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The Morning Dispatch: Biden Agenda Gridlocked in the House
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The Morning Dispatch: Biden Agenda Gridlocked in the House

'Clearly, the bipartisan infrastructure bill will pass,' Nancy Pelosi says, 'once we have agreement on the reconciliation bill.'

Happy Monday! Longtime Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda once said that “the saddest day of the year is the day baseball season ends.”

Usually, he’s spot on. But this year, there’s Justin Fields. (Editor’s note: We’re not sure what Declan’s talking about. The playoffs start tomorrow, where the Cardinals and Brewers remain very much alive.)

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Pharmaceutical company Merck announced Friday that its experimental COVID-19 antiviral pill, Molnupiravir, reduced the risk of hospitalization or death in patients with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 symptoms by 50 percent in clinical trials. The company plans to apply for emergency use authorization soon, and Dr. Anthony Fauci praised the drug yesterday while reiterating that vaccination remains the most effective way to avoid hospitalization or death. 

  • Democratic leaders failed to reach an agreement over the weekend on either of the party’s legislative priorities: the bipartisan infrastructure bill or the larger reconciliation package. On Saturday, however, President Joe Biden signed into law legislation extending federal highway funding for one month and preventing longer-term furloughs for Department of Transportation employees. After failing to hold a promised vote on the bipartisan infrastructure package last week, Speaker Nancy Pelosi updated her timeline over the weekend, saying she now expects to hold a vote before October 31.

  • Taiwanese officials announced over the weekend that dozens of Chinese military jets breached the island’s air defense identification zone on Friday and Saturday. “China has been wantonly engaged in military aggression, damaging regional peace,” Taiwanese Premier Su Tseng-chang said.

  • Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Friday that California will become the first state in the country to add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of vaccinations children must receive to attend public school in person. The mandate will not go into effect until the school term after the COVID-19 vaccines receive full FDA approval for various ages.

  • The Commerce Department reported Friday that consumer spending increased 0.8 percent from July to August, reversing the 0.1 percent decrease from June to July.

  • The Senate voted 50-45 along party lines last week to confirm Tracy Stone-Manning as the director of the Bureau of Land Management.

  • Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines since 2016, announced over the weekend he is retiring from politics and will not seek to circumvent the constitution’s six-year presidential term limit by running for vice president in next year’s elections.

  • A Taliban spokesperson said Sunday that an explosion outside a mosque in Kabul—as it was hosting a memorial service for the mother of a Taliban official—killed at least five civilians and wounded a handful of others. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack thus far, but most analysts believe ISIS-K to have been involved.

Biden’s Legislative Agenda Hits an Impasse

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who heads the Congressional Progressive Caucus. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.)

Democratic infighting continued to ratchet up over the weekend after the party’s warring factions failed to reach an agreement on a legislative path forward, forcing Speaker Pelosi to once again delay a promised House vote on the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure deal.

As we’ve written to you in recent days, the House’s Progressive Caucus has been flexing its muscle of late, with its chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal making abundantly clear that she and her allies will only support the (relatively) smaller infrastructure bill if they receive assurances that the Biden administration’s massive reconciliation package—which would expand the social safety net, invest in climate change mitigation efforts, and create new entitlement programs like paid family leave and universal pre-K—is also en route to the president’s desk.

President Biden made the short trek down Pennsylvania Avenue on Friday, meeting with congressional Democrats in an attempt to get negotiations back on track. For that to happen, he made clear, moderates—particularly Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema—will need to put forth a reconciliation number they can live with, and progressives will need to lower their sights a bit, from $3.5 trillion to between $1.9 and $2.3 trillion.

“I wrote the damn bill,” Biden told progressives, according to Politico. ”Even a smaller bill can make historic investments in child care, day care, clean energy. You get a whole hell of a lot of things done.”

But House moderates left Friday’s meeting with the impression the president had sided with their ideological opponents. “The way [Biden] is governing doesn’t reflect the skills I know he must have from his years as a legislator,” Rep. Stephanie Murphy told the New York Times. “I’m not clear why he came up to the Hill.”

Rep. Dean Phillips, a moderate from Minnesota, said Biden’s “nothing-burger” visit to the Capitol on Friday “diminished” the chances of a legislative breakthrough.

