Oct 29, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Progressives “bamboozled” by Biden meeting

Rep. Cori Bush is seen surrounded by reporters on Thursday.
Rep. Cori Bush speaks after President Biden met with House Democrats on Thursday. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi huffed and puffed Thursday, but it was progressives who threatened to blow the whole House down if their demands weren't met.

Why it matters: The old guard leading the White House and Congress has learned for the second time in a month their pressure tactics no longer work with a new wave of Democrats. And in their high-stakes game of chicken, each is warning the other their demands could cost the party the White House and its congressional majorities.

  • The split over whether to pass the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill without first passing the president's $1.75 trillion social safety net expansion sparked deep emotions on both sides.
  • “I feel a little bamboozled, because this is not what I thought was coming today," Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) said after Biden met with the House Democratic caucus. She said the two packages need to "ride together."
  • Biden bluntly told his fellow Democrats: "The House and Senate majorities and my presidency will be determined by what happens in the next week.”

Even after a text of the bill was released — a nonnegotiable demand of progressives — the Congressional Progressive Caucus said that wasn't enough.

  • "There is too much at stake for working families and our communities to settle for something that can be later misunderstood, amended or abandoned altogether," the group said in a statement at day's end.
  • "That is why dozens of our members insist on keeping both bills linked and cannot vote only for one until they can be voted on together."

The big picture: Biden tried to set off a legislative depth charge Thursday. With Pelosi's support, he made a declaration without a deal.

  • Biden said a framework for the $1.75 trillion package should be enough to win the progressives' support for the $1.2 trillion roads and bridges bill that's already cleared the Senate — with Republican support.
  • The president even delayed his trip to Rome for the G20 summit to make his case in person before the Democratic caucus.
  • But the progressives, cheered on by their Senate compatriot, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), stuck by their demand to have both bills voted upon simultaneously.
  • That set off a furious, daylong scramble to mollify the holdouts.

Between the lines: Pelosi told the caucus attendees she wanted the infrastructure bill passed by the time Biden landed in Italy.

  • She then sat silently in the room as progressives huddled, seeing if they would yield to her demand.
  • Hours later, she held a news conference as her leadership team met a key progressive demand: releasing a nearly 2,000-page text detailing elements of the $1.75 trillion package.
  • "The text is up for review," Pelosi told reporters. "For those who said, 'I want to see the text,' the text is there."
  • The speaker, however, did not immediately schedule the vote she'd earlier pledged.

What they're saying: Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), a moderate who says he hasn’t yet reviewed the social spending bill, told Axios the delay is “not good” and a “self-inflicted wound we don’t need.”

  • He added that it’s a “failure on the part of progressives, trying to take down the president — not smart.”
  • Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), another moderate, was visibly frustrated by the delay.
  • Shaking a stack of papers outlining the infrastructure benefits for her state, she said: “So, I guess we'll just wait, because evidently failing roads and bridges can just wait in the minds of some people.”
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