Sen. Durbin on fate of infrastructure and reconciliation bills, debt ceiling, abortion

The reconciliation bill that may potentially hold up the passing of a separate infrastructure package could put trillions towards climate, health care, and other domestic initiatives. But moderate Democrats, progressives and Republicans are all divided on it. Amna Nawaz gets perspective from Capitol Hill with Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the number two Democrat in the Senate.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    To get now a perspective from Capitol Hill. I'm joined by Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois. He's the number two Democrat in the Senate. He joins us now.

    Senator Durbin, thanks again for making the time. Welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    Let's start with where we are right now.

    You have heard the latest on the statement from your colleague Senator Manchin, saying he's not convinced that money needs to be spent right now. And you have also — we have a statement from the House progressive leader, Pramila Jayapal, saying, after Senator Manchin's statement, she thinks even more people would vote against the infrastructure bill tomorrow.

    So, I will ask you, where are things now? Is there any chance this passes tomorrow?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL):

    Well, there's a certain amount of turmoil here.

    And it has to do with the fact that we have four major pieces of legislation that are hanging over us on Capitol Hill, first and foremost, to keep the government open. I think that's going to happen tomorrow. There will be some constructive votes in the Senate. And I think we're going to get it done.

    The second one, of course, is the debt ceiling. And that has an October, mid-October deadline to it. So we have a little time. But I certainly hope we get beyond this default strategy of Senator McConnell, holding up this important measure that directly impacts the American economy.

    Then we have the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which passed handily in the Senate, which sits in the House waiting for the ultimate outcome on the reconciliation bill, so that Nancy Pelosi can put together a coalition of all Democrats to pass both.

    What's holding up the reconciliation bill? Two senators, and you have identified them in your story already. I don't know which is closer, not in the latest negotiations directly face to face with him.

    But I would say to my colleagues, you have the power. Now use it to do something constructive for this country. Make your mark on this negotiation. You have that opportunity, but close the deal. It's time to close the deal, I'd say to both of them.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, Senator, do I understand you correctly? You are not directly talking to either Senator Manchin or Senator Sinema? Is that right?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    The president is directly talking to both of them. And the leaders are talking to them. And members of the leadership and staff are addressing issues that they raise.

    So, it isn't as if all of us are in the room together pounding this out. There are conversations on the floor with each of them about the status of things. But the actual negotiations are most important, so the president's own meetings with these people.

    And this president is committed to this in a way I haven't seen since the Affordable Care Act under President Obama.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, where are you now in terms of where a top-line number could end? Do you have any sense of what they would back?

    They're kind of setting the ceiling, right?; 3.5 trillion is too high for them. What's your floor? How low would you go?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    That's — that really is — we had a meeting this week to discuss just what that meant.

    And each time we drop that number — and this is over 10 years, incidentally, and it's all paid for by increasing the tax rates on the wealthiest in America, those making over $400,000 a year and corporations that are not being taxed. So we pay for it.

    But the net result of dropping that number from 3.5 to 3 or 2.5 or even lower means that we have to make an evaluation of the programs that are included in reconciliation. What do we invest in? What do we give up on? Are we going to have child care, which workers, particularly women and mothers, across this country tell us they desperately need?

    Are we going to have pre-K education for kids to get them ready in school? Are we going to extend it to the K-14, so people are equipped that have the talents and skills to have a productive life in our 21st century economy?

    Each one of these decisions means we have to change it. For example, on Medicare, are we going to expand it to dental care, eyeglasses?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Right.

    Senator, if I may, it doesn't sound like you're any closer to a top-line number in those talks?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    No, I'm not — I can't tell you that I have heard that number. We're waiting for it, because everything follows from it.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let me ask you while I have you about that debt ceiling vote that you mentioned.

    We know your colleagues in the House are working to pass a clean debt limit vote. Even if they do, once it makes it to the Senate, you need 10 of your Republican colleagues to break ranks to back it. Have you talked to any of them who have said they would do that?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    Well, of course, we have talked to them, and particularly, for example, the senators from Louisiana, both Republicans.

    There's disaster in this bill. And they desperately need it, and I want them to have it. We asked them to join us. And, so far, they're still considering it, but haven't done it. Aid for the Afghan refugees. How many speeches were made by Republicans, as well as Democrats, about standing behind these men and women who risked their lives for America?

    Those are basic things that we need to do in this bill. I will just tell you this. This is the first time I can remember that the Republicans have imposed a filibuster on the debt ceiling. This is unconscionable to think that that extraordinary vote is needed for something that should be that basic in terms of our responsibility.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Senator, before I let you go, I need to ask you about this Texas abortion law. I know you called it outrageous when it first came out.

    And you have called for hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee on that law, but also more broadly about this shadow docket, right, the emergency decisions the court often makes. What do you hope to accomplish in a hearing? Shouldn't you be moving forward on legislation to codify some of those abortion rights?

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    Well, I can tell you that the committee is going to consider legislation.

    But, remember, it's an 11-to-11 membership on that committee. And we're working on bipartisan bills where we can. And on the hot topics, like abortion and gun control, obviously, there's very little chance of bipartisanship.

    But the point of the hearing today was the fact that the Supreme Court is increasingly using the shadow docket, which means they make momentous decisions, life-changing decisions, and don't issue any opinion to justify what they have decided.

    And that has been taken to task not only by the three liberals left on the court, but Justice Roberts. He said this Texas statute was one that we shouldn't give an automatic stay, so that they can proceed with the appeals.

    So we brought up the particulars on the Texas abortion statute today. Interestingly enough, not a single Republican defended the specifics of that Texas statute on its merits. They were all arguing the issue of abortion, which, of course, is very controversial.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat from Illinois, joining us tonight.

    Senator Durbin, thank you. Always good to see you.

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    Thank you.

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