Left warns Pelosi they’ll take down Biden infrastructure bill

Liberals on Tuesday fired a shot across the bow at Democratic leaders by warning that a bipartisan infrastructure bill cannot pass the House as long as Senate centrists remain noncommittal on the larger social benefits package at the heart of President Biden’s agenda.

The threat is the latest challenge facing Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other party leaders, who have scheduled a Thursday vote on the Senate-passed $1.2 trillion public works proposal. The timeline reflects Pelosi’s promise to moderate House Democrats, who have sought to divorce the bipartisan infrastructure bill from the larger and more divisive “family” benefits package.

But in a sign that the infrastructure bill would be doomed Thursday, progressives are sticking with their long-held insistence that Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) first commit to supporting the larger package before the liberals vote in favor of the more popular bipartisan measure. And they say they have the numbers to sink it.

“If she were to call the bill, it will fail,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a close ally of Pelosi, said while leaving a closed-door House Democratic Caucus meeting. “Not because the [Congressional] Progressive Caucus, people like me, aren’t willing to vote for it. But … we had an agreement that we were going to get these two pieces [together].”

The Speaker on Tuesday downplayed the threat to her plans, saying leaders are “making good progress” to break the logjam.

“Everybody has to do what they have to do, and I respect that,” she said. “We’re doing our work.”

And the leader of the moderates, Problem Solvers Co-Chair Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), said there has been no indication the vote will be delayed for a second time this week following the postponement of Monday’s original deadline.

“We’re voting Thursday,” he said.

“I believe at the end of the day people will vote yes when it comes down to 2 million … jobs and these critical investments in infrastructure,” Gottheimer told reporters. “I just don’t believe people are going to hit the ‘no’ button, and I know the Speaker wouldn’t have called this and brought us all together if she couldn’t get the votes and she’s the best at it. So, she’ll get the votes.”

Yet Pelosi, a master vote counter, has built a reputation for never bringing bills to the floor without knowing for certain they will pass — a stipulation she has repeatedly said also applies to the infrastructure bill. And for that reason, “it was not entirely clear” if leaders intend to push through with their plan to bring it to the floor on Thursday, Schakowsky said.

“I’ve never seen her bring a bill to the floor that’s going to fail,” she said. “It will fail if she does.”

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said dozens of liberals are prepared to sink infrastructure in pursuit of the broader package.

“This agenda is not some fringe wish list: it is the President’s agenda,” she said in a statement.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), a member of a group of progressive lawmakers of color, was harsher. She called Pelosi’s plan to reverse course and decouple the two bills a “betrayal.”

“We will hold the line and vote it down,” Tlaib said on Twitter, referring to the infrastructure bill. “This is not the time for half measures or to go back on our promises.”

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), chairman of the powerful Rules Committee, is also seeking greater certainty surrounding the intentions of the Senate centrists.

“Look, I want to be a good guy. My father told me when I was growing up there’s a fine line between being a good guy and a goddamn fool. I don’t want to be rolled,” he said. “And I think a lot of us want to make sure that we have an assurance that, in fact, there’s going to be a reconciliation bill.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) acknowledged the frustrations, but also voiced some hope that party leaders could nail down an agreement, by week’s end, with the Senate centrists on “a top-line number and a framework for moving forward.”

“What we’ve said in the House is that we don’t want to pass a bill that can’t pass the Senate. That’s a somewhat useless act,” Hoyer said. Manchin and Sinema, he added, are “critical” to the success of the effort.

Amid the grumbling on the left, some progressives declared Tuesday that they would support the infrastructure bill when it hits the floor — without any conditions.

Congressional Black Caucus Chair Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) said she will vote “yes,” as did Foreign Affairs Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), and Reps. David Price (D-N.C.), Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) and Robin Kelly (D-Ill.).

“It’s strategic; it’s the smart thing to do,” Beatty said of the infrastructure vote. “We’ve come a long way with infrastructure. Is it perfect? Is it everything we need? Of course not.”

The infighting and uncertainty have highlighted the fact that, for all the small signs of progress that have emerged in recent days, Democrats pushing Biden’s agenda remain captive to Manchin and Sinema, the two centrists who oppose the president’s favored $3.5 trillion social benefits plan but have also refused to reveal what level of new spending they’ll support.

That silence has infuriated a host of their fellow Democrats, who are accusing the rebellious senators of peacocking at the expense of Biden’s agenda — and simultaneously threatening the party’s prospects in next year’s midterm elections.

A leading progressive, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), pointed the finger directly at Sinema, saying the Arizona Democrat is holding up the entire process by refusing to disclose what dollar amount she could live with on reconciliation.

“The House is going to be unified. We need to get one number from one senator, and we need to make it very clear that’s holding everything back,” said Khanna, who was national co-chair of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) presidential campaign.

Sanders, for his part, also piled on, urging House Democrats to hold the line against infrastructure “until Congress passes a strong reconciliation bill.”

Caught in the middle of the factional fight has been Pelosi, who has sought to appease moderates by scheduling votes on the infrastructure bill, while placating liberals by insisting both bills move in tandem.

On Tuesday, in a letter to Democrats, she leaned heavily into the second message, calling it “a dereliction of duty” to bolster the country’s infrastructure “without doing so in a manner that addresses the climate crisis significantly.”

“To do so, we must pass the Build Back Better Act,” she wrote in a letter to Democrats.

Pelosi also emphasized that the “negotiations are being led by President Biden to advance his vision.” Indeed, in an effort to break the impasse, Biden on Tuesday huddled with both Manchin and Sinema at the White House.

How the talks evolve over the next several days — and what policy agreements they yield — remains to be seen. But all sides in the debate maintain Democrats will eventually send both bills to Biden’s desk — however messy the process of getting them there.

“As soon as we get a number, we’re going to get it done,” said Hoyer. “And I think we’ll get a number.”

Updated at 7:53 p.m.

Tags Bernie Sanders David Price Gregory Meeks Hakeem Jeffries Infrastructure Jan Schakowsky Joe Biden Joe Manchin Josh Gottheimer Joyce Beatty Kyrsten Sinema Nancy Pelosi Pramila Jayapal Rashida Tlaib Ro Khanna Robin Kelly Steny Hoyer Stephen Lynch
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