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How Biden's massive Covid relief bill was put on a glide path to passage

February 20, 2021. Summarized by summa-bot.

Compression ratio: 24.2%. 3 min read.

US President Joe Biden hosts a meeting alongside US Vice President Kamala Harris (L), with Senate Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (R), and Senator Patrick Leahy (L), Democrat of Vermont, as they meet about a Covid relief bill in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, February 3, 2021. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

A little more than one month since President Joe Biden entered office, his cornerstone legislative priority -- a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package -- is on the path to passage by the deadline his administration set, largely mirroring the key elements he originally proposed.

While Biden's hope for GOP support on Capitol Hill has all but disappeared in the last several weeks, his enthusiasm for the proposal -- and his view that despite its high price tag it will only serve to bolster Democrats as they remain unified -- has hardly waned.

As House Democrats prepare to push through the legislation next week, with Senate Democrats set to follow suit in short order, it's a moment that underscores a confluence of factors on politics, policy and quiet, but wide-ranging, behind-the-scenes work that has nearly all gone Biden's way.

It was equal parts an inside- and outside-the-Beltway effort by the White House, aided by congressional Democrats involved early, and often, on both the substance and politics of the proposal.

Supporters were boosted by a continuous run of positive public polling -- which White House officials and congressional leaders made a point of regularly putting in front of their members -- all as they sought to capitalize on state and district-level officials and advocacy groups they knew would hold sway on Capitol Hill.

Since February 5, the team has met with House and Senate leadership multiple times a week, directly with 33 House members and held talks with more than 100 key congressional staffers.

The White House was bolstered by a pervasive posture from Democrats on Capitol Hill: that letting the new President down in his first legislative push was never an option.

This would make Senate Democrats' first legislative act of the 117th Congress the outsourcing of their own committee gavels to the House," a group of Republican senators wrote to Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

There has been little hesitation from even moderate Republicans to reject Biden's plan, and the unbending nature of the White House's posture has led many GOP senators to question whether Biden was ever serious about bipartisanship to begin with.

Chuck is constantly in informal conversations with members, which makes moving a package like this a lot easier," said one Democratic senator who spoke on background to discuss the ongoing caucus discussions about the Covid relief bill.

A group of moderate Senate Democrats met frequently with Republican counterparts to try and find a bipartisan compromise, holding out hope in happy hour settings, phone calls and zooms that the relief bill could be crafted in a way to attract GOP support like the previous pandemic relief bills.

But after a group of Senate Republicans came out with a roughly $600 billion proposal that didn't include any direct state and local funding, many Democratic senators immediately torpedoed the proposal, forcing even the moderates to evaluate how hard they ultimately were willing to push for bipartisanship or wait for it, and whether there was too much of a risk of losing votes on the progressive side of the caucus.

The Problem Solver's Caucus -- a bipartisan group -- and the Blue Dog Coalition -- a group of moderate and conservative Democrats -- pushed separately behind the scenes for leadership and the White House to separate out vaccine funding from the larger coronavirus package as a way to move the funding faster and to provide a way for at least part of the relief bill to be bipartisan.

Democratic leaders and the White House made it clear: the package was going to stay together and so did Democrats.

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