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Tensions rise as Democrats face Senate bottleneck on agenda

Frustrations are building among congressional Democrats as the party’s priorities pile up in the Senate.

Legislation granting statehood to Washington, D.C., approved by the House on Thursday, is just the latest big agenda item that is set to stall out on the other side of Capitol Hill.

In the majority-run House, Democrats are passing the party’s big priorities along party lines. In the Senate, Republicans can block most legislation with the filibuster, putting the focus on approving President BidenJoe Biden Pence said he's 'proud' Congress certified Biden's win on Jan. 6 Americans put the most trust in their doctor for COVID-19 information: poll US to give Afghanistan 3M doses of J&J vaccine MORE's nominees and moving smaller bipartisan measures.

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Irritation between members of the same party over the differences between the chambers are a time-honored tradition, but that doesn’t make them any less annoying to those living through them.

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerDemocrats fear they are running out of time on Biden agenda Tech industry pushes for delay in antitrust legislation Biden signs Juneteenth bill: 'Great nations don't ignore their most painful moments' MORE (D-Md.) characterized himself as “frustrated.”

“Hopefully, at some point in time, the people themselves will say to the United States Senate, and their representatives in the United States Senate will say, it is undemocratic, with a small D. It is un-American to have the minority hold the majority hostage,” Hoyer told reporters.

A group of House Democrats held a press conference on Thursday to urge Senate Democrats to get rid of the 60-vote legislative filibuster.

“My constituents do not care about arcane Senate rules and procedures. ... We have sent bill after bill after bill to that side of the Capitol,” said Rep. Jason CrowJason CrowOvernight Defense: Biden, Putin agree to launch arms control talks at summit | 2002 war authorization repeal will get Senate vote | GOP rep warns Biden 'blood with be on his hands' without Afghan interpreter evacuation GOP rep: If Biden doesn't evacuate Afghan interpreters, 'blood will be on his hands' Pelosi floats Democrat-led investigation of Jan. 6 as commission alternative MORE (D-Colo.), a military veteran who flipped a red seat in 2018.

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Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalDemocrats seek to calm nervous left California Democrats clash over tech antitrust fight House advances five bills targeting Big Tech after overnight slugfest MORE (D-Wash.), the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, warned that if Democrats let the filibuster block big pieces of the party’s agenda there would be blowback in the next election.

“They’re either not going to come out and vote for you next time or they’re going to vote for the other guy,” she said.

Democrats pledged to go “bold” if they won back control of Congress, with Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats seek to calm nervous left Biden says he won't sign bipartisan bill without reconciliation bill The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senators, White House to meet on potential infrastructure deal MORE (D-N.Y.) vowing to shake off the chamber’s “legislative graveyard” status after House Democrats watched their priorities get ignored by the GOP-controlled Senate in the final two years of the Trump administration.

“Today, with the filibuster in place, with Democrats in control in the Senate, it’s still Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellRevs. Jesse Jackson, William Barber arrested in protest urging Manchin to nix filibuster On The Money: Biden announces bipartisan deal on infrastructure, but Democratic leaders hold out for more McConnell slams Biden for already 'caving' to left on infrastructure deal MORE’s graveyard,” Jayapal said, referring to the Senate Republican leader.

House Democrats have already passed a laundry list of big priorities for Biden and progressives: a sweeping election reform bill, a bill to expand background checks, legal protections for some undocumented immigrants, a measure strengthening the voting rights bill and LGBTQ protections.

House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiEquilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by NextEra Energy — Set millions of tires on fire, pay less than ,000 On The Money: Biden announces bipartisan deal on infrastructure, but Democratic leaders hold out for more Democrats seek to calm nervous left MORE (D-Calif.) declined to weigh in on the filibuster debate, saying whether or not Democrats would “have any progress on all these fronts ... well, that’s a debate for the Senate.”

Democrats don’t have the 50 votes needed to nix the filibuster and change the rules, a perennial sore spot for the party’s base.

“You know I'd abolish the filibuster tomorrow. I'm sick and tired of what's been happening in the gridlock in the Senate on voting rights and on so many other things,” Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharDemocrats hit wall on voting rights push Senate Democrats call for FDA action on high levels of heavy metals in some baby food Hillicon Valley: Tech antitrust bills create strange bedfellows in House markup | Rick Scott blocks Senate vote on top cyber nominee until Harris visits border | John McAfee dies MORE (D-Minn.), who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, said during an interview with MSNBC.

But the problem is bigger than just the legislative filibuster. Some parts of the party’s agenda don’t even have 50 votes in the Senate.