As a reminder, a coalition of moderate House Democrats refused to support an initial procedural vote on the Build Back Better (reconciliation) plan back in August until Pelosi pledged in writing to hold a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure deal by September 27. She broke that promise last Monday, and broke it again later in the week as she struggled to nail down enough progressive votes to ensure the deal’s passage. Moderate frustrations are growing.

“It’s deeply regrettable that Speaker Pelosi breached her firm, public commitment” to hold the vote, Rep. Josh Gottheimer—Democratic co-chair of the House Problem Solvers Caucus—said Friday night. “We were elected to achieve reasonable, commonsense solutions for the American people—not to obstruct from the far wings. This far left faction is willing to put the President’s entire agenda, including this historic bipartisan infrastructure package, at risk. They’ve put civility and bipartisan governing at risk.”

Moderates’ frustration is understandable. The Senate passed the infrastructure bill over the summer, and if not for Biden’s own words publicly linking its passage to that of his reconciliation bill, it could very well already be law right now, giving Democrats in tough re-election races something to run on. Instead, they may end up with nothing.

House Republicans could theoretically bail Democrats out by counteracting progressive “Nay” votes with “Yeas” of their own. But don’t count on it: The GOP has been largely unified in its opposition to the trillion-dollar infrastructure bill. And after hearing Democratic leaders confirm that the two bills will be linked moving forward, even the few more moderate Republicans who said they would vote in favor of the less-expensive infrastructure bill have since retracted their support for it. 

Republican Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska told Forbes on Friday that he is “going to back off this thing for a while” and “not commit to ‘yea’ or ‘nay.’” Bacon added that he had spoken to several Republican colleagues who had planned to vote in favor but are now an “absolute no” or have to “rethink it.” Rep. John Katko, meanwhile—chair of the moderate Republican Governance Group—said he is “going to do everything I can to get to ‘yes,’ but we’ll see,” adding that Biden “clearly doesn’t understand the art of negotiation.”

Sinema, who helped lead bipartisan infrastructure negotiations over the summer, expressed frustration with her party’s top officials over the weekend. “I do not trade my vote for political favors—I vote based only on what is best for my state and the country,” she tweeted. “Democratic leaders have made conflicting promises that could not all be kept—and have, at times, pretended that differences of opinion within our party did not exist, even when those disagreements were repeatedly made clear directly and publicly.”

Winning back the trust of centrist Democrats could prove difficult. The White House is now denying it, but several outlets—including Politico and the New York Times—reported over the weekend that top Biden administration officials have been siding with progressives behind closed doors, all but encouraging Jayapal et al. to continue tanking the president’s own infrastructure bill as a means of tightening the screws on Manchin and Sinema. 

But the notion of the Biden White House whipping against a core part of its own agenda is a strange one. “The suggestion that Ron Klain or anyone from the White House was arguing against members supporting or voting for the President’s agenda doesn’t even make sense and is categorically false,” press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.

Appearing on Fox News Sunday this week, Rep. Ro Khanna, a leading progressive in the House, was asked whether Klain, the White House chief of staff, had told progressives to “stand their ground” and “link these two bills.” Khanna said Klain hadn’t used those exact words but never urged him to vote for the infrastructure bill. “Ron never said that to me, but they never said that we have to vote for the infrastructure bill. And what I heard directly from the president is he wants both bills. I think that has always been his vision.” 

Despite this disarray, there are still reasons to believe Democrats are trending toward an eventual deal. Just days after issuing a rousing defense of fiscal conservatism and debt reduction, Manchin finally revealed his spending target for the reconciliation bill: $1.5 trillion. But it was one step forward, two steps back. 

Manchin told National Review Wednesday that the reconciliation bill will be “dead on arrival” in the Senate if it doesn’t include the Hyde Amendment, a long-standing rule that prohibits taxpayer dollars from funding abortions unless the mother’s life is at risk or the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. Yesterday, Jayapal told CNN she couldn’t vote for a bill that does include the Hyde Amendment and that Manchin’s $1.5 trillion is “not going to happen,” because it would be “too small to get our priorities in.” 

Congress over the weekend reauthorized funding for a series of transportation programs that was set to expire Oct. 1, giving Democratic leaders a 30-day window to broker a deal with moderates and progressives over both packages. 

