The two fractious wings of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s caucus are tumbling toward intraparty war. President Joe Biden is hoping to head off disaster.
Biden will hold a series of meetings with key Democrats Wednesday, including Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer as party leaders try to salvage their two-part domestic agenda — a massive social safety net expansion and bipartisan infrastructure bill — amid a fresh round of hostage-taking from centrist and progressive members.
“I hope he is the secret sauce,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said of Biden. “The president of the United States is always a very influential figure, and I know he wants both bills passed.”
Many of those restive Democrats have been waiting weeks for their president, who has spent the summer largely focused on crises off the Hill, to turn his attention to the House. And Biden’s attempt at a kumbaya moment could hardly come at a more critical time, with the narrowly divided House nearing an uncertain vote Monday on the Senate’s infrastructure deal.
The president’s sales pitch for unity won’t be easy. Progressive leaders are still publicly threatening to tank the infrastructure bill despite warnings from leadership that doing so won’t deliver them the multitrillion social spending plan. Liberals are holding firm, daring Democratic leaders to bring up the infrastructure package and see what happens.
“I don’t think the speaker is going to bring a bill up that is going to fail,” Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said after leaving a lengthy meeting in Pelosi’s office Tuesday. “Our position has not changed.”
But other Democrats, including some of Jayapal’s fellow progressives, are more skeptical that they’ll make good on the threat when the infrastructure bill finally hits the House floor — particularly after a personal plea from Biden. In addition, the reconciliation bill is far from finished, much less ready for a House vote next week.
Meanwhile, moderates — even beyond the group of nine that halted floor action last month — are vowing mutiny if the left does upend the infrastructure bill Biden embraced as a signature achievement, especially after Pelosi promised them a vote by Monday in an agreement that salvaged the dual-track domestic plan last month.
“It would be deeply disappointing to have the bill on the floor only to have people … vote against it for political grandstanding,” said Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), one of the nine centrists who struck that deal to set up Monday’s infrastructure vote.
And if Pelosi pulls the infrastructure bill next week to avoid defeat, Murphy added: “The mistrust that exists currently between members will spread to mistrust between leadership and members.”
Still, House Democrats got plenty of signals that disappointment was close. Tensions have risen for weeks between the two wings of the caucus as Pelosi and her leadership team struggled to reconcile a pair of separate commitments that seemed impossible to achieve by the end of September — no matter how often they promised they’d get it done.