Live Updates: Biden to Visit Capitol Hill, Seeking to Unite Democrats Around His Agenda
President Biden will attend a private meeting of House Democrats on Friday afternoon, seeking to unite his party behind both pieces of his domestic agenda as they remain mired in deep internal divisions.
His appearance comes after days of increasingly bitter feuding among liberal and moderate factions in the party culminated on Thursday in a decision by Democratic leaders to delay a planned vote on a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package because of a progressive blockade.
A closed-door meeting called by Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday morning did little to resolve the disputes, as lawmakers from swing districts pleaded for passage of the infrastructure bill and liberals in safe Democratic seats insisted that they would not vote yes until the Senate passed an ambitious climate change and social safety net measure.
Ms. Pelosi suggested they would soon hear from the president, and the White House announced that Mr. Biden would attend a 3:30 p.m. meeting on Capitol Hill.
Many Democrats have issued public pleas for Mr. Biden to become more personally involved in the negotiations, saying he needed to step in to allay the mistrust and frustration that has escalated during the impasse over how to pass his agenda.
“I think the President might be the only person that can bridge both the trust gap and the timing gap,” said Representative Dean Phillips, Democrat of Minnesota.
Ms. Pelosi convened the morning meeting with an appeal for unity, telling her troops they could stay strong if they united, according to multiple people familiar with the session who described it on the condition of anonymity.
Her top lieutenants, including Representatives Frank Pallone of New Jersey, the Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, and Richard Neal of Massachusetts, the Ways and Means Committee chairman, tried to buck up the Democratic Caucus by touting the elements of their $3.5 trillion domestic policy bill: measures to tackle climate change, bring down prescription drug costs and raise tax rates on the rich and on corporations.
But with two key centrist senators balking at the size and ambitions of that measure, the appeals did not appear to break the logjam. Politically vulnerable Democrats were left to plead with their liberal colleagues to lift their blockade of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which they argued was needed to show their party could govern.
Ms. Pelosi, for her part, said she would not force a vote on the legislation before a broader agreement could be reached on the rest of President Biden’s agenda.
“I cannot and I will not ask you to vote for” the infrastructure bill, she said, “until we have the best possible deal.”
“And it’s not just me, it’s the president,” she added, according to people familiar with her comments. But there was little clarity about possible votes on Friday.
“I’d like to bring up the vote today — I’d like to win the vote today,” Ms. Pelosi said. “That’s my answer to the question about what time the vote will be today.”
Many Democrats were growing impatient. Representative Abigail Spanberger, from a Virginia district that was long held by Republicans before her win in 2018, argued that the party could still fight climate change even without the follow-on climate bill. The infrastructure legislation includes billions of dollars for electric vehicle recharging stations, fortification of the electricity grid to power those vehicles, and projects to make climate-ravaged areas more resilient.
Another moderate, Representative Tom Malinowski of New Jersey, told members the House should stay through the weekend to find a compromise, a sentiment backed by other lawmakers. Yet progressives showed little inclination to budge.
The meeting Friday came after a late-night decision by Ms. Pelosi to delay the infrastructure vote, an abrupt reversal after she had spent much of Thursday insisting there would be action on the bill that day. Just before 11 p.m., the vote was postponed, giving Democrats more time to reach agreement on the larger bill.
Leaving the Capitol just after midnight, Ms. Pelosi told reporters “we’re not trillions of dollars apart” and vowed “there will be a vote today” on the infrastructure measure.
The public works bill, which would provide $550 billion in new funding, was supposed to burnish Mr. Biden’s bipartisan bona fides. It would devote $65 billion to expand high-speed internet access; $110 billion for roads, bridges and other projects; $25 billion for airports; and the most funding for Amtrak since the passenger rail service was founded in 1971. It would also accelerate a national shift toward electric vehicles with new charging stations and fortifications of the electricity grid that will be necessary to power those cars.
