Liberals defy Pelosi, say they’ll block infrastructure bill

Liberals on Thursday vowed to block a popular infrastructure bill — a central piece of President Biden’s domestic agenda — just hours after the president urged their support and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced plans to bring the bipartisan proposal to the House floor for a vote the same day.

The move by dozens of members in the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) was hardly a departure of tactics: Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who chairs the group, has said for months that liberals would oppose the infrastructure bill until there was a concrete agreement with Democratic centrists on a larger social spending package. 

Still, their decision to hold that line constitutes a remarkable escalation of the high-stakes power struggle between Pelosi and the progressive members of her own caucus, who said they simply can’t back the infrastructure bill without greater assurances that a larger social spending bill will contain their priorities.

In an exceptional interaction Thursday, Pelosi walked into a strategic meeting of the CPC, only to leave a short time later without speaking to the group.  

Jayapal emerged not long afterwards to explain the group’s position. With a number of issues still unresolved in the social spending bill — and parts of the text yet to be written — Jayapal said liberals are sticking with their initial strategy, even if it means bucking leadership to delay the vote on the bipartisan infrastructure framework, often referred to as the BIF, until next week. 

“There are … too many ‘no’ votes for the BIF to pass today. However, we are committed to staying here until we get this Build Back Better Act done, get the legislative text,” Jayapal said after huddling in the basement of the Capitol with other members of the CPC. 

Shortly after the Progressive Caucus meeting ended, Democratic leaders posted 1,684 pages of legislative text, reflecting Biden’s priorities, to the Rules Committee’s website. And Pelosi quickly leaned on that development to argue that the liberals’ concerns should be satisfied — a suggestion that the Speaker intends to plow ahead with Thursday’s vote and dare the liberals to sink it. 

“People have said, ‘I want to see text.’ The text is up,” Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol.

Yet the published language Pelosi was referring to, posted just before she took the stage, does not include the policy areas where divisions remain and negotiations continue. It’s those final, unresolved provisions that the liberals are waiting to see — an argument Jayapal amplified several times on Thursday.  

“We understand that it’s 90 percent written; that 10 percent should just hopefully be very quick,” she said.

But extending an olive branch to Biden and leaders, Jayapal said the CPC later Thursday will back a resolution endorsing Biden’s $1.75 trillion framework, which was rolled out by the White House Thursday morning. 

“With the framework that is there, we can endorse that in principle, but we do need to have the legislative text and we will vote both bills through together,” she added.

Other liberals delivered similar praise for the policy, even as they broke with leadership on timing and strategy. 

“The investments that have been outlined are the things that CPC have been fighting for. They exist because we have held the line — of course we endorse them,” progressive Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) told The Hill. “We have full support for the Build Back Better Act.”

In another concession, Jayapal also softened the stipulations surrounding their support for infrastructure, saying they would no longer require the Senate to vote on the social benefits bill beforehand, but would trust Biden’s assurances that all 50 senators are on board.

“We are not asking for it to be passed in the Senate,” she said. “He is our president. He told us that he believes he has the commitment to get this done in the Senate. And we are going to believe the president of the United States.”

In standing firm, Jayapal has plenty of air support from her fellow CPC members. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) told reporters she’s a “hell no” on the infrastructure package unless both bills move through Congress together. And Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.) argued that withholding their votes on the roads-and-bridges bill is the only leverage progressives have to ensure passage of the social spending and climate package.

“If we vote for the BIF, I think that that’s it. I think we lose the other bill. I don’t trust what the senators are going to do,” Vargas said. “In fact, to be fair to the senators, they haven’t said they were going to vote in favor of this thing anyway.”

While most members of the CPC hailed the substance of Biden’s framework, at least one lawmaker was voicing dissent. Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), a first-term progressive, said she felt “bamboozled” by the policy framework unveiled by the White House Thursday morning, voicing concerns that certain family benefits were insufficient. 

The intransigence from progressives has sparked frustration even from some senior members of the CPC.

“That’s one of the problems with these relatively new members who have never operated in a governing majority before in Congress. … They’re very unrealistic, and at some point the law collapses if they don’t help,” House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) told The Hill.

Another progressive, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), predicted the infrastructure bill would still come to the floor on Thursday but that it will fail. 

“I don’t think it will pass if it comes up today, but that doesn’t mean we won’t have a vote,” he said.

Updated at 3:52 p.m.

Tags Ayanna Pressley Build Back Better Congressional Progressive Caucus Cori Bush Infrastructure Joe Biden John Yarmuth Juan Vargas Nancy Pelosi Pramila Jayapal Rashida Tlaib Steve Cohen

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