Republican resistance grows over Biden's infrastructure and policing plans

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(CNN)GOP opposition is hardening over a massive infrastructure plan and a revamp of policing laws, scrambling the prospects of two of President Joe Biden's top domestic priorities at a crucial juncture on Capitol Hill.

Republicans are pushing back at Biden's efforts to tie a bipartisan Senate deal on infrastructure with a larger package of Democratic priorities, warning that such a tactic will cause GOP support to crater and could torpedo the $1.2 trillion accord reached between the two parties. And several members of the group of 11 Republicans who signed off on the bipartisan deal are upset at Biden's tactics, privately warning that they too could walk away from the deal, according to GOP sources.

On policing, a number of Republicans say the rise in crime across the US has caused them to rethink support for a bipartisan effort to overhaul law enforcement practices -- just as the GOP is again settling on a "law-and-order" message in its push to retake Congress in next year's midterms.

    Rep. Steve Scalise, the No. 2 Republican in the House, told CNN that he opposes any changes to the qualified immunity standard that currently protects police from civil lawsuits, an issue that is central in the negotiations and will almost certainly be addressed if a deal is ultimately reached.

      "No," Scalise said when asked if he were open to any changes to the standard at all. "It's a protection for good cops, and why would you want to undermine that?"

      The Louisiana Republican also reiterated a campaign theme that Republicans in the House used successfully in key races in 2020 and are poised to use again next year.

      "It seems like Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi just wants to go with more of a defund police approach, where they go after qualified immunity, which would really be devastating to police officers on the beat," Scalise said.

      On Friday, the group of 11 Republicans who signed onto the bipartisan infrastructure agreement met virtually to discuss how they wanted to handle Biden's comments to tie the bipartisan bill to the Democratic-only proposal, a Senate aide familiar with the matter told CNN.

      Many in the group were irritated about having stuck their necks out to back Biden's agreement in the first place and having just been at the White House less than 24 hours before. Agreeing to the bipartisan deal was always going to put them at odds with some of their conservative colleagues, and they viewed the President's words as having undercut their good-faith deal.

      In an afternoon conference call, GOP senators continued to express concerns over the White House's handling of the bipartisan infrastructure deal, according to a source familiar with the call.

      "Frustrations boiled on the call," the source said. "Members were dumbfounded by the White House press briefing."

      The source was referring to Friday's briefing where White House press secretary Jen Psaki did not walk back Biden's warning that the Democratic-only reconciliation bill must pass Congress before he'd sign a bipartisan deal into law.

      "That hasn't been a secret," Psaki told reporters Friday about Biden's desire to see both packages signed into law. "He hasn't said it quietly. He hasn't even whispered it. He said it very much out loud to all of you as we have said many times from here."

      GOP support cratering on infrastructure

      Republicans in the Senate have the power to derail both the bipartisan infrastructure deal and policing legislation, given that the measures would need 60 votes to overcome a filibuster attempt in the 50-50 chamber. But many Democrats are unhappy that their priorities were left out of the bipartisan plan, prompting Democratic leaders to set the stage for moving a much larger plan -- that could cost anywhere from $4 trillion-$6 trillion -- through the so-called budget reconciliation process, which allows legislation to pass in the Senate along straight party-lines.

      To win over her more liberal members behind the bipartisan deal, Speaker Nancy Pelosi vowed to hold up that proposal until the Senate approved the larger reconciliation bill -- angering Republicans and prompting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to signal he's ready to battle the effort. The larger Democratic bill is expected to carry many provisions in Biden's American Families Plan to expand the social safety net, with tax increases on corporations and high-income earners.

      "It puts us in a very, very challenging position," McConnell said Thursday.

      The move prompted one of the 11 Republicans who signed onto the bipartisan deal -- Sen. Lindsey Graham -- to vow to vote against the plan if Democrats carry through with their tactic. And Republicans are privately warning that the Democratic tactics could cost even more support from Republican senators, according to Senate GOP sources.

      Some of the more moderate Democrats are also worried about their party leaders' tactics.

      Rep. Dean Phillips, a Minnesota Democrat, said "no" to the two packages being tied together, saying the two measures should stand on their own.

      "Would I like to see a lot of elements of the social infrastructure plan implemented? Absolutely," Phillips said. "But I think this is important that we demonstrate that this place can operate. And if we end up getting nothing done because of the objections of either the left or the right, and then shame on all of us."

      House Republicans are already balking at the infrastructure push -- with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy saying on Friday that Democrats "killed any opportunity" for a deal and his rank-and-file echoing that line.

      "I think the true bipartisan negotiations that many of our Senate colleagues thought they were negotiating were hijacked," said Rep. Rodney Davis, a Republican from a swing Illinois district. "How in the world can any Republican trust negotiating with President Biden and his team if he's demanding to get the deal that he was working with you on that you have to pass everything that Republicans didn't agree with?"

      Freshman Rep. Nancy Mace, a South Carolina Republican, added, "If we're going to tack on and attach budget reconciliation to it, that's problematic."

      Policing talks at a key juncture

      The narrow line that Democrats are walking extends to policing legislation as well -- with two Democratic lawmakers, Rep. Karen Bass of California and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, and GOP Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina -- planning to extend negotiations to finalize a deal they've been struggling to cut for months.

      At the heart of the push, which is aimed at curbing episodes of excessive police force, is qualified immunity -- something Democrats have tried to eliminate. But Scott has proposed a compromise to allow victims of police violence to more easily sue their employers -- police departments and cities -- rather than individual officers. The two sides have haggled over the issue extensively.

      But even a bipartisan deal on the issue is unlikely to win over many Republicans.

      "I'm nervous about that, I'm very nervous about that," said Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, when asked about changing qualified immunity.

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      "Crime is up everywhere," Jordan said.

      "I think the law enforcement is under assault in that country -- through the defund the police effort," said Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican of Texas and a member of leadership who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee. "Recruitments are down, retirements are up. And I think there's a lot of reluctance on the part of law enforcement to perform their duties and keep our community safe because of the second-guessing that goes on later."

      The negotiators have been working with sheriffs and policing groups to get their input throughout the process -- and whether they can ultimately reach a deal remains to be seen.

      "I'm very worried about the uptick in crime, and it'd be using as an excuse -- it'd be used as an excuse to say, we don't need police reform," Bass told CNN.

      Bass said that she doesn't think the rise in violence is impacting their effort to get a deal now -- but it could later.

      "I don't think it's making it harder today, but that's the trajectory, if we don't hurry up and finish," Bass said.

      Booker wouldn't say if the politics over a rise in crime would hurt their ability to get a deal through Congress.

      "What I simply know is there is an urgency to get more accountability, more transparency, more trust to ban certain practices that most folks know we shouldn't do, like chokeholds," Booker said. "So I just think that there's, there is an objective urgency, and I know this also because police leaders, police organizational leaders, that you just wouldn't think have been working extraordinarily constructive -- really want to deal and see the importance of it."

      But Scott dismissed the idea that the rise in violence will impact the push.

        "Republicans are interested in solving problems not taking advantage of waves," Scott told CNN.

        This story has been updated with additional developments Friday.

        CNN's Lauren Fox and Morgan Rimmer contributed to this report.

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