Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) talks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., July 13, 2021. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)
Good morning, folks. Alexandra DeSanctis here, back by demand — though maybe not popular demand — to fill in for Jim Geraghty this week while he enjoys his vacation.
On the menu today: Chuck Schumer turns up the pressure in the Senate, aiming to ram through the bipartisan infrastructure bill this week; Democratic legislators from Texas flee their responsibilities and bring COVID-19 along with them; and Nancy Pelosi intends to let congressmen continue voting remotely at least for now, a perk she’s come to enjoy.
Schumer’s Big Gamble on Infrastructure
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) is taking a real leap of faith this week, announcing that he’ll schedule a vote for Wednesday on the bipartisan infrastructure deal. But as of the weekend, the bill’s language was still taking shape, and the bipartisan group of senators haggling over it had yet to finish making the adjustments and compromises needed to keep the requisite GOP votes.
Schumer seems to hope that, by going ahead with a vote even without a final bill text, he’ll force the bipartisan coalition to quit fussing over various portions of the legislation and settle their disagreements quickly. But his decision runs the risk of scuttling the entire deal by scaring off Republican negotiators, some of whom said the language isn’t ready for a vote and won’t be unless Schumer gives them more time. Politico Playbook this morning has more:
Senators in the group spent the entire weekend trying to plug a nearly $100 billion hole in the $1 trillion plan after Republicans took issue with plans to beef up IRS enforcement. . . . Sources familiar with the ongoing talks told us Sunday night that there are other outstanding issues: The group was still haggling over something in almost every category of the bill, from highways and transit to water and power infrastructure.
Schumer thinks both sides have had plenty of time to reach an agreement. He’s been clear about his July time frame on this for weeks. And August recess is fast approaching, a time when senators — including Schumer — want to get home to campaign for reelection.
Republicans don’t like it: Schumer’s put-up-or-shut-up move isn’t sitting well with the 11 Senate Republicans who’ve spent the past several months negotiating on BIF. Two of them — Portman and Bill Cassidy (La.) — went on the Sunday shows to air their complaints.
“How can I vote for cloture when the bill isn’t written?” an exasperated Cassidy told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.” “Unless Sen. Schumer doesn’t want this to happen, you need a little bit more time to get it right. … It can absolutely happen, but you need the pay-fors. … We need Senate leadership, Schumer and the White House, to work with us. Right now, I can frankly tell you that they’ve not.”
On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Ohio Republican Rob Portman said much the same thing: “We are still negotiating. In fact, last night I was negotiating some of the final details with the White House, and later today we’ll be having additional negotiations with the Republicans and Democrats who come together to put this bill into a track that’s very unusual for Washington.”
“This is a little confusing for people because it’s actually 11 Republicans and 11 Democrats putting this together,” Portman added. “Chuck Schumer, with all due respect, is not writing the bill. Nor is Mitch McConnell, by the way. So that’s why we shouldn’t have an arbitrary deadline of Wednesday.”
In response to pushback from GOP senators, Schumer has insisted that the text can continue to be massaged after an initial vote that would allow the chamber to continue to a debate. But Portman rejected that argument when CNN host Dana Bash asked him about it.
“Start debate on what?” Portman replied. “We don’t have a product yet, and we won’t have a product until we can finish the negotiations properly.”
And this isn’t the only bill Schumer is attempting to ram through before the Senate’s August recess. He’s also angling this week to consolidate support within his own party for the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget plan, but thus far there have been holdouts. The Wall Street Journal has more on the Democratic votes Schumer has yet to secure:
Many moderate Senate Democrats pivotal to the package’s chances of passage, including Sens. Jon Tester of Montana, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, said they were still reviewing details of the agreement. Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) said he raised concerns about the package’s impact on inflation and its climate-change provisions during the lunch meeting.
The bill is expected to include broad tax credits for clean energy investments and liberal Democrats are pressing to end subsidies for fossil fuels.
“I’m concerned also about maintaining the energy independence the United States of America has, and with that you cannot be moving towards eliminating the fossil,” Mr. Manchin said. “Hopefully we can come to an agreement that they understand fossil is going to play a part.”
Another central concern for Mr. Manchin is covering the full cost of the $3.5 trillion bill. Democrats on the Budget Committee said Tuesday night the package would be fully paid for with tax increases and other sources of revenue.