But Representative Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington and the head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and other progressive leaders for weeks had said they would oppose it until they saw action on the legislation they really wanted — a far-reaching bill with paid family leave, universal prekindergarten, Medicare expansion and strong measures to combat climate change.
“Nobody should be surprised that we are where we are, because we’ve been telling you that for three and a half months,” Ms. Jayapal said.
It is the first day of October. The air is crisp in Washington, Halloween is near, and yes, it’s time for that same Green Day joke about September ending.
But in the House of Representatives, it is still Sept. 30.
When Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Democratic leaders moved Thursday night to delay a planned vote on a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, they also effectively stopped time, hitting a legislative “pause” button that was aimed at placating the moderate wing of their party.
Only in Congress, which is governed by arcane rules and traditions that often operate like a parallel reality, is it possible to extend a day for more than 24 hours. In this case, by keeping the House in recess on Thursday night, instead of adjourning as it does at the end of most days, leaders were able to keep the chamber in the Sept. 30 legislative day, regardless of the actual passage of time.
It allowed lawmakers, aides and White House officials who had toiled all day to reach an elusive deal among warring Democratic factions on President Biden’s flagship domestic policy bill to go home for a few hours of sleep without officially calling it quits. And it smoothed the path for leaders pushing to strike a compromise on Friday to head immediately to the floor for a vote if they are able to reach a breakthrough.
But the bigger reason for Ms. Pelosi’s calendar trick was political. She had promised a group of moderate Democrats who demanded a vote on the infrastructure bill this week that it would see action by Sept. 30. By refusing to allow Oct. 1 to roll around, Ms. Pelosi was upholding her commitment in the very most technical of ways, and offering the moderates a fig leaf to cover for the failure to secure the vote they had been promised.
“It ain’t over yet! This is just one long legislative day — we literally aren’t adjourning,” Representative Josh Gottheimer, Democrat of New Jersey and a leading proponent of the infrastructure measure, wrote on Twitter late Thursday evening. “Negotiations are still ongoing, and we’re continuing to work. As I said earlier: grabbing some Gatorade and Red Bull.”
Progressive activists have long lamented what they see as liberal lawmakers’ tendency to back down in the middle of tough negotiations with Democratic leaders. Not so last night.
With the nearly 100-member Congressional Progressive Caucus holding firm against passing a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill until it sees action on the Build Back Better plan — a far more ambitious $3.5 trillion social spending and climate change policy package — liberal members of the House forced their leaders to delay a planned vote on the public-works measure, a priority of centrist Democrats.
Liberal lawmakers immediately took a victory lap after the postponement, and activists allied with them hailed the delay as a victory for pushing forward with the larger spending bill, which is moving through Congress through a budget process known as reconciliation.
“The Congressional Progressive Caucus did its name justice, aligning with constituents instead of corporations in protecting the fate of the Build Back Better plan,” trumpeted the Green New Deal Network, a national coalition of environmental groups. “The victory is a testimony to the grass roots that showed up to vote in progressive leaders while also advancing progressive agendas to secure a bold investment in climate, care, jobs and justice. It is a step forward to passing the Build Back Better Act.”
Representative Jamaal Bowman, Democrat of New York, wrote on Twitter: “We can’t run on progressive policies and not govern on them.”
We can’t run on progressive policies and not govern on them. We are here to do the people’s work.
— Jamaal Bowman (@JamaalBowmanNY) October 1, 2021
Before the vote on the infrastructure bill was delayed late on Thursday evening, Representative Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington and leader of the progressive caucus, encouraged members during a private meeting to vote “no” on the infrastructure bill if Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it to the floor. But she also told caucus members not to gloat if they were victorious, according to a person with knowledge of her comments.
Representative Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota and the whip, or top vote-counter, for the progressives, nevertheless took aim at Representative Josh Gottheimer, Democrat of New Jersey, a leading centrist who had confidently declared that he was “1,000 percent” sure that the infrastructure bill would pass Thursday.
