Biden meets with congressional leaders to discuss year-end agenda
Washington — President Biden met with top congressional leaders to discuss his legislative priorities for the rest of the year, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer saying the group “made some good progress” as lawmakers return to Washington for their lame-duck session ahead of the new Congress.
Schumer, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Vice President Kamala Harris attended Tuesday’s meeting in the Roosevelt Room for the group’s first such gathering since the midterm elections. With Republicans poised to take control of the House in January, there is much Democrats hope — and need — to accomplish with control of both chambers in the coming weeks. Mr. Biden and congressional leaders have made it a top priority to prevent a national railroad strike. This was accomplished by passing a resolution in Congress to enforce a contract agreement that was brokered by the White House, union bosses, but rejected by multiple union workers. Experts warn that a rail strike could cause disruption to supply chains and increase inflationary prices in the lead up to the holiday season. Mr. Biden urged Congress to intervene on Monday night, and on Tuesday, he told reporters he is “confident” they can prevent a crisis.
“I asked four of the top leaders in Congress if they would be willing to talk about what we are going to do between now Christmas and Christmas in terms legislation,” Mr. Biden replied Tuesday. “And there is much to do, including resolving this train strike… And Congress I believe has to act to stop it. It’s not an easy decision, but I believe we must make it. “
After the meeting, Pelosi said Democrats would bring the union agreement to the House floor on Wednesday morning, even though she wants rail workers to have paid sick leave, a key sticking point for workers rejecting the agreement. She said that the meeting was “very constructive” and that she hoped that the House would pass the rail bill with a strong bipartisan vote.
“It’s a compromise, it is what we have to do,” she stated, adding that there were enough votes for passage in the House.
Schumer said he and McConnell will work to pass the bill “ASAP.”
The congressional leaders also discussed how to fund the government ahead of a Dec. 16 deadline. Schumer stated that the leaders in the room hoped to pass an omnibus funding bill that would fund the government for a long time, rather than a short-term, continuing resolution.
“There was good will in the room and a desire to come together and solve this problem,” Schumer said of government funding. The White House stated that the president had told his Republican colleagues that regardless of their disagreements, he is always open to finding new common ground and that he is willing to listen to their views. “
Congress’ lengthy to-do list also includes a vote Tuesday on final passage of the the Respect for Marriage Act to protect same-sex and interracial marriages. The annual defense authorization bill must be passed by lawmakers. Democrats are hoping to pass a bipartisan bill that will reform how Congress counts electoral vote.
On the rail front, some Republicans are starting to voice their opposition to congressional interference. They believe the parties should return the negotiating table to “strike fair deals that workers can accept”, as Florida’s Senator Marco Rubio stated.
“Just cause Congress has the power to impose a harsh solution does not mean that we should,” Rubio stated in a Tuesday statement. “It is wrong for Congress to ask the Biden administration to impose a deal that workers have rejected. “
The House is still not settling the issue of next year’s leadership. Pelosi declared after the midterm elections that she would not seek a leadership role in the next Congress, but she will remain in office. Instead, she has rallied around several Democrats to take over the party leadership, including Rep. Hakeem Jeffries. McCarthy won the GOP nominee for speaker, but it remains to be seen whether he will attract the 218 votes he needs to take the gavel in January.
Gillian Morley and Zachary Hudak contributed to this report.
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