White House races against the clock to save infrastructure bill from doom

The White House and key congressional Democrats spent this Wednesday trying to figure out how to secure enough votes in the U.S. House to pass a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill Thursday, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi had promised. But some House progressives are still holding out — unsatisfied by the status of the reconciliation bill. Yamiche Alcindor and Amna Nawaz discuss.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    It's a high-stakes puzzle that the White House and key congressional Democrats are still trying to solve: how to secure enough votes in the U.S. House to pass a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill tomorrow, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi had promised.

    Early today, some holdouts among House progressives, unsatisfied with the status of another larger bill that's still in the works. That could put trillions more towards climate, health care and other domestic initiatives.

    As the president himself gets more involved in these talks, Yamiche Alcindor has been following it all. She joins us now from the White House.

    Yamiche, good to see you. Thanks for being here.

    So let's talk about what the president's doing. What are some of his efforts that he's doing right now to try to unite Democrats?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, there is an intensifying feeling of urgency here at the White House tonight, as President Biden is scrambling to try to get Democrats united between these two big infrastructure bills, $1 trillion as the bipartisan bill, and then, of course, a $3.5 trillion bill that Democrat-supported right now, even though not all the Democrats are on the same page.

    The president was supposed to be in Chicago today talking about vaccine mandates, talking about companies that have adopted vaccine mandates, but, instead, he postponed that trip, signaling that he needed to be here to talk to lawmakers.

    In just the last hour, he was talking to both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. And I'm told in those meetings with lawmakers, including Senator Sinema and Senator Manchin, that the president is really doing two things.

    He's, one, explaining to senators and to lawmakers, here's what my legacy is. Here's what my agenda is. Here's what my wants for the American people are. The second thing he's doing is saying, what can I do to try to get you to yes? What can I do to try to get you on board with this plan for these two big bills to pass together?

    Then come the White House staff. Now, they were on the Hill today meeting with Senator Sinema. And some of the White House staff are White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain, as well as top aides Steve Ricchetti, Brian Deese, Louisa Terrell.

    These are names that might not be familiar to people, but they are really the brain trust that's behind this really effort to try to get the White House and all of its efforts to get the lawmakers on the same page.

    I'm also told that Senator Sinema looks like she's a senator who is more likely to say yes, even though that $3.5 trillion package, it might shrink down $2.5 trillion or even $2 trillion.

    I'm also told that Senator Manchin is the one that is the harder sell here. And just in the last hour, Senator Manchin put out a statement that did not sound like he was getting any closer to that reconciliation bill, supporting it.

    He put, in part, spending trillions of dollars, in his words, is like — quote — "fiscal insanity." He also wrote that Democrats should not — quote — "vengefully tax the wealthy."

    That, of course, is in stark contrast to what progressives have been saying, so a lot here with the president at the center of it.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Yamiche, the pressure is building. There is that self-imposed deadline.

    Speaker Pelosi said that vote on infrastructure is happening tomorrow. What's the sense in the White House today?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, the president is under enormous pressure. The next 24 hours is going to be critical for whether or not President Biden can really get this done, because Nancy Pelosi has said that she wants to bring that bipartisan infrastructure bill to the House floor because she's promised that, if it has the votes, it will go to the floor.

    Now, here's what the House — here's what the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said just a few hours ago, talking about the intensity of this moment.

  • Jen Psaki, White House Press Secretary:

    The president, just to give you an update, is going to be working around the clock the rest of today, overnight, into tomorrow morning. And we're going to be working in lockstep with Speaker Pelosi.

    The president has been clear about his commitment to getting both pieces of legislation passed, both of them through. So, right now, what we're navigating through and we're working through is how we can get agreement, of course, 50 votes in the Senate on a reconciliation package.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Press Secretary Jen Psaki also said that this was a — quote — "precarious" and important time in the Biden presidency. This, of course, is his whole agenda hanging in the balance. He has promised transformational change. He ran on the idea that he was the dealmaker, that he could use his decades in service in government to get a deal done.

    Now whether or not that actually happens will be the biggest test of his presidency here. So, you heard in the White House press secretary really doubling down on this idea that the president understands the moment and wants to get this done.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Big day at the White House. Yamiche Alcindor is covering it all.

    Thanks, Yamiche.

    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.

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