After 2 days of Democratic drama, fate of Biden’s infrastructure agenda still unclear

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(WASHINGTON) — After two days of Democratic infighting and drama, the fate of President Joe Biden’s infrastructure agenda remained unclear after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had to repeatedly put off a vote on a bipartisan infrastructure bill because progressive Democrats had vowed to vote against it — unless there’s a deal on a larger spending package.

After voting to approve a 30-day extension of federal highway and transit funding, House members were told late Friday that they could return home for a two-week recess. But they were put on 72-hours’ notice for the possibility of votes on various legislation, including infrastructure.

Overnight, Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D- N.J. and co-Chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, railed against Pelosi, issuing a statement saying, “It’s deeply regrettable that Speaker Pelosi breached her firm, public commitment to Members of Congress and the American people to hold a vote and to pass the once-in-a-century bipartisan infrastructure bill on or before September 27.”

“We cannot let this small faction on the far left — who employ Freedom Caucus tactics, as described by the New York Times today — destroy the President’s agenda and stop the creation of two million jobs a year — including for the millions of hard-working men and women of labor,” he added.

The feuding has so jeopardized Biden’s top legislative priorities that he went to Capitol Hill Friday afternoon to meet with House Democrats to make clear he wants both the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill and the $3.5 trillion social safety net and climate policy measure to pass.

“It doesn’t matter when. It doesn’t matter whether it’s in six minutes, six days, or six weeks. We’re gonna get it done,” Biden told reporters as he emerged.

Behind closed doors, Biden suggested that a smaller topline social policy bill price tag ranging from $1.9-$2.2 trillion could be the compromise in tense negotiations involving the White House, Democratic progressives, moderates and two key Senate Democrats, according to sources in the room.

Such an investment, together with the $1.2 trillion bipartisan highway bill, would still be a huge investment, he told the caucus, the sources said.

“Even a smaller bill can make historic investments,” they quoted Biden as saying.

The bipartisan infrastructure bill “ain’t going to happen until we reach an agreement on the next piece of legislation,” he added, according to the sources. “Let’s try to figure out what we are for in reconciliation … and then we can move ahead.”

He made clear he campaigned on the proposals in the larger package, they said, but did not suggest or endorse a specific timeline for votes in the House or Senate.

One Democrat inside the room told ABC News Congressional Correspondent Rachel Scott they were “massively disappointed.”

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the lawmaker told her “when the president of the United States comes, it’s to close the deal — not to say hello.” The member added, “Most of us are at a loss for words. There was no plan. No strategy. No timing.”

Earlier Friday, Pelosi and House Democrats held another caucus meeting for more than two-and-a-half hours as they tried to find a path forward on their policy agenda after Democratic leadership and the White House failed to bring progressives and moderates together behind the president’s broader agenda.

Inside that closed-door gathering, which typically has the feel of a pep rally-turned-group therapy session, Pelosi seized the opportunity to take the temperature of her caucus. Centrist members from swing districts pushed for an immediate vote on the Senate-passed infrastructure bill. Progressives insisted that they will block it unless the Senate first approves the massive social policy package – hardening the stance they have taken for several weeks.

“No. We need a vote,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said outside the morning caucus meeting. “We need to be real. Are we going to deliver universal pre-K to this country, or not? Are we going to expand health care to our seniors and improve vision and dental, or not?”

Pelosi told members that Democrats ought to move quickly and that the situation was “perishable,” according to sources familiar with her comments.

“We cannot and I will not ask you to vote for the BIF (Capitol Hill shorthand for bipartisan infrastructure framework) until we have the best possible offering that we can stick with,” Pelosi told Democrats. “And it’s not just me. This is about the president of the United States.”

“So, that’s why it is our intention to bring up the vote today. It is our intention to win the vote today,” she added, according to sources familiar with her comments.

As she arrived at the Capitol Friday morning, ABC News asked Pelosi whether she was trying to get members on board by promising a second reconciliation bill early next year in an effort to appease members now, after vowing again on Thursday that a reconciliation bill would follow the vote on the bipartisan package.

“I don’t know about that but a reconciliation bill is not excluded. It’s not necessarily connected to this,” she said.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer arrived a minute ahead of Pelosi, telling reporters only “we’ll see” when asked whether the House would vote on the measure before the end of the day.

Pelosi had insisted for two mornings that she planned to go ahead with a vote on the Senate-passed $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill.

Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., exiting the morning caucus meeting on Friday, said she’s “seen more progress in the last 48 hours than we’ve seen in a long time on reconciliation.”

She reiterated the progressives’ position that they’ll vote “no” unless there is agreement with the moderate Democratic senators on a larger social spending package to accompany it.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who along with and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. object to the larger bill’s cost, told reporters on Thursday he already conveyed to leadership his topline number is $1.5 trillion — far below progressives $3.5 trillion number.

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