Democratic leaders on Tuesday took concerted steps to cool simmering internal tensions even as the leader of the House Progressive Caucus repeated threats to tank an infrastructure bill if liberals aren't satisfied with a larger spending measure.
Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrats scramble to reach deal on taxes On The Money — Sussing out what Sinema wants Overnight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — Key CDC panel backs Moderna, J&J boosters MORE (D-Calif.) hosted a marathon, one-on-one meeting with Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalProposals to reform supports for parents face chopping block Democrats see light at end of tunnel on Biden agenda Democrats jostle over health care priorities for scaled-back package MORE (D-Wash.), who reiterated immediately afterward that more than half of her 95-member liberal caucus stand ready to torpedo the $1.2 trillion Senate-passed infrastructure measure unless the $3.5 trillion Democratic-only package advances as well.
Earlier in the day, National Economic Council Director Brian DeeseBrian DeeseWhite House weighing steps to address gas shortages Environmental activists' email blast disrupted White House communications over two days: report Sinema in Arizona as Democrats try to get spending-infrastructure deal MORE and Louisa TerrellLouisa TerrellJuan Williams: Women wield the power LIVE COVERAGE: Biden tries to unify divided House Biden gets more aggressive with agenda in balance MORE, the White House legislative affairs director, trekked to Capitol Hill to meet with leaders of the moderate New Democrat Coalition, some of whom have blocked the House plan to reduce drug costs.
And House Democratic leaders huddled with their full caucus in the Capitol, where Pelosi stressed that party unity is not only advantageous to their legislative success — it's an absolute necessity.
"We have to have pretty much unanimous support," said Rep. Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyOvernight Health Care — Presented by The National Council for Mental Wellbeing — FDA panel advises Moderna booster shot for high-risk people Hillicon Valley — Presented by LookingGlass — Congress makes technology policy moves House Democrats announce bill to rein in tech algorithms MORE (D-Ill.), relaying leadership's message to the caucus. "The consequences of anything other than total unity are damaging not only this year, at this moment, but looking ahead to the elections next year."
The leadership lesson in political pragmatism comes after weeks of Democratic infighting, pitting liberals against moderates in the debate over both the scope and strategy surrounding President BidenJoe BidenBiden: Democrats' spending plan is 'a bigger darn deal' than Obamacare Biden says he's open to altering, eliminating filibuster to advance voting rights Biden: Comment that DOJ should prosecute those who defy subpoenas 'not appropriate' MORE's two-pronged domestic agenda.
Moderates have demanded that the House vote next week on the Senate-passed infrastructure bill, hoping to divorce that bipartisan proposal from the Democrats' multitrillion-dollar social spending package, which has no GOP support.
Yet liberals have different ideas, insisting that the two packages move in tandem to ensure that the larger, more controversial social benefits legislation reaches Biden's desk.
“I reiterated our long-held position that we are going to be delighted to vote for both bills once the reconciliation bill is passed and [we] deliver both bills to the president’s desk,” Jayapal told reporters as she emerged from Pelosi’s office. “I don’t think the Speaker is going to bring [an infrastructure] bill up that is going to fail. ... At the end of the day, if we don’t have the reconciliation bill done, the infrastructure bill will not pass.”
Told that some moderates believe progressives are bluffing about tanking the infrastructure bill, Jayapal replied tersely: “Try us.”
Democratic leaders, who gathered as a small group Monday night, emerged from Tuesday’s caucus meeting insisting that the internal divisions will be resolved in time to vote on both measures next week. Pelosi has promised moderates an infrastructure vote on Monday — a timeline also endorsed by Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerPowerful Democrats push back on one-year extension of child tax credit The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Democrats optimistic after Biden meetings House to vote Thursday on holding Bannon in contempt MORE (D-Md.) — and the leaders say that schedule is roughly on track.
