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Biden reverses agenda

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden, in his Baltimore town hall meeting Thursday night on CNN, broke from his earlier recitation of a firm wish list for his Build Back Better economic agenda. Instead, he indicated new flexibility on what he would accept in the face of rigid opposition from two fellow Democrats in the Senate and all 50 Republicans there.

In a free-wheeling 90-minute discussion of the difficulty he has encountered in his first major presidential challenge, Biden directly expressed his frustration toward Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona for separating themselves from the other 48 Senators who have fallen in behind him on his ambitious plan for the immediate post-Donald Trump future.

In one particularly acid comment, the usually conciliatory Biden observed: “With 50 Democrats in the 100-member Senate, everyone is a president, every single one. So you gotta work something out.” It was an observation with the bark off of his earlier, gentler reminder that he was the president now and they were not.

At the same time, however, he also alluded to his 36 years in the Senate — self-mockingly calling it “370 years” — in which he built a reputation for seeking bipartisanship.

That bipartisan spirit has led the Senate to pass one of the two major bills that make up the Build Back Better agenda. That bill, which would entail expansive physical infrastructure repair and extension across the country, passed with some Republican support. However, the House has declined to vote on it until the Senate passes the second part, the so-called the “human” infrastructure bill, which would provide more massive funding for working Americans.

Biden expressed confidence that the vocal opposition to his grand plan will in the end be overcome. “I do think I’ll get a deal,” he said, adding that it will be a larger one than he helped achieve for the Affordable Care Act as President Barack Obama’s vice president. He added: “We’re down to four or five issues, and I think we can get there.”

As if to soften his remarks, the president observed, “Joe’s not a bad guy, he’s a friend.” As for Sinema, he called her “smart as the devil,” while noting she was holding out against increasing taxes against rich corporations and individuals Biden proposes to pay for the broader road, bridge and highway repair work. “That’s where it sort of breaks down,” he said.

Manchin responded to Biden’s conciliatory comments but added that a deal “is not going to happen anytime soon.” He said “good progress” was being made but added: There’s a lot of details. Until you see the text and the fine print makes it pretty hard to make final decisions.”

Those observations suggested Manchin is enjoying his role as the prime naysayer to the president’s elaborate plans for the more than three years remaining in is first term, and possibly beyond.

The Baltimore town hall meeting capped off an unusually busy work day for President Biden. It began with a return to Scranton, Pennsylvania, the town of his birth. That was a sentimental journey full of fond reminiscences of his family and friends there, a sort of Biden folksy trademark.

He also delivered a long address honoring the late Dr. Martin Luther J. King Jr. at the massive stone memorial here in Washington, testing his endurance at age 78 and appearing to pass without difficulty, being customarily long-winded.

In all, Biden’s day overall was an adequate rebuff to growing public speculation that his presidential stature was somehow being diminished by the scope of challenges to his uncommonly ambitious political objectives.

He again demonstrated a remarkable command of facts to support his broad agenda, and in a manner that also conveyed his personal self-confidence and comfort in who he is, and has become.

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