“In Congress, we don’t make predictions like this until we know we have the votes,” Ms. Omar wrote on Twitter. “Some of us get this, others bluff & fall on their face. Hopefully, @JoshGottheimer and the other 4% of Democrats will not obstruct but negotiate and help us get @POTUS’s agenda done for the people.”
In Congress, we don’t make predictions like this until we know we have the votes. Some of us get this, others bluff & fall on their face.
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) October 1, 2021
The liberals’ tactics were reminiscent of those employed in the past on the right by the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus, whose members routinely threatened to withhold their bloc of votes unless Republican leaders met their demands. More moderate Republicans, particularly those from competitive districts, became incensed with the group, blaming its members for standing in the way of popular bills that were political imperatives.
On Thursday, some politically vulnerable Democrats from conservative-leaning districts were similarly angry at their progressive counterparts for holding up a bill that has broad support.
“When Iowans tell me they are sick of Washington games, this is what they mean,” Representative Cindy Axne of Iowa said in a statement after leaders announced the delay of the infrastructure vote. “All-at-once or nothing is no way to govern.”
The stand by progressive lawmakers came amid a rise of activism aimed at Congress by the left. On Thursday, activists held signs in front of the Capitol that said “Pass Reconciliation First,” and another group of activists paddled kayaks to confront Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia and a key holdout on the $3.5 trillion bill, in the waters next to his large houseboat docked at a Washington marina.
On the other side of the country, a group with a sign saying “Override the Parliamentarian” shut down traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge.
The parliamentarian, an official little known outside the Beltway, is the Senate’s top rules enforcer. Since 2012, the post has been held by a former civil servant, Elizabeth MacDonough. She has rejected several proposals progressives are pressing to include in the reconciliation bill, including two separate efforts to create a path to citizenship for about eight million immigrants.
The wrenching intraparty battle taking place among Democrats on Capitol Hill is a unique, perhaps historical, reckoning — but it is also the most Groundhog Day of Washington crises: a frenzy of last-second action preceded by epic procrastination.
The stakes are immense: President Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan, another $3.5 trillion toward human capital and social welfare programs, the fate of the progressive agenda and, quite possibly, the viability of a fragile Democratic governing coalition.
Which explains why Democrats have delayed the current confrontation like it was the mother of all dentist’s appointments.
Just how much they procrastinated became all too apparent on Thursday. The declaration by Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia that liberals needed to pare $2 trillion from their social spending plan to get his vote stunned many Democrats, who had assumed their leaders had gotten much closer to a deal since July, when a preliminary agreement on infrastructure was announced.
“I am trying to get something over the finish line at the last minute this week too, so I get it, I really do,” wrote Luppe B. Luppen, a liberal New York City based lawyer and commentator on Twitter Thursday night. “But we all would’ve been so much better off if the events of today in Congress had happened on like august 5th.”
I am trying to get something over the finish line at the last minute this week too, so I get it, I really do. But we all would’ve been so much better off if the events of today in Congress had happened on like august 5th, and afaik there’s not much reason they couldn’t have.
— southpaw (@nycsouthpaw) October 1, 2021
Serious negotiations did not really hit stride until the past two weeks, according to congressional and White House aides. The intense final round of talks, intended to close a gap of many hundreds of billions between warring Democratic factions, began in just the past 48 hours, as the party crashed through House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s self-imposed deadline for a deal.
The slow-walk, fast-finish pace — however maddening to all involved — is part of a venerable legislative pattern that dates back decades.
Most of the biggest budget packages and sweeping legislative deals in recent history have been the subject of intense 11th-hour horse-trading, very often between Democratic progressives and party conservatives. (The historian Robert Caro has filled volumes with details of Lyndon Johnson’s high-pressure tactics in ramming through civil rights legislation both as a Senate leader and as president.)
