Sep 22, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Pelosi's endgame

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is seen during a news conference on Tuesday.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appears at a news conference on Tuesday. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) began her infrastructure endgame Tuesday, pressuring centrists to ultimately support as much social spending as possible while pleading with progressives to pass the roads-and-bridges package preceding it.

Why it matters: Neither group can achieve what it wants without the other, their ultimatums be damned. The leaders of both acknowledged the speaker's unique gift for pulling off a deal after separate conversations with Democratic leaders.

  • “I’m optimistic — not only that it will be brought to the floor but that we will have the votes on Monday,” said Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), who led centrist efforts to get Pelosi to promise a vote on the $1.2 trillion bipartisan "hard" infrastructure bill by Sept. 27.
  • The speaker also is leaning on the progressives for raw numbers, meeting Tuesday with Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
  • Over half of Jayapal's group has pledged not to vote for the bipartisan bill if Pelosi doesn't hold a simultaneous vote on the $3.5 trillion "soft" infrastructure focused on expanding the social safety net — meaning the speaker has to turn an estimated 25 "no" votes into "yes" ones.
  • “Speaker Pelosi will get it done," said Rep. Dutch Ruppersberg (D-Md.). "You have to let her do her Baltimore thing.”

Between the lines: By reiterating their intent to bring the infrastructure package to the floor by Monday, Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) are putting pressure — simultaneously — on the two biggest wings of the Democratic Party.

  • Hoyer was clear during a briefing with reporters Tuesday morning: He will put the $1.2 trillion bill on the floor Sept. 27 or Sept. 28 — next Monday or Tuesday.
  • Meanwhile, Hoyer promised to consider the $3.5 trillion package “as soon as it’s ready” — a nod to the reality the Senate still has some heavy lifting to do on a bill that will pass each chamber only with Democratic votes.
  • Later on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) acknowledged that package won’t be done by next week.

The big picture: The White House also is ramping up the pressure, specifically targeting the centrists.

  • Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council, and Louisa Terrell, the head of the Office of Legislative Affairs, met with the New Democrat Coalition on Tuesday.
  • They spent most of their time talking up the $3.5 trillion social spending side of President Biden’s "Build Back Better" infrastructure agenda, several attendees told Axios.
  • Some centrist lawmakers were hoping Deese and Terrell would focus more of their presentation on how the White House will help pass the $1.2 trillion bipartisan bill, according to attendees.
  • The president will host a series of meetings Wednesday with House members and senators across the ideological spectrum of the Democratic Party — including centrists — to hear their perspectives and make the case for his agenda on infrastructure, a source familiar with the plans told Axios.

Between the lines: The 10 House centrists who forced Pelosi to set the Sept. 27 date now need her help to find the progressives votes to get it passed.

  • "As I’ve said, there’s no one better at getting votes than Speaker Pelosi,” Gottheimer told reporters.
  • “I can't solve the riddle for you," said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) "You're gonna have to wait and see, just like me.”
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