Ahead of House debt ceiling vote, Biden shores up Democrats and McCarthy scrambles for GOP support
Hard-fought to the end, the debt ceiling and budget cuts package is heading toward a crucial U.S. House vote as President Joe Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy assemble a coalition of centrist Democrats and Republicans to push it to passage over fierce blowback from conservatives and some progressive dissent. Biden is sending top White House officials to meet early Wednesday at the Capitol to shore up support ahead of voting. McCarthy is working furiously to sell skeptical fellow Republicans, even fending off challenges to his leadership, in the rush to avert a potentially disastrous U.S. default. Despite deep disappointment from right-flank Republicans that the compromise falls short of the spending cuts they demanded, McCarthy insisted he would have the votes needed to ensure approval. "We're going to pass the bill," McCarthy said as he exited a lengthy late Tuesday night meeting at the Capitol. Quick approval by the House and later in the week the Senate would ensure government checks will continue to go out to Social Security recipients, veterans and others, and prevent financial upheaval at home and abroad. Next Monday is when Treasury has said the U.S. would run short of money to pay its debts, risking an economically dangerous default. The package leaves few lawmakers fully satisfied, but Biden and McCarthy are counting on pulling majority support from the political center, a rarity in divided Washington, testing the leadership of the president and the Republican speaker. Overall, the 99-page bill restricts spending for the next two years, suspends the debt ceiling into January 2025 and changes policies, including new work requirements for older Americans receiving food aid and greenlighting a controversial Appalachian natural gas line that many Democrats oppose. For more than two hours late Tuesday as aides wheeled in pizza at the Capitol, McCarthy walked Republicans through the details, fielded questions and encouraged them not to lose sight of the bill's budget savings. The speaker faced a sometimes tough crowd. Leaders of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus spent the day lambasting the compromise as falling well short of the spending cuts they demand, and they vowed to try to halt passage by Congress. "This deal fails, fails completely," Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., the chairman of the Freedom Caucus, said earlier in the day, flanked by others outside the Capitol. "We will do everything in our power to stop it." A much larger conservative faction, the Republican Study Committee, declined to take a position. Even rank-and-file centrist conservatives were not sure, leaving McCarthy desperately hunting for votes. Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., said after the "healthy debate" late into the night she was still a no. Ominously, the conservatives warned of potentially trying to oust McCarthy over the compromise. "There's going to be a reckoning," said Rep. Chip Roy of Texas. Biden was speaking directly to lawmakers, making more than 100 one-on-one calls, the White House said. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the spending restrictions in the package would reduce deficits by $1.5 trillion over the decade, a top goal for the Republicans trying to curb the debt load. McCarthy told lawmakers that number was higher if the two-year spending caps were extended, which is no guarantee. But in a surprise that could further erode Republican support, the GOP's drive to impose work requirements on older Americans receiving food stamps ends up boosting spending by $2.1 billion over the time period. That's because the final deal exempted veterans and homeless people, expanding the food stamp rolls by some 78,000 people monthly, the CBO said. House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries said it was up to McCarthy to turn out votes from some two-thirds of the Republican majority, a high bar the speaker may not be able to reach. Some 218 votes are needed for passage in the 435-member House. Still, Jeffries said the Democrats would do their part to avoid failure. "It is my expectation that House Republicans would keep their promise and deliver at least 150 votes as it relates to an agreement that they themselves negotiated," Jeffries said. "Democrats will make sure that the country does not default." Liberal Democrats decried the new work requirements for older Americans, those 50-54, in the food aid program. And some Democratic lawmakers were leading an effort to remove the surprise provision for the Mountain Valley Pipeline natural gas project. The energy development is important to Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., but many others oppose it as unhelpful in fighting climate change. The top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, said including the pipeline provision was "disturbing and profoundly disappointing." Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, had this warning for McCarthy: "He got us here, and it's on him to deliver the votes." Wall Street was taking a wait-and-see approach. Stock prices were mixed in Tuesday's trading. U.S. markets had been closed when the deal was struck over the weekend. The House aims to vote Wednesday and send the bill to the Senate, where Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Republican leader McConnell are working for passage by week's end. Schumer called the bill a "sensible compromise." McConnell said McCarthy "deserves our thanks." Senators, who have remained largely on the sidelines during much of the negotiations between the president and the House speaker, began inserting themselves more forcefully into the debate. Some senators are insisting on amendments to reshape the package from both the left and right flanks. But making any changes to the package at this stage seemed unlikely with so little time to spare before Monday's deadline.
