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Juan Williams: Women wield the power

Sen. Kirsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) addresses reporters after a key vote regarding bipartisan infrastructure legislation on Wednesday, July 28, 2021.
Greg Nash

Women will decide President Biden’s fate — in Congress and beyond.

Biden’s recent slide in the polls really comes down to slack in his support from women. The New York Times reports a recent nine-percentage point drop for support of Biden among women in an average of polls.

{mosads}Biden’s overall poll numbers are sure to be revived if Congress approves his spending plans in two big pieces of legislation. The first would upgrade bridges and roads. The second calls for hugely increased spending on childcare, pre-kindergarten and Medicare, among other things.

The second plan is the one holding the biggest political boost because women love it.

In a Fox News poll conducted in early September, the social safety net plan scored 61 percent support among women compared to 51 percent support among men — a 10-point gender gap.

In a Quinnipiac University poll released last week, the gap was even wider, at 14 percentage points, with 64 percent support among women and 50 percent support among men.

That’s a contrast with the 64 percent of men and 60 percent of women who support Biden’s hard infrastructure bill, according to Quinnipiac. That bill has passed the Senate and is now awaiting a vote in the House.

With the social safety net bill now in the spotlight, the poll numbers explain why women in Congress are at center stage in the current political drama.

In the Senate, Sen. Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.) stirs far more public fury than  Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), even though both are labeled as potential holdouts. Without their votes, the Senate Democrats will fall short of the 50 votes needed for victory.

Both Sinema and Manchin are pushing House Democrats and the president to cut the proposed level of spending in the plan.

Manchin has said he wants only $1.5 trillion to be spent. But asked last week whether he would consider a package around $2 trillion, he said he was “not ruling anything out.”

Sinema has not publicly identified a spending level sure to win her vote. Her hidden strategy has put the focus on her — even when she goes to the toilet.

A woman followed her into a restroom at Arizona State University about one week ago. After the senator closed the door to her stall, the protester still loudly pressed her to pass the “Build Back Better” bill.

“She is the one blocking a path to citizenship, deportation protection, paid family care, climate justice, lower drug costs and so many other things we need,” the group behind the protest said in an email to The Arizona Republic.

Sinema’s lack of public clarity even got her a star turn on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.”

Actress Cecily Strong, playing Sinema, said: “Look, as a wine-drinking, bisexual triathlete, I know what the average American wants. They want to be put on hold when they call 911. They want bridges that just stop, and cars fall down. They want water so thick you can eat it with a fork.”

In real news rather than satire, Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) told MSNBC late last month, “I was not elected to read the mind of Kyrsten Sinema. Thank goodness, ’cause I have no idea what she’s thinking.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I- Vt.) expressed frustration with Sinema too.

“Sen. Sinema’s position is that she does not negotiate publicly. I don’t know what that means…don’t know where she is coming from. Tell us what you want,” Sanders said at a press conference last week, calling her out for her vagueness when the political stakes are so high.

Negotiations in the House also feature women at center stage.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is the best known of any of the leading figures, male or female. That’s no surprise. Nor is it any shock that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the charismatic, 31-year-old left-winger, is taking a key role on the progressive side.

The surprising new player is Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), head of the 96-member Congressional Progressive Caucus.

She is Sinema’s mirror image in negotiations over the bill in the House.

Responding to pressure to cut the cost of the social programs bill to less than half its initial $3.5 trillion price tag, Jayapal told CNN, “That’s not going to happen. That’s too small to get our priorities in.”

Jayapal is open to negotiating. But she put down a clear marker by saying the funding level for the bill must be big enough to “deliver…childcare, paid leave and climate change, [and] housing.”

Her brass tack requirements highlight benefits for women, especially working mothers looking to get back into the workforce after taking care of children at home during the pandemic.

Jayapal is insisting on delaying approval of the bill to improve bridges and roads until there is a simultaneous move to strengthen the social safety net. She wants assurances that that bill will have the votes to pass in the Senate.

{mossecondads}By withholding her caucus’ votes, Jayapal can kill the hard infrastructure bill if Sinema’s preferred funding level for the social programs bill does not meet her goals.

Another woman on stage for the political drama is the White House’s director of legislative affairs, Louisa Terrell.

Terrell helped Biden get his American Rescue Plan through Congress earlier this year. Now the president clearly needs two more big wins to improve his poll numbers and the political prospects for Democrats going into 2022.

Biden won 57 percent of the female vote in 2020 according to exit polls.

Women powered Biden’s victory. Now he is depending on them to deliver once again.

Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Bernie Sanders Build Back Better gender politics Infrastructure Joe Biden Joe Manchin Kyrsten Sinema Louisa Terrell Nancy Pelosi Pramila Jayapal Women in politics

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