Sep 20, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Pelosi's back-to-school math problem

Illustration of a chalkboard with a math equation featuring the capitol dome, a donkey, and a hundred dollar bill

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) may need votes from an unlikely source — the Republican Party — if she hopes to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill by next Monday, as she's promised Democratic centrists.

Why it matters: With at least 20 progressives threatening to vote against the $1.2 trillion bipartisan bill, centrist members are banking on more than 10 Republicans to approve the bill.

  • While Pelosi is a master at counting votes in her own party, she has less experience getting an accurate read on the Republican side of the aisle.

What we're hearing: Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the House Republican whip and an opponent of advancing the bill, has been quietly counting how many Republicans are expected to vote for it.

  • Members returned to town Monday after spending most of the past seven weeks on recess, giving them a chance to have face-to-face conversations and figure out where they stand.
  • Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump earlier this year, also is privately taking the temperature of his GOP colleagues.
  • Upton, a member of the moderate Problem Solvers Caucus, is in favor of advancing the legislation.

Pelosi's other option is to convince the 10 centrists that she needs more time to pass the concurrent $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package.

  • The White House continues to coordinate its strategy with congressional leaders and is starting to engage with the centrists, with Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council, and Louisa Terrell, the head of legislative affairs, scheduled to meet with the New Democrat Coalition on Tuesday afternoon.
  • The Business Roundtable also is weighing in, urging lawmakers to vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill by Sept. 27.
  • "The House should not delay in sending this bill to the president’s desk," Joshua Bolten, the BRT's president and chief executive officer, said in a letter sent to lawmakers Monday night.

Axios talked to a number of House Republican members and aides about how many Republicans they think would support the $1.2 trillion bipartisan bill.

  • Their answers ranged anywhere from roughly 20 to fewer than 10.
  • Some predicted a hefty portion of the yeas would come from the 28 Republicans in the Problem Solvers Caucus.
  • Those expecting a lower number said few Republicans will ultimately buck leadership, since Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the House minority leader, joins Scalise in opposing the bill.

Meanwhile, progressives like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Cori Bush (D-Mo.) promise they have the votes to ensure the bipartisan bill won't pass the House until it approves the $3.5 trillion legislation.

  • They believe they have the numbers to hold the line — echoing a statement last week from Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
  • “I feel very confident in our numbers, and it is far beyond 20,” Jayapal told Politico. She said more than half of her 96-member caucus has privately indicated they’re willing to block the bipartisan bill.
  • Ocasio-Cortez went even further on Monday, telling reporters that both the House and Senate must approve the reconciliation bill before she's willing to vote in favor of the broader bipartisan measure.

What they're saying: "The speaker's plan remains to get this done via the two-track strategy,” a House leadership aide told Axios.

  • Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, told reporters Monday night the best-case scenario is that the reconciliation bill will be ready for a floor vote late next week.
  • “Basically, everything's sort of dependent on what happens in the next 48 hours."

Be smart: Passing these dual infrastructure bills is at the top of the Biden administration's agenda. Both bills matter, and both are in jeopardy of potentially failing due to time pressures and intra-party demands.

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