Biden should be 'embarrassed' by classified docs case: Democrats
Senior Democrats, dismayed by a steady stream of startling disclosures, expressed criticism Sunday of how President Joe Biden handled classified material after leaving office as vice president and disappointment that the White House has not been more forthcoming with the public. Lawmakers who might have anticipated questions focusing on the debt limit or Ukraine aid when they were booked last week for the Sunday news shows found themselves quizzed about the latest development over the weekend in the document drama that has put Biden's presidency on the defensive: During a search Friday of Biden’s home in Wilmington, Delaware, the FBI found additional documents with classified markings and took possession of some of his handwritten notes, the president’s lawyer said Saturday. Biden should be “embarrassed by the situation,” said Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, adding that the president had ceded the moral high ground on an issue that has already entangled former President Donald Trump. Special counsels appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland are investigating both cases. “Well, of course. Let's be honest about it. When that information is found, it diminishes the stature of any person who is in possession of it because it's not supposed to happen. ... The elected official bears ultimate responsibility," Durbin said. Read more: FBI searched Biden home, found documents marked classified Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said Biden “should have a lot of regrets. ... You just might as well say, ‘Listen, it’s irresponsible.'" The president told reporters on Thursday that he had “no regrets” over how and when the public learned about the documents and that there was “no there there.” Despite their criticism, Biden's fellow Democrats defended what they said was his cooperation with the Justice Department as the search for additional classified material unfolds. They contrasted it with Trump's resistance to efforts to recover hundreds of documents after he left office. “It is outrageous that either occurred,” Durbin said. "But the reaction by the former president and the current president could not be in sharper contrast.” Biden voluntarily allowed the FBI into his home on Friday, but the lack of a warrant did not dim the extraordinary nature of the search. It compounded the embarrassment to Biden that started in earlier in January with the disclosure that the president’s lawyers had found a “small number” of classified records at a former office at the Penn Biden Center in Washington shortly before the Nov. 8 elections. The White House has disclosed that Biden's team found classified documents and official records on three other occasions in recent months — in follow-up searches on Dec. 20 in the garage of his Wilmington home, and on Jan. 11 and 12 in his home library. The discoveries have become a political liability as Biden prepares to kick off his 2024 reelection bid, and they undercut his efforts to portray an image of propriety to the American public after the tumultuous presidency of his predecessor, Trump. Manchin excoriated both men for their handling of sensitive security documents. “It's just hard to believe that in the United States of America, we have a former president and a current president that are basically in the same situation,” he said. “How does this happen?” Read more: Biden on classified docs discovery: 'There's no there there' At the same time, Democrats worried that Biden's travails have created an opening for newly empowered House Republicans. “We have to worry, since this new group that has taken over control of the House of Representatives has promised us endless investigations, confrontations, impeachments and chaos, what is going to happen,” Durbin said. The new chairman of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., said he took Biden “at his word when the first set of documents were found. ... But now this is gone from just simply being irresponsible to downright scary.” The Justice Department says Trump took hundreds of records marked classified with him upon leaving the White House in early 2021 and resisted months of requests to return them to the government. Biden has willingly turned over the documents once found. But the issue is wearing on Biden and his aides, who have said they acted quickly and appropriately when the documents were discovered, and are working to be as transparent as possible. Durbin appeared on CNN's “State of the Union,” Manchin was on CNN and NBC's “Meet the Press" and Comer was interviewed on Fox News Channel's “Sunday Morning Futures.”
