Washington.
Host Anderson Cooper pressed him on whether he would be able to push through a proposed increase in the top corporate tax rate to help fund trillions of dollars in new spending.
‘No, I don’t think we’re going to be able to get the votes,’ he said.
His plan called for an increase in the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent for the biggest companies, triggering warnings that it could hamper growth and that the costs would be passed on to workers and consumers.
‘I’m prepared to do the things that we can get done now, that can begin to change the lives of ordinary Americans to give them a fighting chance and come back and try to get others later,’ he said.
As Biden seeks a final agreement in coming days, questions have emerged about whether some of his most oft-cited promises, like raising taxes on corporations and wealthy Americans might have to be dropped to ensure passage of the spending bill.
Thursday offered one of the deepest dives into where Biden is prepared to offer in concessions and what his opponents have asked for.
Biden also explained that he had reduced his vision for paid parental leave.
‘It is down to four weeks,’ he said. ‘I can’t get 12 weeks.’
President Biden appeared at a CNN town hall on Thursday evening, and announced he was scaling back his spending plans and would not need to ramp up corporate tax
It marked the third time Biden has appeared on a CNN town hall since becoming president
The president has conducted only 10 interviews during his time in office, far fewer than his immediate predecessors.
Thursday marked the third time he has appeared at a CNN town hall since taking office, with members of the public asking questions rather than the intensive grilling of a one-on-on interview.
His social spending plan remains deadlocked between progressives who want to push through a huge overhaul of social spending and centrists – Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin – who want to reduce the price of the bill from its original $3.4 trillion.
He immediately faced questions about whether he could bring around the holdouts in his own party.
But he offered an optimistic tone as he said he believed he was close to a deal that would also unlock his stalled trillion dollar infrastructure plan.
‘I think so, you know, look … I was a senator for 370 years,’ he said triggering laughter.
‘I was relatively good at putting together deals.’
Manchin would eventually fall into line, he added
‘Joe’s not a bad guy,’ said Biden. ‘He’s a friend and he’s always the end of the day come around.’
But he pushed back at one of Manchin’s proposals that parents and other caregivers meet a work requirement before receiving a child tax credit.
‘No, here’s the deal. All these people are working anyway,’ he said, as he signaled that he wanted to target the wealthy.
‘And by the way, you know, why should somebody who is not working, and has, you know, makes has a million dollar trust fund, why should they get the benefit?’
Manchin, senator for coal-rich West Virginia, and Sinema have both expressed reservations about the extent of spending on climate change measures.
Biden suggested he could use tax incentives instead of an electric grid proposal to reach climate goals. Manchin, he added, was open to such tax incentives.
And he admitted ‘it would be a reach’ for his spending bill to include provisions that help with hearing aids, dental and vision benefits together.
Biden has given just 10 interviews in his first nine months in office, falling well short of his two immediate predecessors Donald Trump and Barack Obama who had done 57 and 131, according to Mark Knoller, a former CBS News White House correspondent who maintains a tally.
And the pace of those interviews has slowed – five came in Biden’s first two months in office.
President Biden left the White House with the first lady for the short trip to Baltimore on Thursday evening for a CNN town hall. It is his third appearance at such an event since taking office but he trails his predecessors for number of interviews
By this time in their first term, President Trump had conducted 57 interviews and President Obama, pictured in June, had done 131
This will be Biden’s third CNN town hall since taking office
Critics within his own party see a siege mentality in a president even as he reaches a crucial moment in steering his massive spending plans through Congress.
‘The guy has always been a gaffe machine. He loves talking but the people around him want to keep him under wraps,’ said a Democratic strategist who asked speak on background in order to freely discuss White House strategy.
‘This is one way to do it but you lose a bit of what makes Joe tick.’
Biden found himself in familiar territory on Thursday.
The town hall was compered by Cooper who was also master of ceremonies in February for his first town hall as president.
His last one-to-one interview was more than two months ago, with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News – an alumnus of the Clinton White House.
But it was followed by days of fact checking misleading claims, from the number of Afghan troops to whether or not there were U.S. troops in Syria.
White House officials play down the significance of interviews, pointing out that the president has frequently taken a handful of questions from reporters attending events.
But that gives him the ability to pick and choose what he answers, say presidential observers, and allow him to simply walk away when he wants to.
Thursday’s town hall will be held before an invited audience.
‘Joe Biden can sometimes get off message so putting him in unscripted environments might not be the best way of Joe Biden communicating,’ Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons told The Hill.
Biden’s last one-on-one interview was with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on August 18
Even so Biden himself has joked about the way his aides prefer him not to get chatty.
‘I’m not suppose to take any questions,’ he said, during a visit to FEMA headquarters in August, ‘but go ahead.’
On that occasion he quickly brushed off a question about trouble in Afghanistan and walked away from reporters.
In May, he took a couple of questions after a COVID-19 update but said: ‘I’m not supposed to be answering all these questions.’
White House press secretary Jen Psaki admitted that was how officials wanted him to play it.
‘This is not something we recommend,’ she told David Axelrod, the former Obama adviser, during an interview for his podcast.
‘In fact, a lot of times we say, “Don’t take questions.”‘
Republicans have used Biden’s lack of interviews against him, saying the president lacks stamina or mental energy to fulfil the duties of the office. Some have dubbed him ‘Sleepy Joe.’