There are still five Senate Democrats who haven’t signed on to a bill supporting D.C. statehood. That puts the bill short of the votes needed to pass even if Democrats got rid of the filibuster.

Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDemocrats hit wall on voting rights push Communion vote puts spotlight on Hispanic Catholics Biden at Sen. John Warner's funeral: He 'gave me confidence' MORE (D-Va.), who supports D.C. statehood, called linking nixing the filibuster to getting rid of D.C. statehood “premature.”

“I don’t think just in a matter of what we’re going to be dealing with — the biggest priority is infrastructure and voting rights, those are the first two. So I don’t foresee there’s going to be floor action on this anytime soon, so I would say let’s get through the things that are the ones that we have kind of embraced as the urgent ones,” Kaine said. 

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Senate Democrats are digging in on infrastructure. And after passing an anti-Asian hate crimes bill, they are expected to spend next week on Biden nominees and a water bill. 

Schumer is supportive of D.C. statehood, which he described as “an idea whose time has come,” but hasn’t pledged to give it a vote.

“We're going to do everything we can to pass it,” he told reporters.

It’s isn’t just D.C. statehood — the Rules Committee will mark up a sweeping election reform bill early next month. But it’s deeply opposed by Republicans, and Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinRevs. Jesse Jackson, William Barber arrested in protest urging Manchin to nix filibuster Democrats introduce equal pay legislation for US national team athletes Democrats seek to calm nervous left MORE (D-W.Va.) has drawn a line saying that any bill should be bipartisan, potentially depriving it of 50 votes. 

After eight Democrats joined all Republicans in opposing a $15 per hour minimum wage proposal in coronavirus relief legislation, the issue has largely fallen to the backburner. Other buzzy progressive goals, including the Green New Deal or expanding the Supreme Court, lose more Democratic support and are unlikely to get brought to the House floor, much less the Senate.

Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetDemocrats make full-court press on expanded child tax credit Congress needs to fix the broken market for antibiotic development Schumer vows to only pass infrastructure package that is 'a strong, bold climate bill' MORE (D-Colo.), who made an unsuccessful bid for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination, said he didn't support expanding the Supreme Court.

“I don't think the American public is interested in having the Supreme Court expanded,” he said.

Instead, the strategy on the filibuster among Senate Democrats is to bring up bills that garner 50 votes within their own caucus. The hope is two-fold: First, that it will force Republicans to go on the record against popular ideas, and second, it will show holdouts that without changes, big pieces of their agenda won’t be able to make it to Biden’s desk.

“We can’t just assume that they’ll block them. We have to give them opportunities to get on board and then if they block things that we have a mandate to do ... that will also be instructive,” Kaine said.

There are some signs of bipartisan progress on certain issues.

After police reform stalled out last year in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden announces bipartisan infrastructure deal | DOJ backs Trump-era approval of Line 3 permit | Biden hits China on solar panels Lawmakers come to bipartisan framework agreement on police reform Bipartisan agriculture climate bill clears Senate MORE (D-N.J.), Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottLawmakers come to bipartisan framework agreement on police reform The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden to review infrastructure deal Thousands sent to emergency rooms every year due to violent police encounters: investigation MORE (R-S.C.) and Rep. Karen BassKaren Ruth BassLawmakers come to bipartisan framework agreement on police reform California Democrats clash over tech antitrust fight Thousands sent to emergency rooms every year due to violent police encounters: investigation MORE (D-Calif.) say they are making progress and are hoping for language in a matter of weeks.

But Bass also acknowledged that there was frustration among House Democrats about the lack of progress on bills being sent over to the Senate, saying: “Of course. Of course there is.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinDemocrats hit wall on voting rights push Democrats hear calls to nix recess 'Killibuster': Democratic angst grows as filibuster threatens agenda MORE (D-Ill.) is leading a bipartisan group that he says includes 10 Republicans — the number needed to break a filibuster — on immigration reform that would marry protections for "Dreamers" and agricultural workers with some border elements like more immigration judges or technology.

And Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyBiden says he won't sign bipartisan bill without reconciliation bill Progressives fire warning shot on bipartisan infrastructure deal Senators say White House aides agreed to infrastructure 'framework' MORE (D-Conn.) is holding talks with Republicans on gun reforms, predicting he’ll know by the end of next month if there’s likely to be an agreement.

If the talks fall apart, however, it’s likely to pour fuel onto calls from those within their own party to change the rules.

“The Republicans make the case that the filibuster is an incentive for bipartisanship,” Murphy said. “So let’s test the theory. Let’s see if Republicans really do come to the table on an issue like guns. If they don’t, given how much I’m willing to engage, then it’s increased evidence that the current rules don’t work.”