Democrats keep Senate control with Cortez Masto's victory in Nevada
Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto won election to a second term representing Nevada on Saturday, defeating Republican Adam Laxalt to clinch the party’s control of the chamber for the next two years of Joe Biden’s presidency. With Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly’s victory in Arizona on Friday, Democrats now hold a 50-49 edge in the Senate. The party will retain control of the chamber, no matter how next month’s Georgia runoff plays out, by virtue of Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote. Democrats’ hold on the Senate is a blow to Republicans’ high hopes of wresting away control of Congress in a midterm election that typically favors the party out of power. It was still unclear which party would control the House of Representatives as counting continued in razor-tight races in California and a smattering of other states. Cortez Masto, the first Latina in the Senate, was considered the most vulnerable Democratic senator in the midterm elections, and the Republican Party had high hopes of flipping the seat. But despite an influx of spending on attack ads from national GOP groups, Cortez Masto managed to secure her reelection bid. Read more: Senate control may come down to Nevada as count nears end Nevada’s vote count took several days partly because of the mail voting system created by the state Legislature in 2020 that requires counties to accept ballots postmarked by Election Day if they arrive up to four days later. Laxalt had an early lead that dwindled after late-counted ballots came in from the state’s population centers in Las Vegas and Reno. Cortez Masto, the state’s former two-term attorney general, focused her Senate campaign on the increasing threat to abortion access nationwide and worked to court the state’s Spanish-speaking residents and hourly wage earners, pointing out her support of a permanent pathway to citizenship for “Dreamers” and regularly visiting union halls and workers’ groups. Her fundraising far outpaced Laxalt’s. She spent nearly $47 million and had more than $6 million in cash on hand through mid-October, according to OpenSecrets. Laxalt spent nearly $13 million and had about $3 million remaining during the same time. Laxalt, a former Nevada attorney general himself who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2018, focused on rising inflation and a struggling economy for much of his campaign, attempting to tie voters’ financial woes to policies advanced by Democrats in Congress and Biden. Former President Donald Trump, who twice lost Nevada in his White House runs, came to the state twice to rally for Laxalt and other Republican candidates. Democrats had an uphill battle given the nation’s turbulent economy, and Nevada exemplified the party’s challenges. The state is one of the most diverse in the nation, and its largely working class population often lives paycheck to paycheck and has struggled with both inflation and the aftershocks of the shutdown of Las Vegas’ tourist-based economy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Roughly three-fourths of Nevada voters said the country is headed in the wrong direction, and about 5 in 10 called the economy the most important issue facing the country, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of 2,100 of the state’s voters. Read more: Democrats hold small but shrinking lead in key Arizona races Voters viewed the economy negatively, with VoteCast finding nearly 8 in 10 saying economic conditions are either not so good or poor. Only about 2 in 10 called the economy excellent or good. And about a third of voters said their families are falling behind financially. But that didn’t necessarily translate into anger at President Joe Biden or his party. About half considered inflation the most important issue facing the U.S., but they were evenly split over whether they think higher prices are due to Biden’s policies or factors outside his control. Nevada is also a famously live-and-let-live state, and Cortez Masto’s message on preserving abortion rights resonated. According to VoteCast, 7 in 10 wanted the procedure kept legal in all or most cases.
Democrats hold small but shrinking lead in key Arizona races
Arizona Democrats maintained small but dwindling leads over their Republican rivals in the races for U.S. Senate and governor, contests that could determine control of the Senate and the rules for the 2024 election in a crucial battleground state. The races remained too early to call two days after the election, with some 600,000 ballots left to count, about a quarter of the total cast. Protracted vote counts have for years been a staple of elections in Arizona, where the overwhelming majority of votes are cast by mail and many people wait until the last minute to return them. But as Arizona has morphed from a GOP stronghold to a competitive battleground, the delays have increasingly become a source of national anxiety for partisans on both sides. Read more: GOP moves closer to winning the House; the Senate's fate may depend on a runoff After opening big leads early on election night, when only mail ballots returned early were reported, Democrats have seen their leads dwindled as more Republican ballots have been counted. On Thursday morning, Democrats led in the races of Senate, governor and secretary of state, while the race for attorney general was essentially tied. It could take several days before it's clear who won some of the closer contests. With Republicans still in the hunt, it remained unclear whether the stronger-than-expected showing for Democrats in much of the U.S. would extend to Arizona, a longtime Republican stronghold that became a battleground during Donald Trump's presidency. The GOP nominated a slate of candidates who earned Trump's endorsement after falsely claiming his loss to President Joe Biden was tainted. Among them former television news anchor Kari Lake was about half a point behind Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs in the race for governor, a contest that centered heavily on Lake's baseless claims of fraud in the 2020 election. The Republican candidate for attorney general also trailed narrowly. Democrats had more comfortable 5-point margins in the races for U.S. Senate and secretary of state, but with so many ballots outstanding, the races were too early to call. In the race for attorney general, Republican Abraham Hamadeh took the lead from Democrat Kris Mayes. Officials in Maricopa County, the state's most populous, said about 17,000 ballots were affected by a printing mishap that prevented vote-counters from reading some ballots, a problem that slowed voting in some locations and infuriated Republicans who were counting on strong Election Day turnout. County officials said all ballots will be counted but gave no timeline for doing so. The cause remains a mystery. The two top officials on the county board of supervisors, both Republicans, said in a statement Wednesday night that they used the same