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Biden in reach of key legislative priority as Senate backs bipartisan infrastructure bill

A massive bill that would inject more than $1 trillion dollars into infrastructure and climate projects in the U.S. cleared the Senate Tuesday, and is now headed to the House. Nineteen Republicans joined all 50 Democrats in voting to pass the bill. It's a key legislative priority for President Biden, who lauded the milestone. Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor join William Brangham with more.

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  • William Brangham:

    To the next big story of the day, there was a major step on the road to passage of a massive infrastructure law — the more than $1 trillion bill cleared the Senate today. It funds fixes to roads, bridges, railways, water systems and broadband networks, as well as address some climate-related needs. It now heads to the U.S. House. This bill is a key priority for President Biden, and he lauded the milestone this afternoon.

  • President Joe Biden:

    Today, I'm happy to mark the significant milestone on the road toward making what we all know are long-overdue and much- needed investments in basic hard infrastructure in this nation. I truly believe this bill proves the voice of the people will be heard, and we can all come together to make a difference in people's lives.

  • William Brangham:

    Ohio Senator Rob Portman, who is a lead GOP negotiator crafting the bill, was one of 19 Republicans who joined all 50 Democrats today in supporting it. He spoke on the Senate floor before the vote.

  • Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH):

    Is it exactly the bill I would have drafted? No. It's not exactly the bill any senator in this chamber would have drafted, because it represents a true bipartisan effort. Each side made concessions to find that common ground.

  • William Brangham:

    Among the Republicans who ended up opposing the bill was Indiana's Todd Young, though he'd previously voted to let the bill advance through the Senate process. In a recent statement, he said, we can't afford to continue to grow the national debt at this pace, particularly as our economy recovers from the pandemic.

    We now get the latest for our Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor.

    Welcome to you both.

    Very big day, Lisa, to start with you. This was a very long, tough process to get to this day. It still has a long way to go, but how did the Senate get this job done?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This was an unusual process, and I wonder if this is going to be a template that we'll see them try again. This was not committee chairs coming up with this bill. This was a group of ten senators trying to operate in good faith, all thought they could do this, they formed a gang.

    And what's interesting is we've heard of these gangs formed before in the Senate like on immigration and other issues, they've always failed until now. But these were senators who put in the hard work and able to win. Something nearing collapse, one senator would stand up and make a concession that got them through.

    The other key part, I know Yamiche is going to talk about, is the White House really put in the work to get it through, a very tough and narrow channel.

    I'll have to say, I've been at the Hill for a while and I haven't felt the kind of exuberance that I have felt today from my sources in maybe a decade. They really felt we did something difficult. We did it together.

  • William Brangham:

    Yamiche, this was obviously one of Joe Biden's — this is how he sold himself during the campaign, that I can be someone who can bring the parties together and as Lisa is pointing out, we are getting a glimpse of how the president has been operating and a sense of what his agenda, what really matters to him.

    What have you been witnessing from your reporting at the White House?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, President Biden today, especially was taking a victory lap, but as you noted, it's really about the Biden legacy. He wants his legacy to be about passing big bills and about bipartisanship, getting this done.

    So, over and over again, as he was taking this sort of victory lap, he was saying there were people even as I was running that said you could never with Republicans. You're never going to be able to get to the Hill and have White House aides bringing the two parties together, there's too much going on, too much animosity, and he said, look, this shows American democracy works.

    And that's sense of joy that Lisa is talking about, it was definitely over on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. You could feel the president levitating. There's a lot, of course, things going on, the pandemic, so many things, so many challenges for this White House, but the president said this bill is fundamentally going to change American life. He says it's transformational.

    And he also hit this theme that we've seen throughout this presidency, which is America is better for this on the world stage. I also want to point out, those people that were going to the Hill, those White House aides, they're really critical in this because President Biden leaned into the idea that the White House should be involved in the details.

    And I want to talk specifically about three people that are important. There's Steve Ricchetti, he's the White House counselor to the president. Brian Deese, the director of National Economic Council, the National Economic Council. And Louisa Terrell, she's' the White House Legislative Affairs director.

    Usually you see someone with Louisa's title at the Capitol, but Steve Ricchetti who's a trusted source for the president, somebody that he's know a long time, at one point, he was hold up for nine hours with Republican Senator Rob Portman, trying to iron out those details. So that tells you just how hands-on the White House was.

  • William Brangham:

    So, while the president is still levitating, as Yamiche first said, Lisa, what happens next? Because this is not a done deal, the football is still not over the line.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:


  • William Brangham:

    What happens next?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It's a complicated. It's a little bit complicated.

    This was part one of two bills that are connected to each other politically. So as this bill moves out of the Senate to the House, the Senate instantly moved to that next bill, the budget reconciliation bill we have been talking about, that's $3 trillion or $4 trillion, that is the even larger bill that Democrats want to get through. That is right now step one of that is moving through the Senate tonight. Likely they will finish with that sometime in the wee hours overnight.

    But I want to explain to you, the House is going to be a tricky situation. Let me try to run this as simply as I can. It's complicated.

    The infrastructure bill that just passed the Senate, that is favored by moderate Democrats especially. They like that. They see it as a middle ground.

    The reconciliation bill, the larger bill, that's favored by more progressive Democrats, that's something that's going to change healthcare, childcare, community college, all of that.

    But getting up through a 50/50 Senate is going to be tricky. So, those progressives are nervous. They're not sure if this reconciliation bill can make it through the Senate. So, here's Speaker Pelosi. She's holding onto the infrastructure bill that moderates like until the reconciliation bill that progressives want clears the Senate. I mean, it's sort of a Democratic kind of tit-for-tat situation here. There is a lot of pressure on her from all sides. There are a lot of sources now wondering if she doesn't cave in at some point on that. But right now, she's holding firm to her word.

  • William Brangham:

    Yamiche, what is your sense given you've described the full court press the White House has done, do you think they'll keep this up to pass the last bit as Lisa has been describing?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Absolutely. The White House is going to be very, very involved making sure this goes through the House and that both these bills land on the president's desk here.

    That dance they're going to be doing over at the House, President Biden says he has full confidence in Speaker Pelosi's approach, so that tells you without saying particularly that the White House says, yes, both these bills need to be working in tandem.

  • William Brangham:

    Yamiche Alcindor, Lisa Desjardins, thank you both so much.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Thanks so much.

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