LIVE COVERAGE: Biden tries to unify divided House
House Democrats are scrambling Friday to break a weeks-long stalemate on a bipartisan infrastructure package — a debate that’s exposed fierce rifts between moderates and progressives that are threatening to tank President Biden’s ambitious domestic agenda.
On two occasions this week, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had promised moderates a vote on a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, only to punt it in the face of entrenched opposition from liberals, who are first demanding a commitment from Senate centrists to back a larger, multitrillion-dollar social benefits package.
In a bid to secure the support from those Senate holdouts, top White House officials were in the Capitol into the late hours Thursday night, huddling with Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) in search of an agreement that can pass both chambers with no Republican backing.
Manchin, earlier in the day, had argued for a $1.5 trillion “family” benefits package, which was quickly panned by liberals in both chambers as insufficient to meet the needs of working families after decades of middle-class wage stagnation. The sides exited those talks without a deal, leaving the liberals still opposed to the infrastructure bill and infuriating the moderates who had been promised a vote on the bipartisan proposal by day’s end.
But there also appeared to be some progress on the larger package, which Democratic leaders intend to move by a special budget process, known as reconciliation, that precludes the need for any GOP votes.
Here are the latest updates as the tense debate moves into the weekend.
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said Friday that the House is expected to pass legislation extending federal highway funding.
The vote presumably would take place instead of a vote on a larger infrastructure bill already passed by the Senate that is held up over objections from progressives.
Those objections have created a stalemate over President Biden’s agenda that led to a visit to the House caucus by Biden earlier Friday afternoon.
The extension was included in the larger infrastructure bill, but it’s unclear when that measure will get a House vote.
McGovern signaled Friday afternoon that Democrats plan to use a fast-track process to greenlight funding for the surface transportation programs lapsed. But did he not specify further.
“We’re going to move forward on this 30-day extension,” McGovern said, leaving Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) office.
A notice was sent out from House Majority Steny Hoyer’s (D-Md.) office saying votes would take place later in the evening.
It’s possible the extension could be passed quickly if both parties agree to the move.
McGovern dodged questions on whether the move indicated the bipartisan infrastructure bill wouldn’t be passed on Friday night.
“That’s not my decision,” he said.
— Aris Folley
President Biden huddled Friday with House Democrats in a high-stakes effort to salvage his domestic agenda by attempting to ease tensions between the clashing centrist and progressive factions of the caucus.
Biden did not exhort his fellow Democrats to adhere to a specific timeline on passing the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill or the broader package to expand social safety programs during the roughly 40-minute meeting in the Capitol basement.
Instead, Biden focused on urging them to come together as centrists and progressives have remained at odds whether to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill as soon as Friday or wait until they secure commitments on the social spending package from two key holdouts in the Senate.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s in six minutes, six days, or in six weeks. We’re going to get it done,” Biden told reporters afterward.
Democrats left the meeting under the impression that Biden wasn’t exhorting them to immediately pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill, after Democratic leaders have twice postponed a vote on its passage this week.
“No one had a specific timeline, but it’s not today,” said progressive Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.).
Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.), one of the centrists who secured the original commitment from Democratic leaders to vote this week on the bipartisan bill, expressed frustration that the House vote didn’t appear to be imminent after Biden’s appearance.
“I’m very disappointed,” Costa said.
President Biden arrived on Capitol Hill shortly before 4 p.m. in a bid to unify congressional Democrats who are fractured over how to move forward on his $4 trillion economic agenda.
The president walked into a closed-door meeting with House Democrats, accompanied by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and other House leaders.
VIDEO of BIDEN arriving at Capitol pic.twitter.com/RbsamE3RhC
— Scott Wong (@scottwongDC) October 1, 2021
Other White House officials who made the short trek with Biden to the Hill included top aides Steve Ricchetti; Cedric Richmond, a former House member; Louisa Terrell, head of White House Legislative Affairs; and Shuwanza Goff, Terrell’s deputy.
Biden waved as he walked by a throng of reporters and TV cameras but didn’t stop to answer questions.
When Biden first set foot in the Capitol, the former senator’s old stomping ground, he greeted Hoyer with a handshake: “Permission to come aboard.”
Biden asks Hoyer for “permission to come aboard” as he arrives at the Capitol pic.twitter.com/wy8jW0Ydjc
— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) October 1, 2021
— Scott Wong
Biden to meet with Democratic caucus
President Biden will travel to Capitol Hill Friday afternoon to meet with members of the House Democratic caucus, the White House said.
The planned trip to Capitol Hill comes as Democrats wrangle over their $3.5 trillion reconciliation package.
House Democrats were forced to delay a scheduled vote on the separate, Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill on Thursday evening as progressives vowed to oppose it without movement on the larger package. Moderate Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) have opposed the $3.5 trillion price tag and other elements of the package, raising doubts about its fate in the evenly-split Senate.
Biden’s presence on Capitol Hill will be a significant development and shows the president getting involved in the negotiations beyond private phone calls and meetings at the White House.