printers, settings and paper thickness during the August primary and pre-election testing, when there were no widespread issues. Read more: Election takeaways: No sweep for the Republicans after all “There is no perfect election. Yesterday was not a perfect election,” said Bill Gates, chairman of the board of supervisors, told reporters earlier in the day. “We will learn from it and do better.” Lake repeated her pledge to immediately call lawmakers into special session upon being sworn in to make massive changes to Arizona election laws. She wants to significantly reduce early and mail voting, options chosen by at least 8 in 10 Arizona voters, and to count all ballots by hand, which election administrators say would be extremely time consuming. Ballots can have dozens of races on them. Maricopa County has more than 50 judges on the ballot, on top of state and local races and 10 ballot measures. “We’re going to go back to small precincts where it’s easier to detect problems and easier to fix them and it’ll be easier to hand count votes as well,” Lake told Fox News host Tucker Carlson Wednesday night. “These are some of the things I’d like to see happen. I’ll work with the Legislature.” A political urban-rural divide was evident among Arizona voters. Democrats Katie Hobbs and Sen. Mark Kelly each drew support from nearly two-thirds of urban voters, according to AP VoteCast, an expansive survey of more than 3,200 voters in Arizona. Suburban voters split about evenly between the two Democratic candidates and their GOP rivals, Kari Lake and Blake Masters. Small town and rural voters were more likely to favor Lake and Masters. In the Senate race, suburban men and women were divided in their candidate preferences. Suburban men clearly favored Masters, suburban women Kelly. In the race for governor, suburban men overwhelmingly backed Lake, while suburban women slightly favored Hobbs. Meanwhile, Republicans who control the three-member board of supervisors in southeastern Arizona’s GOP-heavy Cochise County voted Wednesday to appeal a judge’s decision that blocked them from hand-counting all the ballots, which are also being tabulated by machines. The efforts to hand-count ballots in the county and elsewhere across the nation are driven by unfounded concerns among some Republicans that problems with vote-counting machines or voter fraud led to Trump’s 2020 defeat. A judge said the plan ran afoul of state election law that limits hand counts to a small sample of ballots, a process meant to confirm the machine count was accurate.
Democrats are losing ground in Arizona's Senate and governor elections
Margins between Democrats and Republicans narrowed considerably Wednesday in key Arizona races as election officials chipped away at counting more than half a million mail ballots returned on Election Day and shortly before. Democrats maintained small but dwindling leads in key races for U.S. Senate, governor and secretary of state, while Republicans were optimistic the late-counted ballots would break heavily in their favor, as they did in 2020. It could take several days before it’s clear who won some of the closer contests. With Republicans still in the hunt, it remained unclear whether the stronger-than-expected showing for Democrats would extend to Arizona, a longtime Republican stronghold that became a battleground during Donald Trump’s presidency. The GOP nominated a slate of candidates who earned Trump’s endorsement after falsely claiming his loss to President Joe Biden was tainted. Among them former television news anchor Kari Lake was about half a point behind Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs in the race for governor, a contest that centered heavily on Lake’s baseless claims of fraud in the 2020 election. The Republican candidate for attorney general also trailed narrowly. Democrats had more comfortable 5-point margins in the races for U.S. Senate and secretary of state, but with so many ballots outstanding, the races were too early to call. In the race for attorney general, Republican Abraham Hamadeh took the lead from Democrat Kris Mayes. Also read: GOP moves closer to winning the House; the Senate's fate may depend on a runoff Officials in Maricopa County, the state’s most populous, said about 17,000 ballots were affected by a printing mishap that prevented vote-counters from reading some ballots, a problem that slowed voting in some locations and infuriated Republicans who were counting on strong Election Day turnout. County officials said all ballots will be counted but gave no timeline for doing so. They did not offer any new information about what caused the problem but promised a thorough review. “There is no perfect election. Yesterday was not a perfect election,” said Bill Gates, the Republican chairman of the county board of supervisors. “We will learn from it and do better.” Lake repeated her pledge to immediately call lawmakers into special session upon being sworn in to make massive changes to Arizona election laws. She wants to significantly reduce early and mail voting, options chosen by at least 8 in 10 Arizona voters, and to count all ballots by hand, which election administrators say would be extremely time consuming. Also read: GOP, Democrats notch victories in competitive midterm races Ballots can have dozens of races on them. Maricopa County has more than 50 judges on the ballot, on top of state and local races and 10 ballot measures. “We’re going to go back to small precincts where it’s easier to detect problems and easier to fix them and it’ll be easier to hand count votes as well,” Lake told Fox News host Tucker Carlson Wednesday night. “These are some of the things I’d like to see happen. I’ll work with the Legislature.” A political urban-rural divide was evident among Arizona voters. Democrats Katie Hobbs and Sen. Mark Kelly each drew support from nearly two-thirds of urban voters, according to AP VoteCast, an expansive survey of more than 3,200 voters in Arizona. Suburban voters split about evenly between the two Democratic candidates and their GOP rivals, Kari Lake and Blake Masters. Small town and rural voters were more likely to favor Lake and Masters. In the Senate race, suburban men and women were divided in their candidate preferences. Suburban men clearly favored Masters, suburban women Kelly. In the race for governor, suburban men overwhelmingly backed Lake, while suburban women slightly favored Hobbs. Meanwhile, Republicans who control the three-member board of supervisors in southeastern Arizona’s GOP-heavy Cochise County voted Wednesday to appeal a judge’s decision that blocked them from hand-counting all the ballots, which are also being tabulated by machines. The efforts to hand-count ballots in the county and elsewhere across the nation are driven by unfounded concerns among some Republicans that problems with vote-counting machines or voter fraud led to Trump’s 2020 defeat. A judge said the plan ran afoul of state election law that limits hand counts to a small sample of ballots, a process meant to confirm the machine count was accurate.
