By Associated Press
Yet in time, Biden’s decision to embrace a facilitating role rather than being negotiator in chief — which had achieved mixed success — began to pay off: the first substantive gun restrictions in nearly three decades, a measure to boost domestic production of semiconductor computer chips, and care for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits .
White House officials credit Biden’s emotional speech after the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas , with helping to galvanize lawmakers to act on gun violence — and even his push for more extensive measures than made it into the bill with giving the GOP space to reach a compromise. And they point to a steady cadence of speeches over months emphasizing the need to lower prescription drug costs or to act on climate with keeping those issues in the national conversation amid the legislative fits and starts.
In turn, both Democratic and GOP lawmakers say that Biden removing himself directly from the negotiations empowered senators to reach consensus among themselves, without the distraction of a White House that may have repeatedly pushed for something that would be unattainable with Republicans or could be viewed as compromising by some Democrats.
“The president kind of had said that we’re staying out,” Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said, referring to the gun talks earlier this year. “I think that was helpful.”
Being hands off, however, by no means meant the administration was absent.
Rather than be in the room as a gun deal was coming together, White House aides stayed by the phone, explaining how the administration would likely interpret and regulate the law that senators were drafting. Murphy spoke with White House officials every day, and when the Connecticut senator met personally with Biden in early June to offer an update, the president never gave him an ultimatum on what he was or was not willing to sign — continuing to defer to lawmakers.
At another point during the gun negotiations, rumors flew that the administration was considering barring the Pentagon from selling certain types of surplus ammunition to gun dealers, who then sell the ammunition commercially, according to two people familiar with the deliberations. But Republicans, chiefly Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, urged the White House to scrap those plans because it would run counter to the parameters of what the gun negotiators had discussed, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details of private negotiations.
The White House eventually did so, issuing a statement to a conservative publication that no such executive order on ammunition was under consideration.
On the semiconductor package that Biden plans to sign into law Tuesday, the administration organized classified briefings for lawmakers that emphasized how China is gaining influence in the computer chip sector and the national security implications. Republicans were regularly in touch with Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, one Biden Cabinet official who has developed warm relationships across the aisle.
And on the Democrats’ party-line climate and health care package, Manchin has emphasized that it is impossible to craft legislation of this magnitude without White House input, although he did not deal with Biden directly until near the end, when the president called to let Manchin know the White House would support his agreement with Schumer, according to an official with knowledge of the call.
Biden also stayed out of the last-minute deliberations involving Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and she and the president did not speak even as Democrats finalized an agreement that accommodated her demands.
“In his heart, Joe is a U.S. senator,” said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., the chief Democratic author of the burn pits legislation who also helped hash out the infrastructure law last year. “So he understands allowing this to work is how you get it done.”