Biden voices optimism on infrastructure deal after meeting with Republicans

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U.S. President Joe Biden pulls off his face mask as he arrives to speak about loosening coronavirus disease (COVID-19) mask guidelines while delivering an update on the administration's pandemic response outside the White House in Washington, U.S., April 27, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

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WASHINGTON, May 13 (Reuters) - President Joe Biden expressed optimism on Thursday that a deal could be reached on infrastructure spending after he held a meeting with a handful of Republican senators in a quest for a bipartisan compromise on his more than $2 trillion plan.

Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito, who led a group that floated a smaller $568 billion infrastructure bill, as well as Senators John Barrasso, Roy Blunt, Mike Crapo, Pat Toomey and Roger Wicker met with the Democratic president in the Oval Office.

"We had a very, very good meeting," Biden told reporters at the White House after the talks concluded.

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"I am very optimistic that we can reach a ... reasonable agreement. But even if we don't," he said, a "good-faith" effort had been started.

Capito told reporters after the meeting that the group discussed specifics "and the president has asked us to come back and rework our offer so that he can then react to that and then re-offer to us. So we're very encouraged."

Biden said the group would meet again next week.

The president has said he wants to work in a bipartisan way. He sat down with Republicans when crafting his $1.9 trillion pandemic spending bill earlier this year but did not reach a deal with them. The legislation passed using the Democrats' slim majorities in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate.

Democrats may be the only ones to get behind Biden's broad infrastructure bill as well, but the White House is giving time for negotiations to play out.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters the Memorial Day holiday at the end of May would be "a moment to assess" whether progress is being made.

Divisions are centered on the size of any bill, whether to count things like childcare as infrastructure, and how to pay for the legislation.

Republican congressional leaders Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy said on Wednesday that Biden's idea to pay for any bill by raising taxes on companies and the wealthy was a non-starter. read more

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Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Heather Timmons and Peter Cooney

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