US midterm election: Democrats repel Republicans backed by Trump in several left-leaning states
Democrats easily repelled Republicans backed by former President Donald Trump in several left-leaning states Tuesday, while tougher tests that could decide control of Congress and the future of Joe Biden’s presidency awaited in more competitive territory. Despite their liberal history, states like Massachusetts, Maryland and Illinois have elected moderate Republican governors in the past. But the Republicans this year appeared to be too conservative in these states, handing Democrats easy victories in midterm elections that could otherwise prove difficult for the party. Massachusetts and Maryland also saw historic firsts: Democrat Maura Healey became the first woman elected as Massachusetts governor, as well as the first openly lesbian governor of any state, and Wes Moore became the first Black governor of Maryland. READ: Biden, Trump to make final appeals ahead of crucial midterms In Florida, a one-time battleground that has become increasingly Republican, Gov. Ron DeSantis won a second term, defeating Democratic challenger Charlie Crist, a former congressman. DeSantis won Miami-Dade County, once a Democratic stronghold, in a victory that continues his rise as a national Republican star as he eyes a possible 2024 White House run. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio also won reelection, fending off a challenge from Democrat Val Demings and further illustrating the state’s rightward shift. The outcome of races for House and Senate will determine the future of Biden’s agenda and serve as a referendum on his administration as the nation reels from record-high inflation and concerns over the direction of the country. Republican control of the House would likely trigger a round of investigations into Biden and his family, while a GOP Senate takeover would hobble Biden’s ability to make judicial appointments. Democrats were facing historic headwinds. The party in power almost always suffers losses in the president’s first midterm elections, but Democrats had been hoping that anger from the Supreme Court’s decision to gut abortion rights might energize their voters to buck historical trends. Keep Track: Election race callsEven Biden, who planned to watch the evening’s election returns at the White House, said late Monday night that he thought his party would keep the Senate but “the House is tougher.” Asked how that would make governing, his assessment was stark: “More difficult.” READ: Biden slams GOP, Trump warns of 'tyranny' ahead of midterms In Georgia, Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker were vying for a seat that could determine control of the Senate. In Virginia, Democratic Reps. Abigail Spanberger and Elaine Luria were fending off spirited Republican opponents in what could serve as early signals of where the House majority is heading as Republicans hope to reclaim suburban districts that shifted to Democrats during Donald Trump’s tumultuous presidency. Republicans are betting that messaging focused on the economy, gas prices and crime will resonate with voters at a time of soaring inflation and rising violence. AP VoteCast, a broad survey of the national electorate, showed that high inflation and concerns about the fragility of democracy were heavily influencing voters.
