Richmond says Biden willing to meet with GOP senators over COVID bill

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Washington — White House senior adviser Cedric Richmond said Sunday that President Biden is willing to sit down with a group of Republican senators who are requesting a meeting with the president to discuss a bipartisan coronavirus emergency relief bill.

“The president said in his inauguration speech that he wanted to work with both sides in order to help the American people,” Richmond said in an interview with “Face the Nation.” What we know about President Biden is it’s never about him, it’s always about the people. So yes, he’s very willing to meet with anyone to advance the agenda.”

A group of 10 Republican senators sent a letter to Mr. Biden on Sunday asking to meet with him to discuss a bipartisan coronavirus relief framework, the details of which they expect to unveil Monday. The plan, the senators said, includes $160 billion for vaccine development and distribution, testing and contact tracing, and production of personal protective equipment. It also includes $4 billion for behavioral health and substance abuse services, as well as targeted economic aid to jobless Americans and another round of direct payments to individuals making up to $50,000 annually.

The president has put forth his own sweeping $1.9 trillion relief package, which is the White House’s top legislative priority. But with the Senate evenly split between parties, 10 Republicans would need to join Democrats in supporting the measure for it to pass through the regular legislative process. GOP senators are balking at the cost of Mr. Biden’s plan, as well as the inclusion of provisions such as a federal minimum wage hike to $15 an hour.

Democratic leaders in Congress are taking the first steps this week to pursue a maneuver called budget reconciliation, which would allow Mr. Biden’s plan to pass without Republican support.

Richmond said the proposal the president has put forth includes provisions that have support from most Americans, including $1,400 direct payments to individuals, assistance to small businesses and money to reopen schools.

“This is about seriousness of purpose, this is about meeting the moment, and this crisis is enormous and our response to it meets that challenge,” he said. “When you start talking about $1,400 to individuals, another $160 million so we can safely open schools, a couple hundred million dollars to make sure that we help small businesses that are struggling, that’s what the American people want to see.”

Richmond would not say whether Mr. Biden would be willing to drop measures from his package, such as an increase in the minimum wage, and hold standalone votes on those provisions, saying “we’re not going to negotiate on TV.” But he noted that the federal minimum wage has been increased in past crises under both Republican and Democratic administrations.

“Other people want to argue process. We want to argue purpose in moving this country forward,” he said. “And President Biden is very clear and he said it in his inaugural, we face deep challenges and we’re going to meet the moment and we’re not going to leave anybody behind.”

Prior to joining the White House, Richmond served as a congressman from Louisiana and was among the lawmakers in the U.S. Capitol on January 6 during the violent riots by a pro-Trump mob. In the wake of the assault on the Capitol, lawmakers have been given the green-light to use their congressional allowances for additional security measures. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that “the enemy is within the House of Representatives,” a reference to some Republicans who have expressed a desire to bring guns on the House floor or attempted to do so.

Reflecting on his time in Congress, Richmond said he believes the political landscape has changed.

“I believe that we’re in a different state than we’ve ever been before, members who do not want to face reality, members that are encouraging conspiracy theories and things like that,” he said. “But the real, the enemy that’s within is the dysfunction of the Republican Party, unwilling to face facts, unwilling to put the people of America first.”

Richmond said the challenge facing Congress is “bringing people together.”

“That means Republicans ditching the division that has defined them for the last couple of years under the former president and coming to the table,” he said. “All we’re asking is those people that are out there busting their backs to keep food on their table and a roof over their head and clothes on their kid’s back, come join us in helping them. And let’s leave the conspiracy theories. Let’s stop arguing about election fraud that we know never existed. And so that’s the enemy within is the inability of people to acknowledge facts and come together to help the American people.”

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