Democrats steamroll toward showdown on House floor
House progressives appear poised for a showdown with their own leadership team as Democrats steamroll toward a Monday vote on a Senate-passed infrastructure bill that is a key part of President Biden’s agenda.
Progressives on Thursday — one day after a high-profile White House meeting — insisted they’ll vote against Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill, which some call the “BIF,” if Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) goes ahead with a vote she promised to deliver to centrists in her caucus by Sept. 27.
“The BIF, alone on Monday? No — no, no, no, no, no,” said first-term Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), a member of the liberal “squad.”
“I’m still with Pramila and still with my progressive colleagues that we want to pass reconciliation before we pass the BIF,” he added, referring to Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) That’s still the case.”
Pramila, the head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), insists half of her 96-member-strong caucus will vote against the infrastructure bill if the House goes ahead with the vote and does not first move forward with a larger $3.5 trillion spending package.
She and other progressives are worried moderates will scuttle that package if the infrastructure bill is moved through the House first, and they showed little sign of budging even after Wednesday’s flurry of meetings that brought party leaders, centrists and liberals to the White House to meet with Biden.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who was among the progressives at the White House, urged Democrats to pump the brakes on Monday’s planned infrastructure vote.
“All I’m saying is we do need more time, because I know the votes aren’t there,” Lee, a former CPC co-chair, told reporters just off the House floor.
The warnings from liberals came as Democratic leaders launched an orchestrated effort to show evidence of headway. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) showed up at Pelosi’s press briefing on Thursday to announce a framework designed to anchor the revenue provisions of a final deal.
Pelosi characterized the announcement as “a giant step forward,” but it left liberals unimpressed, stirred confusion among senators — including Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — and was widely seen as a piece of theater designed to distract from substantive differences between centrists and liberals.
Lee downplayed Thursday’s developments as “just one step in the process” and said the only way progressives will back the infrastructure bill is to move the $3.5 trillion package, which she pointedly said was the president’s legislation.
“This is the president’s agenda. Remember, this is the Biden bill. And so we want to support the president’s agenda and the only way we can do that” is to pass the $3.5 trillion bill before the infrastructure bill, she said.
Negotiations on that package have a long way to go, and there’s virtually no chance it will be ready for action by the time of Monday’s infrastructure vote.
Yet centrists, like liberals, are showing no signs of backing down.
Jayapal’s foil in the debate has been moderate Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.Y.), a leader of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus who said Thursday that there’s “zero indication” Monday’s vote will be postponed due to liberal opposition.
“There won’t be a delay,” he said. “We’re going to get the votes and we’re going to vote on this on Monday.”
Publicly, Pelosi and her top lieutenants are projecting calm. They say they’re confident they can pull off what would be nothing short of a legislative miracle and make good on a suite of Biden campaign promises, even if it’s not quite obvious how they are going to get there.
“We’re still on track,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) told The Hill. “We’re in constant communication with the Senate, and we’re trying to land the plane.”
But the threats from liberals has prompted some members of Pelosi’s leadership team to float the idea of delaying Monday’s infrastructure vote.
“If we’re making progress, then, you know, what’s the problem with putting off the vote for a little bit,” Rules Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said Thursday. “All we want is for everything to pass, so let’s get the moderates to agree to that [delay]. … You don’t want to lose. What is the point of losing on the infrastructure bill?”
Rep. Jesús Garcia (D-Ill.), another CPC member, said he’s awaiting more details in the coming days. But echoing the concerns of other liberals, he wants assurances that any final reconciliation package contains a top-line spending number at or near Biden’s favored $3.5 trillion. And he wants to see where the Senate lands on immigration policy, following a ruling by the chamber’s parliamentarian that an initial reform proposal flouted Senate rules.
“I’m encouraged by what was announced. But as always, the devil’s in the detail,” Garcia said, referring to the “framework” announcement.
“Not knowing more details,” he added, “I remain committed to that proposition” to oppose infrastructure on Monday.
Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.), another CPC member, acknowledged the stalemate but sounded a hopeful note.
“Right now, a lot of Democrats — not even just progressives — want both [bills] to move together. Because they know one is not enough,” he said. “I think they both need to move together, and we’ll see how much progress they can make between now and Monday. But I don’t think that Monday is the end date.”