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Biden meets with congressional leaders to discuss year-end agenda at White House

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Biden urges Congress to pass legislation averting potential rail strike 01:58

Washington — President Biden met with top congressional leaders to discuss his legislative priorities for the rest of the year, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer saying the group "made some good progress" as lawmakers return to Washington for their lame-duck session ahead of the new Congress.

Schumer, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Vice President Kamala Harris attended Tuesday's meeting in the Roosevelt Room for the group's first such gathering since the midterm elections. With Republicans poised to take control of the House in January, there is much Democrats hope — and need — to accomplish with control of both chambers in the coming weeks.

A top priority for Mr. Biden and congressional leaders is averting a national railroad strike by passing a congressional resolution to enforce a contract deal brokered by the White House and union bosses but rejected by multiple unions' workers. Experts warn a rail strike could wreak havoc on supply chains and worsen inflationary prices ahead of the holiday season. Mr. Biden urged Congress to intervene on Monday night, and on Tuesday, he told reporters he is "confident" they can prevent a crisis. 

"I asked the four top leaders in Congress whether they'd be willing to come in and talk about what we're going to do between now and Christmas in terms of legislation," Mr. Biden said Tuesday. "And there is a lot to do, including resolving the train strike ... And Congress I think has to act to prevent it. It's not an easy call, but I think we have to do it."

After the meeting, Pelosi said Democrats would bring the union agreement to the House floor on Wednesday morning, even though she wants rail workers to have paid sick leave, a key sticking point for workers rejecting the agreement. Upon her return to the Capitol, she said the meeting was "very positive" and that she hoped the House would pass the rail bill "with a strong bipartisan vote." 

"It is a compromise, and it is what we must do," she said, adding that there were enough votes in the House for passage.

Schumer said he and McConnell will work to pass the bill "ASAP." 

Biden meets with congressional leaders at the White House in Washington
President Biden meets with congressional leaders at the White House in Washington on Nov. 29, 2022. KEVIN LAMARQUE / REUTERS

The congressional leaders also discussed how to fund the government ahead of a Dec. 16 deadline. Schumer said leaders in the room hope to pass a long-term, omnibus funding bill instead of funding the government with a short-term, continuing resolution. 

"There was good will in the room and a desire to come together and solve this problem," Schumer said of government funding.

The White House said the president "told his Republican colleagues that whatever disagreements they may have, he is always interested in finding new common ground, and that he has an open door to hear their perspectives about doing so."

Congress' lengthy to-do list also includes a vote Tuesday on final passage of the the Respect for Marriage Act to protect same-sex and interracial marriages. Lawmakers also must pass an annual defense authorization bill, and Democrats hope to finalize a bipartisan bill to reform how Congress counts electoral votes.

On the rail front, some Republicans are beginning to voice their opposition to congressional intervention, saying the parties should return to the negotiating table and "strike a fair deal that workers can accept," as Florida's Sen. Marco Rubio put it.

"Just because Congress has the authority to impose a heavy-handed solution does not mean we should," Rubio said in a statement Tuesday. "It is wrong for the Biden administration, which has failed to fight for workers, to ask Congress to impose a deal the workers themselves have rejected."

Next year's leadership isn't settled in the House. Pelosi announced after the midterm elections that she will not seek a role in leadership in the next Congress, although she'll remain in office. Instead, she has rallied around several Democrats to take over the party leadership, including Rep. Hakeem Jeffries. McCarthy won the GOP nominee for speaker, but it remains to be seen whether he will attract the 218 votes he needs to take the gavel  in January. 

Gillian Morley and Zachary Hudak contributed to this report.

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