But the proliferation of dramatic, last-second deals has increased dramatically in the hyperpartisan environment of the past quarter-century. That has made every issue that requires bipartisan cooperation a choke point, and matters like budget-making and fiscal policy, once routine, have become subject to anguished last-minute negotiations, giving individual lawmakers — like Mr. Manchin — immense power to veto, alter and delay.
Like severe weather, the legislative procrastination is getting worse. Over the last decade, raising the debt limit, once a pro forma vote, has become an issue of heated contention, often pushing the country to the brink of crisis. Late Thursday, House and Senate Democrats — with Republicans voting no as a bloc — passed an extension of the limit through December, hours before it was set to expire.
It was, arguably, the easiest of their legislative lifts this week.
Spending battles, even when it comes to more mundane yearly budget negotiations, are even harder to resolve. They are now always settled at the 11th hour, or far past deadline — as evidenced by 22 government shutdowns since 1980 — with each faction seeking to leverage fear over delays and shutdowns to their advantage.
The longest was the most recent, a 35-day shutdown from late 2018 to early 2019 that occurred when former President Donald J. Trump tried, and failed, to pay for his plan to build a wall on the border with Mexico. But both President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama presided over shutdowns of two to three weeks.
The funding measures being discussed this week are even more monumental, transformative and politically charged. And at the center of it all is Mr. Biden, a former Senator who views the upper chamber as a benign deliberative body that has the right to take its time. He is not prone to make the kind of the lapel-clutching demands of Mr. Manchin that President Johnson would have, but the pressure on him is increasing.
Thus far, the pace of negotiations has been dictated by the legislative leaders like Ms. Pelosi., who is eager to prove things are moving ahead but unable as of yet to control the outcome.
She spent much of Thursday insisting she would get an infrastructure bill to the House floor before midnight.
As Thursday dragged into Friday, and September became October, Ms. Pelosi conceded the vote would be delayed, telling reporters “we’re not trillions of dollars apart” and cheerfully asserting “there will be a vote today.”
Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a key centrist holdout, panned the prospects of reaching a deal on Thursday on a framework for an expansive domestic and social policy package, holding firm to a $1.5 trillion price tag that liberals have said is too small.
Emerging late in the evening from a lengthy huddle with top White House officials and Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Mr. Manchin said, “I don’t see a deal tonight, I really don’t.”
The comments underscored just how far apart the intraparty factions were as they struggled to salvage both pieces of President Biden’s sprawling economic agenda. On a day when Congress united to keep the government funded until early December, divisions within the Democratic Party threatened his $1 trillion infrastructure bill as well as the social spending bill.
Hours after Mr. Manchin confirmed that he would not support anything larger than $1.5 trillion in social spending — less than half of what liberals have sought — efforts to hammer out a framework had yet to deliver a deal.
“I’m at $1.5 trillion — I think $1.5 trillion does exactly the necessary things we need to do,” he said. Ms. Sinema did not comment as she left the meeting.
Liberal House Democrats have so far refused to support a final vote on the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill Mr. Manchin helped negotiate without a vote on the sprawling domestic policy package carrying many of their legislative ambitions. White House officials — Louisa Terrell, the director of legislative affairs; Brian Deese, the director of the National Economic Council; and Susan Rice, the director of the Domestic Policy Council — shuttled between meetings with Democratic leaders and the two centrist holdouts.
In a letter to her caucus late on Thursday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi offered few updates but counseled that “it has been a day of progress in fulfilling the president’s vision.”
“All of this momentum brings us closer to shaping the reconciliation bill in a manner that will pass the House and Senate,” she wrote. But she delayed the vote on the infrastructure bill, which she had pledged to bring to the House floor on Thursday.
External pressure was intensifying on both sides of the entrenched debate. The A.F.L.-C.I.O. and other labor unions issued statements in support of immediately taking up the infrastructure bill, while grass-roots organizations were cheering liberal lawmakers to “hold the line” and hold out for a reconciliation bill.