Biden, a former senator from Delaware and self-proclaimed dealmaker, has only traveled to Capitol Hill once before during his short tenure as president. That trip occurred when he sought to rally lawmakers behind his bipartisan infrastructure framework and a larger reconciliation package.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said House Democrats will hold a second closed-door caucus meeting Friday afternoon amid a standoff in the party over President Biden’s $3.5 trillion reconciliation package.
His announcement came after a meeting of rank-and-file Democrats that lasted more than two hours and yielded no resolution.
Hoyer said it was unclear if President Biden would make the trek to Capitol Hill for the second meeting.
“My expectation is that we will have another meeting this afternoon, that we are working on trying to get to a place where everybody is comfortable. And I believe there’s overwhelming support in our caucus, almost unanimous support in our caucus for both the BIF [infrastructure bill] and the Build Back Better,” Hoyer said leaving the first caucus meeting.
“And we’re going to have additional discussions of how that end is accomplished.”
Democrats including Rep. Dean Phillips (Minn.) said they want to see Biden address the caucus Friday.
“I’d like to see the president,” he said. “I think the president might be the only person that can bridge both the trust gap and the timing gap.”
The House is scheduled to leave town Friday for a long two-week recess, raising questions about whether Democratic leaders will alter the calendar and keep lawmakers in town to vote on Biden’s agenda if a deal is reached in the coming days.
But Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who’s been the face of the liberal resistance to a stand-alone infrastructure bill, said she’s going nowhere.
“I’m here, baby,” she said leaving the caucus meeting. “I’ll be here as long as I need to.”
Jayapal said she has not been in direct talks with Manchin or Sinema. But in recent days she’s been in touch with Pelosi and other Democratic leaders to articulate that liberals oppose any strategy that divorces the infrastructure and reconciliation bills — and they have the numbers to sink the former.
— Mike Lillis
The House may take up a 30-day extension of surface transportation programs that expired with the end of the fiscal year on Thursday, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) confirmed.
The $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill would renew those highway and transit construction programs, but the House still has yet to vote on that measure amid Democratic infighting over the larger, social benefits spending package.
DeFazio said that no decision had been made yet on a stand-alone extension, but that any patch would likely last 30 days.
“We haven’t decided the path forward yet,” DeFazio said as he left a House Democratic Caucus meeting. “You can only do 30 days without putting more money into [the Department of Transportation].”
It’s unclear if Republicans, who have hammered Democrats for allowing the highway funding to lapse, will support a short-term patch to relieve the furloughs. The offices of the top GOP leaders – Reps. Kevin McCarthy ((Calif.) and Steve Scalise (La.) — did not respond to requests for comment.
—Cristina Marcos and Mike Lillis
Pelosi and Democrats are meeting in the Capitol basement Friday morning, an effort to ease internal tensions and find a path forward.
Despite some progress in the talks with Manchin and Sinema on Thursday night, neither liberals nor progressives seemed to think there’s time to reach a sweeping agreement on reconciliation quickly enough to win the progressives’ support for an infrastructure vote on Friday.
But leaders are seeking to send a message that progress is happening, and both bills will ultimately get to Biden’s desk, even if it doesn’t happen on everyone’s preferred time frame.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told reporters prior to a meeting of House Democrats on Friday that she still would prefer a Senate vote on a reconciliation bill before the House votes on the bipartisan infrastructure measure.
Democratic leaders and the White House have been holding discussions with two key Senate centrists, Manchin and Sinema, in an effort to agree on a framework for the reconciliation bill.
But Jayapal signaled that an agreement on a reconciliation framework might not be enough for her to want to vote for the infrastructure bill.
“I have consistently said that we need a vote in the Senate, because I want to make sure that there are no delays, that there are no mix ups, that there are no mixed understandings about what the deal is,” Jayapal said. “I am open to hearing what other options there are for that, but I am very concerned about legislative language holding things up, vote-a-rama changing the deal, and those are the things that have to be addressed, along with the content. So it’s both content and process.”
— Naomi Jagoda
Moderate Democrats have said for days that if Pelosi would only bring the infrastructure bill to the floor, liberals will drop their stated opposition and pass the legislation, if only to give Biden a win at a time when his approval numbers are dropping.
But liberals insist they’re not bluffing, and some centrists are now conceding that the bill will fail if it comes up for a vote. But they’re still demanding that the vote be held on Friday.
“I’m tired of being accused of being against the president’s agenda,” Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.), a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus, said Friday morning.
Peters said the Problem Solvers are “owed” a vote, after so many promises from leadership to stage one. And he dismissed the notion that a failed infrastructure vote would hurt Biden and the Democrats at the polls, since Democrats can always pass the bill at a later date after they secure a deal on the reconciliation piece.
“The elections are next year, not next week,” he said. “We’ve got plenty of time to get this right.”
A Democratic leadership aide quickly dismissed the idea that Pelosi will bring the bill to the floor knowing it will fail.
“It’s not gonna happen,” the aide said.