(Trends Wide) — An extraordinary day and night of heartbreaking tension, failed deals in the last hour, and bitter mistrust among liberal and moderate Democrats left President Joe Biden’s vast domestic agenda in dangerous limbo.
Progressive Democrats on Thursday defied fierce pressure from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and refused to pass a $ 1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, wielding new influence in a bid to secure trillions more. in the broadest social spending plan in a whole generation.
It’s a rare day that Pelosi can’t control her group. But the veteran Speaker of the House, viewed in awe by many members for her vote-counting skills, adopted a high-stakes strategy of trying to force a vote on the first stage of Biden’s prospective agenda. The infrastructure bill, which is the centerpiece of Biden’s outreach to Republicans and his call for national unity, pours tens of billions of dollars into railroads, highways, airports and bridges.
But in open defiance of their authority, progressives stood firm in their refusal to vote on the bill without Senate action on a $ 3.5 trillion complementary transformation of health care, education and social programs. Despite frantic late-night attempts to forge a framework for that package involving Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, White House officials, and two moderates – Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona – there is no an agreement could be reached. That forced Pelosi to finally abandon her push to hold a vote Thursday, and lawmakers will return for more calculated risks on Friday.
But the way forward remains deeply uncertain, and dramatic scenes like Thursday’s only 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. .
Indeed, an extraordinary day of rhetorical duel between the Capitol House and Senate sides may have deepened the impasse. For example, one result of all the recriminations was that Manchin publicly reiterated that he was not willing to exceed $ 1.5 trillion for the spending package, a figure well below what the Progressive Democrats and Biden believe is necessary. .
Manchin has previously indicated that his limit was $ 1.5 trillion, notably in an interview on Trends Wide’s “State of the Union” on September 12, which means that the Senate leadership has known his position for at least weeks. That raises questions about what exactly Schumer did to try to persuade the West Virginia senator to change his mind, or to alert Democratic House leaders to impending trouble.
Manchin’s position casts doubt on the fate of the spending plan and, by extension, the infrastructure bill, as progressives will not back it without getting what they want in social spending and climate change. The stalemate also exacerbates a series of crises facing Democrats in Congress. They managed to avoid disaster, a government shutdown, after Biden signed an interim federal funding bill through early December. But Democrats have yet to raise the government’s borrowing cap in the coming weeks, as Republicans refuse to help even at the risk of triggering a government default that could spell disaster for the American economy.
A turning point for the left
Thursday’s tumultuous events had the feeling of a turning point in the Democratic Party. The strength of progressive House members, working in partnership with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, the man behind the $ 3.5 trillion plan as chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, was the culmination of years of construction. of power.
In the past, as in the effort to convert the Affordable Care Act under Barack Obama, Pelosi has been able to lean on more progressive members of the caucus to vote for a measure that falls short of her ideals. But the left did not withdraw on Thursday, which could point to a new dynamic in the party.
Pelosi’s decision to push for a vote on the infrastructure bill, which few of her leadership team publicly thought 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 bench to her will. At one point, when asked about his last minute arm torque situation, he described it as “constant revitalization.”
But failing to carry out the scheduled vote will surely weaken her authority and, in the short term at least, may lessen the mystique surrounding the Speaker of the House.
The attempt to secure an overnight agreement from Sinema and Manchin on a package that could satisfy the liberal members of the House always seemed doomed. And it angered at least one of the major players, Sanders, who denounced him and also at Pelosi’s intense effort to impose the infrastructure bill.
“You can’t, in my opinion, have at two in the morning an agreement that no one has seen. So, I hope again, the strategy should be to defeat this infrastructure bill,” the Vermont senator said at one point, effectively making it impossible for progressives to back down.
Manchin appeared to agree and left the Capitol in his car minutes before word came from Democratic sources that the vote would not take place Thursday night, albeit without any real clarity on how Friday would be different.
What happens now with Biden’s agenda?
But one exhausting day also left questions for progressives. On the one hand, your decision to stand your ground and demand that the $ 3.5 trillion spending project be taken over could maximize the chances that the package will remain somewhat intact. But by further delaying the approval of at least a large chunk of Biden’s program, they increase the risk that the whole thing will collapse in what would be a disaster for Democrats.
Washington Representative Pramila Jayapal, who leads the Congressional Progressive Caucus 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 massive corporations, billionaires and some conservative Democrats to get in the way of making transformative progress for millions of workers,” Jayapal wrote on Twitter.
Still, progressives are playing a risky game. Manchin, in particular, seems to have little time for pressure from left-wing lawmakers in the House.
During one of his several meetings with reporters during Thursday’s drama, he said that if progressives want a bigger bill they should “elect more liberals.” The comment reflected the fact that Manchin, who represents a state former President Donald Trump won twice, has extraordinary power in a 50-50 Senate as Democrats couldn’t do better in the 2020 Congressional elections.
Manchin’s position and Pelosi’s struggles on Thursday also raised another question: Are Biden and Congressional leaders trying to thread an impossible legislative needle as they are trying to enact one of the most ambitious Democratic programs in generations with no votes to spare. in the Senate and when can Pelosi lose just three members of her own caucus in the House?
A hit for the moderates
The delay in the vote is also likely to enrage moderate House members, some of whom have said not passing the bill this week would be seen as a betrayal by their colleagues. The bipartisan road, rail and transportation infrastructure spending plan is seen by many moderates as a driver of jobs and central to their hopes of keeping their jobs next fall.
Early Thursday, one of the top moderates, Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, told Trends Wide’s Wolf Blitzer that he was “1,000%” sure the bill would pass that night.
“I think if you’re a Democrat right now it’s difficult to vote against the president’s agenda,” said Gotthemier, co-chair of the problem-solvers caucus. “I don’t think anyone wants to stop that, so that’s why we’re going to have to do this and achieve this great bipartisan victory for the country.”
One of the most prominent members of the progressive movement in the House of Representatives, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, mocked Gottheimer after Pelosi withdrew the vote, in a sign of tensions that will likely make it even more difficult to pass bills. law and possible overconfidence among progressives in their hardline strategy.
“In Congress, we don’t make predictions like this until we know we have the votes. Some of us get it, some of us brag and fall flat on our faces,” Omar wrote on Twitter.
While progressives did not formally vote against Biden’s agenda due to Pelosi’s postponement of the moment of truth, the impression many outsiders will have is that Democrats cannot act together to govern effectively.
There may also be calls after Thursday’s deadlock for the president himself to get more involved. White House officials said Biden was on the phone Thursday with leaders in Congress and has held repeated meetings and calls with key players in the debate including Manchin, Sinema and Pelosi.
However, the president did not make a trip to the Capitol Thursday to try to change the minds of progressives himself. That may have been a wise strategic move to protect him from the kind of reprimand Pelosi suffered. But it also raises the question of whether it should put more law enforcement into the effort given that its agenda is on the razor’s edge.
Manu Raju, Lauren Fox, Annie Grayer, Ryan Nobles, Phil Mattingly, and Kaitlan Collins contributed to this story.