"The majority leader had indicated we are moving toward the 27th, and the plan is to hold to that agreement," said Rep. Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesDemocrats see light at end of tunnel on Biden agenda Sinema in Arizona as Democrats try to get spending-infrastructure deal LIVE COVERAGE: Biden tries to unify divided House MORE (N.Y.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
"Failure is not an option," he added. "The votes will be there for both the bipartisan infrastructure agreement and the Build Back Better Act."
Amid the rosy assessments, however, there were some warning bells blaring.
Liberal Democrats on Tuesday temporarily blocked a short-term government funding bill, known as a continuing resolution, to protest the inclusion of funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system — an unexpected snag that was resolved only after party leaders yanked the $1 billion provision. The impasse was short-lived, but it was a prominent reminder that the Democrats' majority is a fragile one — and that Biden's domestic policy wish list can be upended by just a handful of rebellious defectors.
In another warning for Democratic leaders, there were scattered signs that the various factions are digging in on their initial demands. Jayapal’s remarks following her meeting with Pelosi were the most glaring example. But Rep. Josh GottheimerJoshua (Josh) GottheimerModerates split over climate plans in Democrats' spending package Bleak midterm outlook shadows bitter Democratic battle Democrats downplay deadlines on Biden's broad spending plan MORE (D-N.J.), a leader of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus who had led the charge last month to get Pelosi to commit to the Sept. 27 infrastructure vote, said this week that he’s holding the Speaker to that deadline.
“It was a commitment. Every single member of the Democratic caucus voted for [that deadline]. We'll be bringing the legislation to the floor on Sept. 27,” Gottheimer told The Hill. “And there's no one better getting votes than Speaker Pelosi. She committed to helping get everyone on board for 2 million jobs a year and this historic piece of legislation and she will.
“I’m not waning in my confidence [about Sept. 27], if that is what you are asking.”
There are plenty of doubts, however, that the $3.5 trillion family benefits plan will be ready for a vote on such a short timeline. And a number of liberals are joining Jayapal in refusing to budge in their competing demand that the larger package move alongside the infrastructure bill.
“I am prepared to vote NO on the Senate’s ‘BIF’ unless and until we know that the Build Back Better Act will also become law,” Rep. Jared HuffmanJared William Huffman Ban on new offshore drilling must stay in the Build Back Better Act Biden leaves meeting saying 'it doesn't matter' when bill is passed Democratic lawmaker calls 'live-leaker' a schmuck and a coward MORE (D-Calif.), another member of the Progressive Caucus, tweeted Tuesday, referring to the Senate-passed bill. “This is not just about political leverage, it’s about policy and preserving a livable planet.”
Despite the entrenchment, party leaders remained confident that the legislation will reach Biden’s desk.
Jeffries said there is plenty of room to accommodate the many diverse perspectives of the “enthusiastic” caucus. And Hoyer suggested there is wiggle room when it comes to bringing the infrastructure bill to the floor.
“It may be the 27th, it may be the morning of the 28th — depending upon how long the debate goes. But we're going to vote on that,” Hoyer said. “And we are absolutely committed to moving forward on the second 'family' plan.”
As the debate moves into its most crucial phase, all sides appeared to agree on the ultimate objective — fulfilling Biden’s agenda by passing both bills — even if there are lingering disputes over the tactics and timing.
“It's the president's vision for the country; it got him elected. We've got to deliver on that,” said Rep. David CicillineDavid CicillineHillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Agencies sound alarm over ransomware targeting agriculture groups Lawmakers question whether Amazon misled Congress Senators preview bill to stop tech giants from prioritizing their own products MORE (D-R.I.). “However they get sequenced — making sure they both get done is the most important thing."
Rep. John GaramendiJohn Raymond GaramendiWhy is Biden doubling down on Trump's nuclear expansion? Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon officials get grilling from House Defense secretary blames State Department for delay in Afghanistan evacuation MORE (D-Calif.) offered a similar prediction, saying Democrats will fight hard for their preferences, until they’re forced to compromise for the sake of enacting the legislation.
“We hold firmly to our strongly held views — until we don't,” he said. “I'm not going to give one inch — until I have to.”