White House press secretary Jen Psaki is defending President Biden’s lack of GOP outreach despite his campaign “unity” pledge, after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell alleged that the two hadn’t spoken since before Inauguration Day.
Psaki first noted that McConnell (R-Ky.) had since walked back his claim that he and Biden hadn’t spoken since taking office before blaming the coronavirus pandemic for the lack of physical meetings the White House has hosted for Republicans.
“I’m sure he will [host and engage with GOP lawmakers],” she said, noting that “We obviously have been limited” on what they could do as a result of the virus.
“He’s had a number of meetings bipartisan meetings in the Oval Office, he will continue to do those. Those have often been constructed with committee chairs or, or, or members with specific jurisdiction,” she continued.
Regarding McConnell, Psaki said that the president “has a long friendship with Leader McConnell. He has spoken with him. He speaks with him regularly.”
“We’re obviously not going to read out all of those calls, and I expect that will continue.”
Earlier Wednesday, the top ranking Senate Republican made headlines after claiming in a Fox News appearance that the two men had not spoken since Biden was inaugurated.
“I haven’t been invited to the White House,” the Kentucky senator told the network. “So far, this administration is not interested in doing anything on a bipartisan basis at the political center.”
“I don’t believe I’ve spoken with him since he was sworn in,” he continued. “We had a couple of conversations before then.”
Much was made of Biden and McConnell’s relationship in the months between the November election and the Jan. 5 Senate run-off elections, when it was unclear which party would control the upper chamber of Congress.
Biden was elected on a platform of unity and bipartisanship, and was entering the White House as a three-decade veteran of the Senate, where he and McConnell developed a personal friendship.
Speaking to Fox News last week, McConnell offered more insight into their relationship up to his inauguration and an update on where they stood now.
“Joe Biden is a really nice guy, everybody liked him,” the Kentucky senator began before sharing his views on the president’s politics.
“I never remembered him as a moderate,” he continued, referencing Biden’s promises of unity and bipartisanship during the 2020 campaign compared to his more progressive primary competitors.
“And that’s why it’s going to be very difficult to craft bipartisan agreements, because they want to jam things through their way, hard left, which I don’t think the American people expect any bipartisanship to support.”
In the early days of Biden’s presidency, he invited a group of GOP senators to the Oval Office to discuss proposals for COVID-19 relief.
The meeting was his first with any lawmakers since taking office, and the effort toward unity was largely praised from both sides of the aisle.
While the group, which included Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, offered optimistic comments on the potential for bipartisanship after the meeting, nothing materialized.
The president then opted to move forward with a largely progressive agenda, choosing to pursue legislation unlikely to garner much GOP backing.