Racing to avoid a government shutdown at midnight, President Biden signed a spending bill on Thursday evening that extends federal funding through early December and provides emergency aid to support both the resettlement of Afghan refugees and disaster recovery efforts across the country.
The president’s signature came after lawmakers hastily cleared the measure in both chambers earlier in the day. The Senate’s vote was 65 to 35; the House’s was 254 to 175.
“This is a good outcome — one I am happy we are getting done,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, speaking on the Senate floor ahead of the vote. “With so many things happening in Washington, the last thing the American people need is for the government to grind to a halt.”
Lawmakers reached a deal on the spending legislation after Democrats agreed to strip out a provision that would have raised the federal government’s ability to continue borrowing funds through the end of 2022. Senate Republicans blocked an initial funding package on Monday over its inclusion, refusing to give the majority party any of the votes needed to move ahead on a bill to avert a first-ever federal default in the coming weeks.
The legislation keeps the government fully funded through Dec. 3, giving lawmakers additional time to reach consensus over the dozen annual bills that dictate federal spending. It provides $6.3 billion to help Afghan refugees resettle in the United States and $28.6 billion to help communities rebuild from hurricanes, wildfires and other recent natural disasters.
“This bill is not a permanent solution,” said Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee. “I look forward to soon beginning negotiations with my counterparts across the aisle and across the Capitol to complete full year government funding bills.”
“The American people are capable of building a future that is stronger and more prosperous as long as they have the tools they need to do it,” she added. “This bill helps ensure that they have those tools.”
The disaster funding is intended to help communities across the country continue recovering from the damage inflicted in recent years by natural disasters, including Hurricanes Ida, Delta, Zeta, and Laura, as well as wildfires, droughts and winter storms.
The aid for Afghan refugees including funds for emergency housing, English lessons and additional resources.
Before agreeing to the details of the spending bill on Thursday morning, the Senate defeated an amendment proposed by Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, that would have curtailed the duration of some of the benefits for Afghan refugees.
Senators also voted down an amendment, offered by Senator Roger Marshall, Republican of Kansas, that would have barred funds from going toward the implementation and enforcement of Mr. Biden’s coronavirus vaccine mandate, as well as an amendment that would deny lawmakers pay should they fail to pass a budget resolution and the dozen spending bills by Oct. 1.
The Senate took its first procedural step on Thursday to advance a stand-alone bill that would lift the statutory limit on federal borrowing until December 2022, even though it is all but guaranteed to fail amid a Republican filibuster.
Senate Democrats pushed forward with a party-line 50-to-43 vote on the legislation, which cleared the House on Wednesday. A day earlier, the Treasury Department warned that it would hit the limit by Oct. 18 and inaction would risk a first-ever default on the federal debt.
Congress raises the debt limit to cover spending it has already approved, and failure to address that ceiling could force the Treasury Department to default on its loans and struggle to pay Social Security payments and crucial benefits.
Republicans continue to insist that Democrats, who control the White House and both chambers of Congress, should act to lift the debt ceiling without any votes from the minority party. Democrats, who helped raise the cap under the Trump administration, have argued that Republicans should help shoulder the political responsibility for such measure.
But in the Senate, where both parties control 50 seats, Republicans are adamant that they will not help Democrats clear the 60-vote threshold needed to advance most pieces of legislation.
Democrats initially sought to address the debt ceiling with a provision in the funding package passed and signed into law on Thursday to keep the government open through early December, but Senate Republicans blocked its inclusion.
“Despite Republicans’ intransigence, the facts have not changed: we must raise the debt ceiling,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader. “We cannot allow America to default.”
Democrats tried to waive the 60-vote threshold for a stand-alone debt ceiling bill earlier this week, arguing that Republicans just needed to step aside and allow the measure to reach the floor. But Republicans refused to do so, arguing that Democrats should instead use the same fast-track reconciliation process to lift the debt ceiling that they are already planning to use to advance a sprawling social policy bill that could cost as much as $3.5 trillion.
