President Biden scrambled in a last-minute rare visit to Capitol Hill Friday to help mitigate the bitter infighting amongst the ever-fractious Democrat Party that publicly saw both factions stalling his domestic agendas, but he emerged from the meeting without a deal that left members of his own party even more furious and confused as to what happens next.
During a 40-minute caucus meeting, Biden punted the urgency to pass the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, telling Democrats it “ain’t going to happen” and to focus on reaching an agreement on the final form of his $3.5 trillion tax-and-spending social welfare bill, known as the Build Back Better Act.
It was the clearest revelation from Biden, caving to the uncooperative progressives’ demands by echoing their desire to have both measures move in tandem in the House. It showcased to the Democratic Party is entirely overtaken by the liberal faction, and they run the asylum now. Biden siding with the progressives caucus, the group who hijacked one of his legislative agenda only further enraged moderate Democrats, who assumed the president would gather the group to close the deal for the passage of the Senate-passed bipartisan measure. Instead, they saw Biden blowing up the entire measure ready for a vote in favor of the reconciliation bill.
“They’re listening to the progressives, also understanding that we have other wings in our party too. We have to listen to everybody, and that’s what’s happening right now.” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) said to reporters.
“It’s a disappointment to me, He negotiated the bipartisan infrastructure package, and I would have thought that he would have put that as high a priority as the reconciliation package. But he spent most of the time on the reconciliation package,” Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA) told a pool of reporters following the meeting.
Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) took her frustration out mainly on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for failing to uphold her end of the agreement in delaying the infrastructure vote by succumbing to the progressive caucus demands.
“I am profoundly disappointed and disillusioned by this process,” Murphy, chair of the Blue Dog Coalition, said in a statement. “While I have great respect for the Speaker, I believe her decision to again delay a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill is wrong. The Speaker pledged that the House would consider this bill on September 27 and that she would rally the votes to ensure the bill has the best chance to pass.”
Pelosi had pledged moderate Democrats to bring the infrastructure bill to the floor but failed to keep true to her promise multiple times by also siding with the progressive squad due to their threats in vowing to tank it on the House floor. The Speaker initially committed moderates in late August to bring the infrastructure measure up for a floor vote by Sept. 27,
However, on Monday, Pelosi would push the deadline to Thursday — the very last day of the fiscal year 2021, but efforts kept running into roadblocks as the animosity between moderates and progressives escalated and dragged Democratic members of the Senate into the fold. Progressives, led by House Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) with help from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) used the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill — which hasn’t been written yet as key for progressives to hold the line with their hardball tactics all week and railed against Pelosi’s late-night Thursday deal-making effort.
Democratic leaders and the White House attempted hours before the planned vote Thursday to broker a deal, but progressive was too dug in holding onto their leverage despite risking one of the president’s key legislative, consequently forcing the Speaker just an hour before midnight to fold and cancel the vote. Pelosi vowed in the wee morning hours to bring the bill back up for a voter later on Friday, way before it was announced that Biden would visit members at the Capitol and ultimately called off the vote on the infrastructure legislation altogether.
Murphy also directed her shots towards progressive for being “counterproductive” in using the bipartisan bill “as leverage” against fellow Democrats.
“The Speaker delayed the vote because some of my Democratic colleagues, in a misguided effort to gain ‘leverage’ over their fellow Democrats in the negotiations on the separate Build Back Better Act, have threatened to vote against a very good infrastructure bill. I hope my colleagues will reconsider their approach. Whether they do or not, all members of the House should be required to cast a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill and to accept the consequences of that vote,” Murphy said.
“It’s a sad day for our nation when a few Members of Congress block much-needed results for the American people, not because they oppose the bill before them, but because they don’t trust members of their own party,” Murphy added.
Another moderate, Problem-Solver Caucus co-chair and member of Murphy’s caucus, Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), called out Pelosi for breaching her commitment by not holding a vote as promised and slammed the “small faction on the far left” for putting Biden’s agenda “at-risk” by obstructing ” civility and bipartisan governing.”
Pelosi sought to put a positive spin to minimize the disastrous week that saw her power as a “master legislator” weakened as she failed to swiftly deliver the passage of Biden’s domestic agenda. In a “Dear Colleague” letter to her caucus, Pelosi claimed that they have made “great progress” with negotiations, but “more time is needed” to complete the task. She also reiterated Biden’s remarks that the “Bipartisan Infrastructure bill will pass once we have agreement on the reconciliation bill.”
On his massive social welfare package, the president acknowledged that in order to salvage his broader economic agenda from collapsing would mean progressive are “gonna have to come down” and slash the $3.5 trillion spending bill price tag in their negotiations with moderate Democrats. Biden discussed a new topline number — giving a range amount between $1.9 and $2.3 trillion, implying the lower number could win the back of centrist Democrats. For months, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Krysten Sinema (D-AZ), either Senator who can tank the spending bill in the Senate, have for months made it clear the $3.5 package was too expensive.
The idea of a lower price tag was considered non-negotiable with the influential progressives for weeks, but now they are warming up to the idea afterward. On Thursday, a memo signed by Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer(D-NY) emerged, revealing the centrist Democratic Senator in July detailing his position for the spending bill — including a $1.5 trillion topline.
“He was very clear the two are tied together. But we need to get this reconciliation bill. And you know, it’s going be tough. We’re going to have to come down in our number, and we’re going have to do that work. So we’re going to get to work and see what we can get to,” Jayapal said, adding “there was no timetable” for passage of both bills, and there would be no votes on just the infrastructure bill any time soon.
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) recalled Biden saying the group would need to reduce his social spending package between $1.9- $2 trillion in order to find “common ground. Cuellar also noted that Biden declared that “even a smaller bill can make historic investments.”
Biden told reporters that his dual agenda would pass following the meeting, including his desire to have both measures approved together.
“I’m tellin’ ya we’re gonna get this done,” a snappy Biden told reporters when asked for a recap following the meeting. But when pressed on the timeline of passage as Congress faces piled on deadlines, the president said it “doesn’t matter.”
“Doesn’t matter when. Doesn’t matter if it’s in six minutes, six days, or six weeks. We’re gonna get it done,” Biden declared.