Biden negotiates infrastructure behind the wheel of an EV

By Adam Aton | 05/19/2021 06:47 AM EDT

President Biden test drives the Ford F-150 Lightning electric truck yesterday at the Ford Dearborn Development Center in Michigan.

President Biden test drives the Ford F-150 Lightning electric truck yesterday at the Ford Dearborn Development Center in Michigan. Evan Vucci/AP/Shutterstock

President Biden said yesterday he still wants a bipartisan infrastructure deal. Then he climbed behind the wheel of a potential deal breaker for Republicans: an electric vehicle.

Biden sped through Ford Motor Co.’s test site before rolling down his window and delivering his verdict on the new F-150 Lightning, the electric version of the country’s most popular vehicle: "This sucker’s quick."

Then he floored it.


The flourish offered a rare peek into political negotiations that have mostly remained behind closed doors.

Republicans this week are preparing a revised, more detailed infrastructure proposal after blanching at Biden’s $2.2 trillion package. GOP lawmakers initially countered with a $570 billion proposal stripped of climate investments. And during last week’s bipartisan talks in the Oval Office, Democrats said, GOP leaders objected specifically to Biden’s push for EVs.

Now, the White House seems to be leaning into that fight.

Biden spent the day touring Ford’s Dearborn, Mich., plant where union workers assemble the F-150 Lightning. Afterward, he said the future of U.S. workers — if not the climate — depends on aggressively ramping up EV production and ownership.

"We’re at a great inflection point in American history," Biden said. "How we handle the next four to 10 years is going to determine where we’re going to be 30, 40, 50 years from now. It’s one of those moments in American history."

Biden focused most of his remarks on the economic potential of EVs before briefly mentioning climate at the end.

"If we act to save the planet, we can create millions of good-paying jobs, generate significant economic growth and opportunity to raise the standard of living for people not only here, but around the world," he said. "In the competition for the 21st century, the future will be built right here in America."

While Biden spent the day talking about EVs, his top officials huddled with Republicans on Capitol Hill for infrastructure talks. The delegation included counselor to the president Steve Ricchetti, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and White House Office of Legislative Affairs Director Louisa Terrell.

The split screen hinted at Biden’s priorities.

"Certainly the president’s trip to Michigan will of course be on the minds of our officials from our end," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said aboard Air Force One en route to Biden’s speech.

In the past, White House officials have said Biden has only two deal breakers on infrastructure: "doing nothing" and raising taxes on people who earn less than $400,000.

Now EVs seem to be rising in importance. Psaki yesterday called Biden’s proposal to electrify transportation "one of the key components" of his infrastructure plan. At $174 billion, it’s also one of the largest.

And the White House is increasingly drawing attention to it. Biden last month paid a virtual visit to another EV manufacturer, Proterra, shortly after Vice President Kamala Harris toured an electric school bus factory. Ali Zaidi, Biden’s deputy national climate adviser, joined the president yesterday on his Michigan trip.

Those visits demonstrated how much climate politics have changed since the Obama administration, when Republicans portrayed climate policy as anti-business. Now, it’s Democrats who are touting the support of corporate America for their climate plans.

"Mr. President, as you work toward a future that’s more sustainable and made in America, Ford is right there with you," Bill Ford, the company’s executive chairman, said yesterday in his introduction to Biden’s speech. He even talked up Biden’s infrastructure plan’s specific components.

"We appreciate your commitment to rebuilding the nation’s roads and bridges, establishing a network of electric vehicle chargers, and investing in the kind of clean energy manufacturing that we’re pioneering right here at Ford."

Biden isn’t ready to tell Republicans to hit the road, though, even if the two sides remain far apart on EVs.

"We believe we can find a bipartisan deal on infrastructure. And we look forward to hearing more details of their proposal," Biden said, adding that he expects to see it by today.

"But we’ve made one thing clear: We’ll compromise, but doing nothing is not an option. Doing nothing is not an option. The world is not waiting, I say for a second time."

But even as Biden seeks a middle ground with Republicans, some congressional Democrats are pushing the White House to expand its infrastructure spending. That could complicate any effort to shrink the package.

"This framework invests half the annual resources originally proposed by President Biden on climate action alone," according to a letter first obtained by ABC News.

The signatories include nearly 60 prominent progressives, more moderate members and some high-profile legislators, including Democratic Reps. Paul Tonko and Carolyn Maloney of New York, Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, Karen Bass of California, and Chellie Pingree of Maine.

"While bipartisan support is welcome," they wrote, "the pursuit of Republican votes cannot come at the expense of limiting the scope of popular investments."