Pelosi is urging her members to be patient as the new October 31 deadline looms. “While great progress has been made in the negotiations to develop a House, Senate and White House agreement on the Build Back Better Act, more time is needed,” she wrote in a letter to her Democratic colleagues. “Clearly, the bipartisan infrastructure bill will pass once we have agreement on the reconciliation bill.”

Worth Your Time

  • Former police officer Eric Adams will almost certainly be voted New York City mayor next month after securing the Democratic nomination over the summer, but he had some choice words for the Democratic Party in an appearance on the Ezra Klein Podcast last week. “We’re not spending enough time on the ground,” he said of his fellow Democrats. “We’re not dealing with those kitchen table issues. New Yorkers and Americans are not complicated at all. They want to get up in a place that’s their own. They want to go to a place where they’re gainfully employed—an honest pay for an honest day. They want their children to be educated in an environment where they can be ready for the future. And they want to be safe. And so the covenant between the city and its residents, it’s a clear covenant. They pay their taxes. The city through its agencies provides the delivery of goods and services. Residents have done their jobs for years. The city has not. And it’s just time for the city just to do his job. And until Democrats understand that is all Americans and New Yorkers are asking for, we’re going to continue to lose people in the party. We have to rethink it. We’ve become too complicated. And we just have to communicate to our constituency as the average person: We govern.”

  • With Republicans’ 2022 midterm outlook looking better by the day, Matthew Continetti argues it’s time for candidates to start thinking proactively about the agenda they are going to present to voters—something more than just opposition to the Democrats. “There’s a way for conservatives to answer public concern over the pandemic, crime, and the economy,” he writes in a column for the Washington Free Beacon. “That way is the supply side. Just as an earlier generation of conservatives and Republicans addressed economic stagflation through increasing the supply of capital, the present generation of conservatives ought to advocate measures to increase the supply of resources that individuals can bring to bear on the present crisis. Rather than inadvertently backing into the corner of conflictual austerity politics, and replaying the fights of the Obama years, conservatives and Republicans can tell voters how they will provide the tools to restore normalcy.”

Presented Without Comment

Also  Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • In Friday’s Vital Interests (🔒), Thomas Joscelyn explains how the Taliban is using the Doha Accord to protect al-Qaeda. “During the hearings this week, Gen. Milley emphasized that the Taliban hasn’t severed its relationship with al-Qaeda,” Joscelyn notes. “On that score, Milley is right. And this is another reason the Biden administration should declare the Doha deal null and void: the Taliban hasn’t lived up to a single counterterrorism provision within it, despite the previous administration’s claims.”

  • Jonah’s latest G-File (🔒) is on idiocy—in both the ancient Greek sense and the modern one. “Conservatives used to mock campus ‘snowflakes’ who would say stuff like, ‘I don’t want to debate, I want you to feel my pain.’ Now, many of them want their idiocy ratified and celebrated because the truth hurts too much,” he writes. “‘Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment,’ Edmund Burke, the father of modern conservatism, famously said, ‘and he betrays you instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.’ He didn’t add, ‘unless I can own the libs.’”

  • Haley and National Review’s John McCormack joined Steve on Friday’s edition of The Dispatch Podcast to discuss the latest on Capitol Hill, the battles over the Democrats’ spending bills, and how they report on Congress. One of them bumped into Sen. Joe Manchin last week, while the other found Woody Harrelson.

  • David’s Sunday French Press focused on a new University of Virginia poll showing a significant percentage of partisans strongly or somewhat agree that it’s time for the United States to break apart. “The combination of malice and misinformation is driving American polarization to a fever pitch,” he writes. “While there are real differences between the political parties, a fundamental reality of American politics is that voters hate or fear the opposing side in part because they have mistaken beliefs about their opponents. They think the divide is greater than it is. … I do not pretend for one moment that there aren’t significant differences between left and right. But our system was built from the ground up to channel political differences through a Constitution that is designed to protect the fundamental human rights of both winners and losers, majorities and minorities, including minorities of one.”

Let Us Know

What do you predict the Democrats will manage to pass? Just the infrastructure bill? Just a reconciliation package? Both? Neither? 

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Charlotte Lawson (@lawsonreports), Audrey Fahlberg (@AudreyFahlberg), Ryan Brown (@RyanP_Brown), Harvest Prude (@HarvestPrude), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).