“Look, I’m open to it,” Mr. Tester said Wednesday, noting that he thought it was appropriate for the federal government to invest in housing, child care and workforce training. “I just need to know what’s in it, how it’s paid for.”
Schumer can’t afford to lose a single one of those moderate Democrats if he hopes to get the enormous budget through, just as he can’t afford to lose the votes of the few Republicans negotiating with Democrats on the infrastructure package. In order to begin debate and proceed to a final vote on that bill this week, Schumer will need 60 senators, meaning he’s relying on ten Republicans to join all 50 Democrats, a risky proposition even before he tried forcing their hands.
Democrats Escape Texas with COVID-19 in Tow
Since fleeing their own state capitol for the stately halls of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, five Democratic legislators from Texas have reported testing positive for COVID-19. The nearly 60 Democrats headed up north to escape a special session of the Texas legislature, called in order to consider a Republican voting bill intended mostly to undo the emergency voting measures put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The session to vote on the voting bill came after Democratic legislators walked out on the first attempt to pass the legislation back in May, denying Republicans a quorum. Republican state legislators have the necessary votes to pass the bill, but without Democrats present, they lack the necessary quorum to vote at all.
After about a week of gushing attention from mainstream outlets, the Texas Democrats might be starting to regret their location in the spotlight now that they’ve begun to report several cases of COVID-19. All five of the infected individuals report having been vaccinated and said in a statement that they’re experiencing either no symptoms or only mild ones.
In response to the news, the Texas House Democratic Caucus announced via email that it would begin providing daily COVID tests to the members in D.C. and that the infected individuals are following CDC protocol until they recover.
Since arriving in Washington, the lawmakers have met with a number of top Democratic officials, including Chuck Schumer and Joe Manchin — and Kamala Harris, who headed to Walter Reed hospital on Sunday for what her staff said was a previously scheduled “routine doctor’s appointment.”
According to Harris’s spokeswoman Symone Sanders, the vice president and her staff “were not at risk of exposure because they were not in close contact with those who tested positive and therefore do not need to be tested or quarantined.”
It’s easy to imagine what sort of spiteful coverage these legislators would be receiving if they were Republicans fleeing their state legislature in order to avoid voting on a Democratic bill to loosen voting regulations — lucky for these guys, they don’t have to worry about that. Get well soon!
Pelosi Is Loving Remote Work
Like many of the rest of us, House speaker Nancy Pelosi appears to have gotten used to the perks of working remotely. According to the New York Times, the Democratic leader has announced that members may continue voting by proxy at least until the fall, even though the threat of COVID-19 has all but receded.
That decision isn’t surprising considering that the remote-voting policy has become about more than just health and safety, or even convenience. Instead, House lawmakers have used the ability to vote from afar to enable more time on the campaign trail, using the system as what the Times calls “a tool of personal and political convenience.” More from the Times report:
Fourteen months after [proxy voting] was approved, with the public health threat in retreat and most members of Congress vaccinated, a growing number of lawmakers are using the practice to attend political events, double down on work back home or simply avoid a long commute to Washington.
Perhaps no one has benefited more from the arrangement than Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who recently informed lawmakers that proxy voting would be in effect for the remainder of the summer. It has allowed Ms. Pelosi, whose majority is so slim that she can afford to lose no more than four Democrats if every member is present and voting, to all but ensure that absences alone do not cost her pivotal support.”
Rank-and-file lawmakers have also taken full advantage. The day before the border junket, Representative Ron Kind, a politically endangered Wisconsin Democrat, used proxy voting so that he could instead accompany President Biden on a visit through his home state. . . .
And data suggests that lawmakers regularly use the system to extend their weekends back home. According to outside experts who compiled and analyzed data on proxy voting in the House, its use often ticks up on days lawmakers are scheduled to fly in and out of town. The House returns on Monday after a two-week break; on its final day in session before the recess began, 39 members used proxies instead of showing up in person to vote.
Could what began as a loophole to deal with the threat of COVID-19 become common practice for legislators more concerned with getting reelected than with spending any time in Washington actually working?
ADDENDUM: Over at Public Discourse last week, I reviewed a new book on the tension between authentic feminism and unlimited abortion by Erika Bachiochi, a legal scholar and my colleague at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Today, Public Discourse is running an excellent series on a similar subject, with short responses from four women to this piece, which argued that feminism is facing its defining moment in the fight over gender ideology and transgenderism. The entire discussion is well worth checking out.
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