Can Democrats hold together? Biden's agenda depends on it
It’s one of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s favorite sayings, a guidepost for Democrats in trying times: "Our diversity is our strength. Our unity is our power.” But as Democrats try to usher President Joe Biden's expansive federal government overhaul into law, it's the party's diversity of progressive and conservative views that's pulling them apart. And only by staying unified does their no-votes-to-spare majority have any hope of pushing his rebuilding agenda into law. Biden will set traveling to Michigan on Tuesday to speak directly to the American people on his vision: It's time to tax big business and the wealthy and invest that money into child care, health care, education and tackling climate change — what he sees as some of the nation's most pressing priorities. Together, Biden, Pelosi and other Democrats are entering a highly uncertain time, the messy throes of legislating, in what will now be a longer-haul pursuit that could stretch for weeks, if not months, of negotiations. Read: China hopes Biden turns statement on no Cold War into action “Let me just tell you about negotiating: At the end, that’s when you really have to weigh in,” Pelosi said recently. “You cannot tire. You cannot concede.” “This,” she added on a day when negotiations would stretch to midnight, “this is the fun part.” The product — or the colossal failure to reach a deal — will define not only the first year of Biden's presidency, but the legacy of Pelosi and a generation of lawmakers in Congress, with ramifications for next year’s midterm elections. At stake is not only the scaled-back $3.5 trillion plan, but also the slimmer $1 trillion public works bill that is now stalled, intractably linked to the bigger bill. As Democrats in Congress regroup, having blown Pelosi's self-imposed Friday deadline for passing legislation in the House amid bitter finger-pointing, they now face a new one, Oct. 31, to make gains on Biden's big plans. The $3.5 trillion package is being chiseled back to around $2 trillion and final approval of the Senate-passed $1 trillion public works bill is on hold, for now. Attention remains squarely focused on two key holdouts, Sen. Joe Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who along with a small band of conservative House Democrats are the linchpins to any deal. Biden is expected to be in touch as the senators return Monday to Washington. Pelosi has been in conversations with both West Virginia's Manchin and Arizona's Sinema. “The president wants both bills and he expects to get both bills,” Biden adviser Cedric Richmond said on “Fox News Sunday.” “We’re going to continue to work on both.” The inability to win over Manchin and Sinema to support Biden's broader vision contributed to the collapse last week of a promised House vote on their preferred $1 trillion public works bill, which they had negotiated with Biden. Tempers flared and accusations flew over who was to blame. Progressives lashed out at the two senators for holding up Biden's big agenda; the centrists blamed Pelosi for reneging on the promised vote; and progressives were both celebrated and scolded for playing hardball, withholding their votes on the public works bill to force a broader agreement. Ultimately Biden arrived on Capitol Hill late Friday afternoon to deliver a tough-love message to all of them — telling centrists they would not get their vote on the bipartisan deal he helped broker until the progressives had a commitment on the broader package and warning progressives the big bill's price tag would likely come down to around $2 trillion. In many ways, the weeks ahead are reminiscent of the last big legislative undertaking by Democrats pushing the Affordable Care Act toward the finish line during the Obama administration. Read: US, India committed to taking on toughest challenges together: Biden No one doubts Pelosi — and Biden — can do it again. But the fight ahead is certain to be politically painful. With no support from Republicans who deride Biden's vision as socialist-style big government, Democrats must decide among themselves what size package can win over support in the 50-50 Senate and narrowly held House. Paid for by raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy, those individuals earning more than $400,000 a year, or $450,000 for couples, the measure, Biden insists, will carry an overall price tag of “zero.” Still, private discussions about trimming back various programs have now delved deeper into conversations over wholesale cuts that may need to be made. It's all on the table. For example, will the push from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to expand Medicare to include dental, vision and other health care benefits survive? Or will those benefits have to be scrapped or reduced? What about the new child care subsidies or COVID-19-related tax credits for families with children — will those be able to run for several years or have to be scaled back to just a few? Will free community college be available to all, or only those of lower incomes, as Manchin proposes? Can Biden's effort to tackle climate change be extended beyond the money already approved for electric vehicles and weather-resilient buildings in the public works bill? "What we have said from the beginning is, it’s never been about the price tag. It’s about what we want to deliver,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., a leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, in a Sunday interview on CNN. “The president said this to us, too. He said don’t start with the number. Start with what you’re for,” she said. Pelosi has been working the phones to win over Manchin and Sinema, who in many ways are outliers among Democrats in the House and Senate who lean more progressive. The two senators' prominence has morphed beyond the beltway into popular culture — Sinema was lampooned on “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend, while a flotilla of kayak-activists recently swarmed Manchin's D.C. houseboat. Read: Biden aims to enlist allies in tackling climate, COVID, more Pelosi and Sinema had a prickly relationship when the Arizonan first joined Congress, but they now share a common interest in tackling climate change. Manchin and Pelosi have a warmer alliance, and she showered the senator with praise as someone with whom she shared values as Italian Americans and Roman Catholics. “We’re friends,” she said. But Pelosi has made it clear she is prepared to fight to the finish for a bill she called the “culmination of my service in Congress." At a private caucus meeting last week, when one lawmaker suggested she had gone back on her word to have the infrastructure vote, she said that was before some among them were joining with the senators to reject Biden's broader plan, according to a person who requested anonymity to recount her private remarks. “Let’s try to at least stick together,” Pelosi implored the Democrats.