“The conclusion to draw from this week is very clear: Clumsy efforts at partisan jams do not work,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader. “What works is when the majority accepts reality.”
While Democrats are currently using the reconciliation process to advance Mr. Biden’s domestic policy package, they have argued it would be too time-consuming and complex to use it to address the national debt.
The budget reconciliation process allows Congress to advance certain spending and tax bills on a simple majority vote, freeing lawmakers in the Senate from the 60-vote threshold most legislation must meet to be considered. Democrats are aiming to use the process to pass the sweeping $3.5 trillion social safety net and climate change measure, which carries much of President Biden’s agenda, in the face of united Republican opposition.
The process begins with a budget resolution, which establishes a blueprint for federal spending and directs congressional committees to write bills to achieve certain policy results, setting spending and revenues over a certain amount of time. Its name refers to the process of reconciling existing laws with those directives. Here are some key things to know about the legislative maneuver.
The process is subject to strict rules that limit what can be included.
While reconciliation allows senators to scale procedural and scheduling hurdles, it is also subject to strict limits that could constrain the scope of any pandemic relief package Democrats seek to pass.
In the Senate, the “Byrd Rule,” established by former Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, bars extraneous provisions, including any measure that does not change revenues or spending, affects the Social Security program or increases the deficit after a certain period of time set in the budget resolution. It is intended to ensure that the reconciliation process cannot be abused to jam through any unrelated provision.
The rule’s name lends itself to a number of bird-related puns commonly used to describe the stages of the reconciliation process. There is the “Byrd bath,” when the Senate parliamentarian scrubs and analyzes a bill for any provision that violates the rule if a senator raises a concern about a violation. Anything that does not survive the scrutiny is known as a “Byrd dropping,” and is removed from the legislation before it can advance.
Vice President Kamala Harris could also overrule the parliamentarian, but that has not been done since 1975.
The process is in motion, but the legislative math is proving tough for Democrats.
A budget blueprint on the social spending and climate bill was advanced in August and committees have been working on drafting the reconciliation legislation, but key centrist Democrats in the Senate who have balked at the $3.5 trillion price tag have brought the process to an impasse as party leaders try to negotiate a compromise.
Because Republicans have made it clear they are unified in their opposition, Democrats cannot afford to lose even one vote from their party in the Senate. In the House, the math is almost as challenging; if every member voted, Democrats could afford to lose only three of their members and still pass the legislation.
Amtrak would see its biggest infusion of money since its inception a half-century ago. Climate resilience programs would receive their largest burst of government spending ever. The nation’s power grid would be upgraded to the tune of $73 billion.
The sprawling, $1 trillion bill that the Senate passed last month — a bipartisan deal that is the product of months of negotiating and years of pent-up ambitions to repair the nation’s crumbling infrastructure — would amount to the most substantial government expenditure on the aging public works system since 2009. It includes $550 billion in new funds and the renewal of an array of programs otherwise scheduled to expire at the end of September.
It is also stuffed with pet projects and priorities that touch on nearly every facet of American life, including the most obscure, like a provision to allow blood transport vehicles to use highway car pool lanes to bypass traffic when fresh vials are on board and another to fully fund a federal grant program to promote “pollinator-friendly practices” near roads and highways. (Price tag for the latter: $2 million per year.)
The measure represents a crucial piece of President Biden’s economic agenda, and the agreement that gave rise to it was a major breakthrough in his quest for a bipartisan compromise. But it was also notable for the concessions Mr. Biden was forced to make to strike the deal.
For example, the legislation includes $73 billion to modernize the nation’s electricity grid, which energy analysts said would lay the groundwork for pivoting the nation off fossil fuels. But it contains only a fraction of the money Mr. Biden requested for major environmental initiatives and extends a lifeline to natural gas and nuclear energy, provisions that have angered House progressives.