Progressives, moderate Dems close to agreement on Biden’s legislative agenda

After public feuds between moderate and progressive Democrats cast doubt on a path forward toward agreement on the infrastructure and Build Back Better agenda, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer expressed optimism Tuesday that the dust has settled in his ranks, paving the way to a compromise. Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor join Judy Woodruff with more.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Key lawmakers are signaling tonight that an agreement among Democrats could be reached following President Biden's meetings with influential members of his party over the framework of his Build Back Better agenda.

    Majority Leader Chuck Schumer expressed optimism that the dust has settled in his ranks, paving the way to a compromise.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY):

    There was universal, universal agreement in that room that we have to come to an agreement and we have got to get it done, and want to get it done this week.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    To bring us up to speed on all these developments, I'm joined by Lisa Desjardins, who is at the Capitol, and Yamiche Alcindor, who is at the White House.

    So, hello. Good evening to both of you.

    Lisa, let me start with you.

    We heard the majority leader, Senator Schumer, use the word agreement. What are you hearing?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    There's all kinds of work ahead still for Democrats, but, Judy, this was a significant day for them.

    Let me explain what we learned today quickly. We learned from House progressives, including Pramila Jayapal speaking at the White House, that the president is now pushing for a very specific number for this bill, about $1.9 trillion to $2.2 trillion.

    Now, this also happened on the same day as Senate Democrats, as you heard from Senate Leader Chuck Schumer say, they would like a framework this week. They came out of perhaps their most unifying and most positive meeting on this issue yet, saying that they are going to try and actually figure out what this bill will look like this week.

    Now, this is no accident that this is coming as there is tremendous political pressure on Democrats, one, President Biden's approval ratings, and Democrats see that as tied to whether they succeed here on these issues, and, two, the Virginia gubernatorial election, where the Democrat there, Terry McAuliffe, is not doing as well as Democrats hope.

    They see that as perhaps a bellwether for next year. They want to try and get things moving, if not passed, soon, so that they can start making more electoral games and helping the president with his approval rating, and, of course, getting their agenda through.

    Basically, Judy, where we are right now is, the opening moves are over here. We are now in the middle game. We know roughly what this bill will be of size. This week, Democrats are going to try and figure out if they can agree together on what goes in it. That's the middle game.

    And then we will see how long it takes for them to do the endgame, move it through both chambers.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And then, Yamiche, from the president's perspective, he spent much of this day meeting separately with progressives and moderates in his own party.

    What is the White House thinking now?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, the president really is spending much of his time trying to get Democrats, Democratic lawmakers on the same page.

    It's something he's been trying to do for weeks. But today was significant, in the fact that he met with both Senator Sinema, as well as Senator Manchin, as well as a group of House progressives, as well as a House — a group of House moderates.

    Now, here, the president is saying essentially to all of the members of his party, we need to get together, we need to close this out.

    Now, the president is talking now about specific numbers. We have been reporting that it was probably going to end up around $2 trillion. So, here's the president really talking through both moderates to try to make sure that they can go down on the initial $3.5 trillion, but also to Senator Manchin, who wanted at times $1.5 trillion, a number that he had been floating since the summer.

    The key thing here is that White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that the White House feels like we are getting closer to the final stages. But she would not say whether or not President Biden wants to see the infrastructure bills passed by the end of the month, which is what we have heard from Democratic leaders in Congress.

    Another thing to note here is that lawmakers, when they were at the White House and they were sort of questioned about the role that President Biden is playing, they said that President Biden is the inspirer, the closer, the sort of mediator in chief in this moment.

    So, really, President Biden is being seen as someone who's critical in these debates.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Yamiche, we know that the president is not only working on this. He's also feeling pressure from members of his own party on a number of issues, including police reform and voting rights.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    That's right.

    President Biden is facing incredible pressure to get this infrastructure bill and this infrastructure deal through because he has not been able to get a deal through on voting rights or on policing reform. We have seen those parts of his agenda stalled in Congress.

    And Democratic leaders, including candidates, including those candidates who are running in races like the Virginia governor's race, are saying Democrats in Washington need to hand Democrats something productive that they have done in order to win in other races.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa, finally, back to you.

    There had been this sense of a deadline by the end of October. What's it looking like now?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes, I don't think they can get a full bill by them. But they are talking turkey, Judy.

    Already, we can report that one major item, that climate pricing item that we talked about last night, is likely out of negotiations. From here, now Democrats have to choose from everything else, health care, child care, the rest of the climate package, housing, all of that, what will remain in this bill. Those talks will start right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, all behind closed doors, but it sounds like some movement today.

    Lisa Desjardins, Yamiche Alcindor, thank you both.

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