'A blaring siren' for Democrats after ruling halts DACA
Immigrants and advocates are urging Democrats and President Joe Biden to quickly act on legislation to protect young immigrants after a federal judge in Texas on Friday ruled illegal an Obama-era program that prevents the deportation of thousands of them brought into the U.S. as children. Plaintiffs have vowed to appeal the decision by U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, who declared the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program illegal, barring the government from approving any new applications, but leaving the program intact for existing recipients. Calling the ruling a “blaring siren” for Democrats, United We Dream Executive Director Greisa Martinez Rosas said they would be solely to blame if legislative reform doesn’t happen. Biden has already proposed legislation that would provide a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people living in the U.S. without authorization. He also ordered agencies to make efforts to preserve the program. READ: With virus aid in sight, Democrats debate filibuster changes Supporters of DACA, including those who argued before Hanen to save it, have said a law passed by Congress is necessary to provide permanent relief. Hanen has said Congress must act if the U.S. wants to provide the protections in DACA to recipients commonly known as “Dreamers,” based on never-passed proposals in Congress called the DREAM Act. The House approved legislation in March creating a pathway toward citizenship for “Dreamers,” but the measure has stalled in the Senate. Immigration advocates hope to include a provision opening that citizenship doorway in sweeping budget legislation Democrats want to approve this year, but it’s unclear whether that language will survive. Suing alongside Texas were Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina, and West Virginia — states that all had Republican governors or state attorneys general. They argued that Obama didn’t have the authority to create DACA because it circumvented Congress. The states also argued that the program drains their educational and healthcare resources. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, which defended the program on behalf of some DACA recipients, argued Obama did have the authority and that the states lacked the standing to sue because they had not suffered any harm due to the program. Thomas Saenz, president of MALDEF, said Friday that plaintiffs will file an appeal. “Today’s decision then once more emphasizes how critically important it is that the Congress step up to reflect the will of a supermajority of citizens and voters in this country. That will is to see DACA recipients and other young immigrants similarly situated receive legislative action that will grant them a pathway to permanence and citizenship in our country,” Saenz said. Hanen rejected Texas’ request in 2018 to stop the program through a preliminary injunction. But in a foreshadowing of his latest ruling, he said he believed DACA as enacted was likely unconstitutional without congressional approval. Hanen ruled in 2015 that Obama could not expand DACA protections or institute a program shielding their parents. While DACA is often described as a program for young immigrants, many recipients have lived in the U.S. for a decade or longer after being brought into the country without permission or overstaying visas. The liberal Center for American Progress says roughly 254,000 children have at least one parent relying on DACA. Some recipients are grandparents. Todd Schulte, president of FWD.us, a progressive organization, expressed disappointment at Friday’s ruling, saying in a statement that DACA has been a big success that has transformed many lives. READ: Democrats start reining in expectations for immigration bill “Today makes absolutely clear: only a permanent legislative solution passed by Congress will eliminate the fear and uncertainty that DACA recipients have been forced to live with for years. We call on each and every elected office to do everything within their power so that DACA recipients and their families and communities can live free from fear, and continue to build their lives here,” Schulte said.
