Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) – An extraordinary day and night of heartbreaking tension, failed deals in the last hour and mistrust…
Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) – President Joe Biden’s broad domestic agenda has been left in a serious bind, with an extraordinary day and night of heartbreaking tension, failed deals in the last hour and bitter mistrust between liberal and moderate Democrats.
Progressive Democrats on Thursday defied fierce pressure from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and refused to pass a bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill, gaining new clout in a bid to secure trillions more in the broadest social spending plan in a generation.
It’s a rare day that Pelosi can’t control her group. But the veteran House speaker, viewed with awe by many members for her vote-counting skills, adopted a high-stakes strategy to try to force a vote on the first phase of Biden’s highly anticipated agenda. The infrastructure bill, a focus of Biden’s outreach to Republicans and his call for national unity, pours tens of billions of dollars into railroads, highways, airports and bridges.
Pelosi delays vote on $1 trillion infrastructure bill after hours of negotiations
But in an outright defiance of their power, the Progressives stood firm in their refusal to vote on the bill without the Senate taking action on the supplemental $3.5 trillion shift in health care, education, and social programs. Despite frantic late-night attempts to put together a framework for that package that includes Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, White House officials and two moderates — Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kirsten Sinema of Arizona — they have failed. That forced Pelosi to finally abandon her effort to hold a vote on Thursday, and lawmakers will return for more calculated risks on Friday.
But the way forward remains highly uncertain, and dramatic scenes like Thursday exacerbate doubts about whether Democrats can use their control of Congress and the White House to effectively wield power ahead of next year’s midterm elections.
Congressman: I don’t support a budget without immigration reform 0:41
Indeed, an exceptional day of rhetorical duel between the Capitol and the Senate may have deepened the stalemate. For example, one consequence of all the tit-for-tat accusations was that Manchin publicly reiterated that he was not willing to exceed the $1.5 trillion spending package, a number far lower than what progressive Democrats and Biden believe.
Manchin previously noted that the maximum allowed is $1.5 trillion, notably in an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union” on September 12, which means the Senate leadership has known his position for at least weeks. This raises questions about what exactly Schumer did to try to persuade the West Virginia senator to change his mind, or to alert House Democratic leaders of impending problems.
Manchin’s position casts doubt on the fate of the spending plan and, by extension, the infrastructure bill, as progressives won’t support it without getting what they want in social spending and climate change. The deadlock has also exacerbated a series of crises facing Democrats in Congress. They managed to avert disaster, a government shutdown, after Biden signed a temporary federal funding bill through early December. But Democrats have not raised the government’s borrowing cap in the coming weeks, as Republicans refuse to help even with the risk of a government default that could spell disaster for the US economy.
turning point left
Thursday’s tumultuous events marked a turning point in the Democratic Party. The strength of the progressive House members, working in partnership with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, the man behind the $3.5 trillion plan as chair of the Senate Budget Committee, was the culmination of years of building.
In the past, as in efforts to transform the Affordable Care Act under Barack Obama, Pelosi was able to count on more progressive members of the caucus to vote on a measure that did not meet her ideals. But the left did not withdraw on Thursday, which may indicate a new dynamic in the party.
Pelosi’s decision to push for a vote on an infrastructure bill, which few of her leadership team publicly believed she could pass, is now likely to be widely questioned. Pelosi, using all her years of experience and influence, seemed convinced that she could bend her seat at will. At one point, when asked about his arm torque setting at the last moment, he described it as “continuous activation.”
But a failure to hold the scheduled vote would certainly weaken her authority and, in the short term at least, may alleviate the uncertainty surrounding the Speaker of the House.
The attempt to secure an overnight agreement by Sinema and Manchin on a deal that could satisfy the liberal members of the House of Representatives always seemed doomed to fail. This drew the ire of at least one of the key players, Sanders, who denounced him as well as Pelosi’s intense efforts to enforce the infrastructure bill.
“You can’t, in my opinion, have a deal at 2 a.m. no one has seen. So, I hope again, the strategy is to defeat this infrastructure bill,” the Vermont senator said at one point, making it It is impossible for progressives to back down.
Manchin appeared to agree and left the Capitol in his car minutes before news came from Democratic sources that the vote would not take place Thursday night, though there has been no real clarification on how Friday might be different.
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What about Biden’s agenda now?
But a grueling day also left questions for progressives. On the other hand, your decision to stand your ground and ask to take on a $3.5 trillion spending project could increase the chances of the package staying intact to some extent. But by delaying approval of at least a large part of Biden’s platform, they are increasing the risk of everything collapsing in what could be a disaster for Democrats.
Pramila Jayapal, the Washington congresswoman who leads the progressive caucus in Congress and has emerged as a powerful figure in recent weeks, urged her colleagues to “stick to the plan. Pass both bills together.”
“We will not allow mega corporations, billionaires and some conservative Democrats to stand in the way of transformative progress for millions of workers,” Jayapal wrote on Twitter.
Progressives are still playing a risky game. Manchin, in particular, does not seem to have enough time to lobby left-wing lawmakers in the House.
During one of his many meetings with reporters during Thursday’s drama, he said that if progressives wanted a bigger bill they should “elect more liberals.” The comment reflected the fact that Manchin, who represents a state twice won by former President Donald Trump, has extraordinary power in the 50-50 Senate where Democrats could not have done better in the 2020 congressional elections.
Manchin’s stance and Pelosi’s struggles on Thursday also raised another question: Are Biden and congressional leaders trying to thread an impossible legislative needle while trying to enact one of the most ambitious Democratic programs in generations without votes to spare. In the Senate and when can Pelosi lose only three members of her caucus in the House of Representatives?
“Without immigration reform, I don’t support budgets,” says the Democratic congressman.
A blow to the moderates
The vote’s delay is also likely to anger moderate House members, some of whom have said failing to pass the bill this week would be seen as a betrayal by their colleagues. Many moderates view the bipartisan plan to spend on roads, rail and transportation infrastructure as a driver of jobs and central to their hopes of keeping jobs next fall.
Early Thursday, Representative Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, a leading moderate, told CNN reporter Wolf Blitzer he was “1,000%” sure the bill would pass that night.
“I think if you’re a Democrat right now, it’s hard to vote against the president’s agenda,” said Gottmer, co-chair of the problem-solving group. “I don’t think anyone wants to stop that, and that’s why we’re going to have to do this and achieve this huge bipartisan victory for the country.”
One of the most prominent members of the progressive movement in the House of Representatives, Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, mocked Gottheimer after Pelosi withdrew the vote, in a sign of tensions likely to make the bills more difficult to pass. Potential overconfidence among progressives in their hard-line strategy.
“In Congress, we don’t make predictions like this until we know we have the votes,” Omar wrote on Twitter.
While progressives did not formally vote against Biden’s agenda due to Pelosi delaying the moment of truth, the impression many outsiders would have is that Democrats cannot work together to govern effectively.
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There may also be calls after Thursday’s standoff for the president himself to get involved more. White House officials said Biden was on the phone Thursday with leaders in Congress and had frequent meetings and calls with key players in the debate, including Mansion, Cinema and Pelosi.
However, the president did not make a trip to the Capitol Thursday to try to change the progressives’ opinion of himself. Perhaps this was a wise strategic move to protect him from the kind of rebuke Pelosi had suffered. But it also raises the question of whether it should do more law enforcement in the effort given that its agenda is on edge.
Manu Raju, Lauren Fox, Annie Grayer, Ryan Nobles, Phil Mattingly, and Caitlan Collins contributed to this story.
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