This week: Biden faces crucial moment on Capitol Hill
President Biden is facing a critical week on Capitol Hill amid Democratic divisions on infrastructure strategy and high-profile criticism over a messy exit in Afghanistan.
House Democrats are set to return to Washington on Monday for a matter of days with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and a core group of moderates at a standoff that is leaving key pieces of Biden’s legislative agenda hanging in the balance.
They’re hoping to depart on Tuesday, and not return until late September, but first Democrats need to make big strides that will require either a deal to resolve the current staring contest or for one side to cave.
Pelosi wants to approve a budget blueprint this week that will unlock Democrats’ ability to draft and pass a $3.5 trillion spending package later this year without GOP support in the Senate.
Pelosi, in a letter to House Democrats over the weekend, warned that failing to approve the budget resolution could slow down the spending plan, which she wants to pass by Oct. 1, along with a roughly $1 trillion Senate-passed bipartisan bill.
“Any delay to passing the budget resolution threatens the timetable for delivering the historic progress and the transformative vision that Democrats share,” Pelosi wrote.
“In support of President Biden’s vision to Build Back Better, we must move quickly to pass the budget resolution this week. It is essential that our Caucus proceeds unified in our determination to deliver once-in-a-century progress for the children,” she added.
The White House also released details from over the weekend of a call between Biden and Pelosi, noting that the president “reiterated his support for Speaker Pelosi’s work to advance the rule that would provide for the House’s consideration of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill and the Build Back Better Agenda.”
With Republicans lined up against the budget resolution, which cleared the Senate earlier this month along party lines, Pelosi can afford to lose three of her members.
But she’s facing a big headache in the form of a band of moderates who are pushing for a vote on the Senate-passed bipartisan bill before the House turns to the budget resolution that tees up the much larger $3.5 trillion plan, which is expected to include party priorities like expanding Medicare, immigration reform and combating climate change.
Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), one of the nine centrists pushing for a vote on the Senate’s bipartisan bill, told The Wall Street Journal over the weekend that they were in talks with both the White House and Democratic leadership.
“We’re still in the place we were, but I think the good news is both sides are committed to trying to find a path forward here,” he said. “We really feel strongly that we’re going to hold to our guns here until we can work this out in a way that moves infrastructure along.”
The nine centrist Democrats have threatened to vote against the budget resolution if House leadership doesn’t schedule a vote on the Senate’s bipartisan bill. It’s at odds with Pelosi’s months-long pledge that she won’t bring up the Senate’s smaller $1 trillion bill until they take up the $3.5 trillion plan later this year. Progressives have also fumed over the hardball tactics from moderates, wary that they won’t support the $3.5 trillion plan later this year if progressives help pass the bipartisan bill now.
It has set up the threat of mutually assured tanking of the two pieces of Biden’s biggest legislative agenda absent a deal between the warring sides. If the centrists follow through with their threat and sink the budget resolution it would mark a significant setback for Biden at a precarious time for his administration. But progressives have also warned that the Senate’s bipartisan bill, which Biden helped negotiate, doesn’t have the votes from their wing of the party to pass the House this week.
The House Rules Committee is set to meet late Monday morning to set up the floor debate over both the budget resolution and a separate voting rights bill. It will also tee up the floor debate on the Senate’s bipartisan bill for later this year.
Rep. Ed Case (D-Hawaii) also issued a statement from the centrist Blue Dogs late last week warning against delaying the Senate’s bipartisan bill, but without threatening to tank the budget resolution if Pelosi sticks by her plan to delay the Senate bill until later this year.
“The sooner we pass this historic legislation in the House, the sooner we can send it to the president’s desk and ultimately begin delivering on our promises to the American people. The co-chairs of the Blue Dog Caucus oppose efforts to delay consideration of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act—a pillar of President Biden’s Jobs Plan Proposal—in the House,” he said.
The House is set to grill Biden officials for the first time in person since the quick collapse of the Afghan government and military and fast rise of the Taliban caught the administration off guard.
Both the House and Senate spoke with administration officials, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, on Friday by phone, but a briefing set for Tuesday morning will be their first in both a classified setting and in person back in Washington.
The House is expected to have an in-person all-members briefing on Tuesday with top administration officials including Austin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines.
Pelosi and, separately, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) have requested a briefing for the “Gang of Eight” — the four congressional leaders and the top Democrat and Republican on the House and Senate intelligence committees.
Biden has sparked bipartisan frustration for his handling of the drawdown in Afghanistan, which has sparked days of chaotic footage from outside the Kabul airport after the Taliban retook the country. Biden has acknowledged that the administration was caught off-guard by the quick collapse of the Afghan government and military.
“Let me be clear: The evacuation of thousands of people from Kabul is going to be hard and painful no matter when it started and when we began. It would have been true if we had started a month ago or a month from now. There is no way to evacuate this many people without pain and loss, of heartbreaking images you see on television. It’s just a fact. My heart aches for those people you see,” Biden said during remarks on Sunday.
Democrats largely agree with Biden’s ultimate endgame: withdrawing the U.S. military from Afghanistan after a two decade war. But he’s faced criticism from high-profile members of his own party over why the administration overestimated the Afghan military and underestimated the Taliban.
There’s also been bipartisan pressure on the administration in recent days to speed up the removal of tens of thousands of Afghans who aided the U.S. military and their families from Afghanistan.
Lawmakers have been pushing the White House to expedite the Special Immigration Visa program for months and are warning that it will be a moral failure if the administration leaves Afghan allies behind, where they are expected to be targeted by the Taliban.
“A great nation is a nation that keeps its word. The American people need to understand who we’re talking about here. We’re talking about men and women who risk their lives to protect Americans. They fought hand-in-hand with our troops and we made promises to them,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said during an interview with Fox News’s Chris Wallace over the weekend.
House Democrats are expected to vote on legislation that would strengthen and expand the 1965 Voting Rights Act after it was gutted by a 2013 Supreme Court decision.
Democratic leadership has scheduled a vote this week on the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, named after the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).
House Democrats reintroduced the bill last week, with the expectation that it could quickly pass before they head back out of Washington until mid-September.
But getting a voting rights bill or a more sweeping bill to overhaul federal elections, known as the For the People Act, to Biden’s desk still faces the same hurdle that has doomed its chances for months: the Senate’s legislative filibuster.
Republicans previously blocked a debate on election legislation, and even the smaller voting rights bill doesn’t have the 10 GOP votes needed to defeat a 60-vote filibuster.
A group of Senate Democrats are negotiating a pared-down election bill that they hope could unite all 50 of their members, with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) teeing up a key test vote after the Senate returns next month.
But both Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have remained firm in their opposition to nixing the filibuster, and neither has signaled recently that they would support making a exception for voting legislation as proposed by progressives and Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), a key Biden ally.
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