Biden’s big infrastructure plan hits McConnell, GOP blockade
Republicans in Congress are making the politically brazen bet that it’s more advantageous to oppose President Joe Biden’s ambitious rebuild America agenda than to lend support for the costly $2.3 trillion undertaking for roads, bridges and other infrastructure investments. Much the way Republicans provided no votes for the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, they plan to sit on the sidelines for this next big lift by the White House, forcing Democrats to take full ownership of the massive package of spending and corporate tax hikes that Biden wants approved over the summer. The tension could mount this week as Biden shows no signs adjusting to satisfy Republican leaders, instead appealing directly to their constituents for support. Also Read: China's top diplomat urges Biden not to meddle in internal affairs “I think the Republicans’ voters are going to have a lot to say about whether we get a lot of this done,” Biden told reporters at the White House. That leaves Biden and congressional Republicans on a collision course, the outcome of which could define the parties and his presidency. The GOP strategy is reminiscent of the Obama-era blockade that helped sour voters on the Democratic president more than a decade ago. Then and now Republicans are intent on saddling Democrats with responsibility for all the taxes and spending to come, much as they did the 2009 rescue after the economic crisis, framing it as government overreach that piles on debt. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell set the defining tone for his party when he flatly declared last week he will fight Biden’s agenda “every step of the way.” But it’s not at all certain the GOP playbook that worked more than a decade ago will produce the same political gains this time around. Voters appear tired of the partisan stalemate in Washington, live amid the country’s run-down spots and signal they are initially supportive of Biden’s approach to governing, at least on the virus aid package. Also Read: Biden to prioritise legal status for millions of immigrants Recent polling by The Associated Press-NORC Public Research Center found Americans have responded favorably to the president’s approach, with 73% approving of his handling of the pandemic. That includes about half of Republicans. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a member of Senate GOP leadership, said Sunday a smaller package of about $615 billion, or 30% of what Biden is proposing, could find bipartisan backing from Republicans if the White House found a way to pay for it without raising the corporate tax rate. He pointed to potential user fees on drivers and others. “There’s an easy win here,” Blunt said on “Fox News Sunday.” Rather than shy from a new era of big government, Democratic leaders in Congress are embracing it, believing they can bypass the GOP blockade on Capitol Hill and make the case directly to Americans hungry for investments in homes, communities and livelihoods, especially as China and other rival countries make advancements. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi compared Biden’s plan to the far-reaching aims of presidents before him — from Thomas Jefferson’s efforts to build the Erie Canal to Teddy Roosevelt’s designs on a national park system. “Now, in this century, President Biden is undertaking something in the tradition of thinking big,” Pelosi said at a news conference. Progressives want Biden to go even bigger. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said Sunday he expects more funding to combat climate change and is pushing to include his own proposal to expand Medicare with dental, vision and hearing aid care for seniors. “Now is the time to begin addressing our physical infrastructure and our human infrastructure,” Sanders said on CNN. As Congress hunkers down to begin drafting the legislation for Biden’s proposal, both parties will be put the test. In the House, lawmakers will be invited to submit requests for projects in their home districts — roads and other infrastructure that could be “earmarks” eligible for federal funds. It’s a way to entice bipartisan participation and ensure the funds are spent on agreed-upon needs. Republicans will be forced to either participate or disengage, often with pressure from elected officials and other constituents clamoring for funds to upgrade sewers, airports and countless other infrastructure systems. Peppered in Kentucky with questions about money that could be potentially flowing for home-state road, bridge and housing projects after the president unveiled his plan, McConnell batted them back one by one. Biden’s package “is not going to get support from our side,” McConnell said. Asked about the McConnell’s comment, Biden smiled Friday while speaking to reporters at the White House and asked if the Republicans are arguing the country doesn’t need the infrastructure — or if the Republicans “decide that we need it but they’re not going to pay for it?” Biden also pressed whether Republicans are opposed to cleaning up lead pipes in homes, schools and day care centers. “What do you think would happen if they found out all the lead pipes were up at the Capitol?” Biden asked. At the same time, Democrats and Republicans will be faced with the politically difficult vote of raising corporate taxes to pay for all the spending, bucking the business community that is largely against Biden’s plan to permanently hike the rate corporations pay from 21% to 28%. Both parties view it as an almost existential battle over competing political views: The Democrats who believe in the power of government to take the lead solving the nation’s problems; the Republicans who put their faith in the private sector to drive solutions. On Capitol Hill, it’s also a battle over which party will control Congress. After Barack Obama was elected in 2008, McConnell famously said his goal was to make him a one-term president. This time around the Republican leader appears to have a shorter-term goal at hand — he wants to win back the now evenly split 50-50 Senate. “They’re so close to the majority in 2022, they can taste it,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist. Democrats have Senate control because their party’s vice president, Kamala Harris, can cast a tie-breaking vote. In the House, the Democratic majority is holding on with just a handful of seats. “They really don’t want to give Biden wins,” Conant said. Democrats, uncertain about their political prospects, are taking no chances, legislating as if they are on borrowed time. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has set in motion a potential process that would allow Biden’s package to advance without the typical 60-vote threshold needed to overcome a filibuster by Republicans. Instead, it could be approved with a simple 51-vote majority. Pelosi has set a July 4 goal for House votes, but acknowledges that ambitious timeline may slip. “The sooner we can get the legislation done, the sooner we can allocate the resources,” she said. The goal, she said, was “to get the job done as soon as possible.”
With virus aid in sight, Democrats debate filibuster changes
With President Joe Biden on the verge of his first big legislative victory, a key moderate Democrat said Sunday he's open to changing Senate rules that could allow for more party-line votes to push through other parts of the White House’s agenda such as voting rights.