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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on infrastructure plan, Jan. 6 select committee

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Amna Nawaz to discuss the latest political news, including the bipartisan infrastructure plan, and a select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    A breakthrough on infrastructure has led to optimism about bipartisanship on Capitol Hill, but also a fresh set of challenges that come with compromise.

    Our Politics Monday team is here to analyze it all. That's Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    And welcome to you both.

    Tam, let's talk about those fresh challenges now.

    Last week, there was a bit of celebration. There was a bipartisan bill. You saw President Biden walk out with a group of senators. An infrastructure bill moving forward quickly gave way to Republican anger after President Biden said he would only sign that infrastructure bill if it was paired with a larger reconciliation package.

    I just want to show you one thing. Then, on Saturday, President Biden walked that back a bit, issued a statement.

    And he said this: "The bottom line is this. I gave my word to support the infrastructure plan. And that's what I intend to do. I fully stand behind it without reservation or hesitation."

    But wait. There's more. Here's Senator Romney on Sunday. Take a listen.

  • Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT):

    I am totally confident the president will sign up if it comes to his desk. The real challenge is whether the Democrats can get their act together and get it on his desk.

    And I think the battle that's going on is not with Republicans.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Tam, what is going on here? Is the infrastructure bill still on track?

  • Tamara Keith, National Public Radio:

    Well, the only reason Senator Romney was able to go on a Sunday television show and say he thinks things are on track and he trusts President Biden is because President Biden issued that walk-back.

    And President Biden really did seem to be issuing a veto threat. He obviously didn't mean it. But when he said that he needed both bills on his desk to be able to sign it, it made it sound like he wasn't going to be willing to support this bipartisan infrastructure deal that he had just announced unless he also got this second-track item, this American Families Plan, which would have to pass with Democratic votes alone.

    This all along has been like he's going to have to do a high-wire act while spinning plates in both hands, because he's trying to keep Democrats, who have the narrowest of margins, together and coalesced, while, at the same time, getting Republicans on board to pass this part that's the bipartisan infrastructure plan.

    And you saw a plate fall. And now he's picked it back up, and they're spinning again. But there — this is not going to be easy. It was never going to be easy. And this past four days was a signal of that.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Amy, how does the president do it? How does he keep the rest of the plates in the air? What are we likely to see?

  • Amy Walter, The Cook Political Report:

    No, Tam, that was excellent, plate spinning vs. bumps in the road, which is too easy to do with infrastructure, which was what I was going to use.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Amy Walter:

    But, look, Tam is exactly right.

    The reality for getting both of these through is still there. You still have Nancy Pelosi, Speaker Pelosi, saying, we absolutely must have a reconciliation bill — that is likely a Democrats-only bill that has the extra funding for things like education, childcare, climate — before we go and pass something like a bipartisan infrastructure bill.

    We talk a lot about the memories of the last time there was a Democratic president and Democrats were in charge. And there were many Democrats, for example, who voted for something with the intention of seeing it voted on the Senate, only to be told that, whoops, we don't have the votes in the Senate.

    So they want to be very clear on the House side that they're going to get what they ask for. The other big road bump is, of course, the 50/50 Democratic Senate. And already we have seen that Joe Manchin's name again is front and center.

    He has come out and said he likes the idea of supporting another big-spending domestic program, but not at the rate, not the cost that Senator Bernie Sanders is suggesting, somewhere close to $6 trillion. So, this number is going to be moving around a great deal between now and the end of the summer.

    It just means that there's a lot of this very delicate work that needs to get done over the summer. Traditionally, this is when members like to go home. They're not really used to working over the summer recess. And, again, the closer we get to the end of the year, the harder it gets.

    Members start to focus on their reelections. We're going to hear more about redistricting. The politics are going to start getting in the way. They really want to try to move this as quickly as possible

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, Tam, there's clearly challenges ahead within the Democratic Caucus on the reconciliation bill, right, if the American Families Plan moves forward that way.

    But even just with infrastructure, which seemed like it was a success last week, are there still 10 Republicans backing that?

  • Tamara Keith:

    It seems like there probably are still 10 Republicans backing that.

    But the issue that arose when President Biden said that those two things were linked, which, as Amy points out, Democrats in Congress really do believe that those two things are linked — and Pelosi and Schumer will control the schedule, not the White House.

    But what happened with Republicans is, it became clear that their idea that, oh, the American Families Plan may not be able to make it, Joe Manchin may sink that, if it is linked, then their hope, their plan, their plan to fight against the American Families Plan, while supporting infrastructure that is broadly popular, well, then that would have gone out the window, which is why they pushed back and were upset.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Speaking of Speaker Pelosi, we just today saw her introduce this bill in my hands. This will allow them to start moving forward to form that select committee to investigate the January 6 insurrection. We knew this was coming.

    We now have it. Just a couple of quick highlights I want to point out for folks following along at home. Here is what's in this right now,13 members total, it looks like, eight by majority, five with minority input. Speaker Pelosi appoints the chair. That chair has subpoena power. And there is no deadline for that report.

    So, Amy, I'm going to come to you first on it. A couple things that stands out to me. That chair has subpoena power.

  • Amy Walter:

    The chair has subpoena power.

    And the one person that is getting a lot of attention is the minority leader in the House, Kevin McCarthy. There are reports about a very heated discussion that McCarthy had with then President Trump as the attack on the Capitol was happening. I'm sure there are many Democrats who would like to hear him under oath tell that story and what the president's reaction was to this.

    The other thing that sticks out to me, Amna, is the fact that there's no timeline to get it done. Remember, the reason there's a select committee is — now is because a bipartisan commission was rejected. And so one of the things that the bipartisan commission would have had in place is that this report is done by the end of this year.

    Without a deadline, it means that this can drag out through 2022. And we know that, in the past, these sorts of commissions have been used by the parties to put the other side on their heels. Benghazi, of course, is the most recent example. It was really designed to put the focus on Democrats and put them in a very not particularly good light, the Obama administration particularly, and Hillary Clinton specifically.

    We will see if Democrats decide to do the same here. And a lot is going to depend on who Pelosi decides to put on this committee. Is she going to put the kinds of folks who like and relish getting into those sort of political battles, or maybe some of the more, I don't know if mellow is the right word, but ones who are a little less interested in having the fight for the fight's sake.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Mellow is not a word we hear often when we're talking about politics.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Tamara Keith:

    No.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    What's your takeaway from this? How is this likely to unfold?

  • Tamara Keith:

    What stands out to me is this idea of input from the minority leader, not necessarily — we don't know, will Kevin McCarthy be able to pick the Republican members, or will he not?

    And we will find — well, we will learn more details of this as this develops, but also who will be on the commission, whether they will approach it as a fact-finding mission, or whether the various partisan members of the commission will use it as an opportunity to highlight the divides that already exist.

    I mean, the reality is that this commission is going to have — or this select committee is going to have a very difficult time breaking through in our extremely divided politics, at a time when reality is in question, where there is not an agreement on truth or reality or what happened, just the base facts of what happened on January 6.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And we have seen former President Trump out this past weekend as well continuing to message on this right.

  • Amy Walter:

    Exactly.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Amy, real quick, before we go.

  • Amy Walter:

    Oh, I just wanted to say that's the other question, then, is, will Speaker Pelosi put a Republican on that committee, somebody like a Liz Cheney or an Adam Kinzinger, who has spoken out against the president, to show that maybe that will make something break through, rather than it just being Democrats vs. Republicans? We will see.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We will see.

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, our Politics Monday team, good to see you both.

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