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Wake Up To Politics - November 8, 2021

Wake Up To Politics: Democrats got infrastructure passed. Now what?
Wake Up To Politics - November 8, 2021

Good morning! It’s Monday, November 8, 2021. Election Day 2024 is 1,093 days away. Election Day 2022 is 365 days — exactly one year — away.

On this day in history: Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Donald Trump all won presidential elections.

Plus, it’s my 20th birthday. “Teen journalist” no more! Thank you all for coming along for the ride.

Biden got his infrastructure bill. Now what?

“Finally! Infrastructure Week!” President Joe Biden said with a grin as he walked into the White House State Dining Room on Saturday morning. “I’m so happy to say that: Infrastructure Week.”

The remark served as a not-so-subtle dig at his predecessor, as well as a celebration of the significant accomplishment Biden had just scored: passage of the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which had been one of the president’s chief legislative priorities.

The largest investment in America’s infrastructure since the creation of the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s, the package will fund public works projects in all 50 states. It is slated to rebuild roads and bridges, eliminate the nation’s lead pipes, expand access to high-speed internet in rural communities, and take steps to prepare the U.S. for forthcoming climate disasters, among other provisions.

“Generations from now, people will look back and know this is when America won the economic competition for the 21st century,” Biden said in a statement after the House approved the infrastructure package in a 228-206 vote. Six House Democrats voted against the measure, while 13 Republicans supported it. The bill, crafted by a group of Democratic and Republican senators, achieved the twin Biden campaign promises of mending America’s infrastructure and passing legislation on a bipartisan basis.

Having passed the Senate in a 69-30 vote in August, the legislation is now sitting on Biden’s desk; he is expected to sign it in a bipartisan ceremony later this week.

President Joe Biden scored a significant accomplishment at the end of last week. (Nathan Posner / Wake Up To Politics)

The infrastructure win came at a critical time for the Biden presidency. Just days before the House vote, Democrats were dealt a series of electoral blow across the map, most notably Republican Glenn Youngkin’s ascension to the governorship of blue-leaning Virginia. Youngkin’s victory capped off a bruising few months for Biden, marked by the chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal, a Delta-fueled surge in Covid cases, rising inflation, and tumbling approval ratings.

Team Biden hopes that the infrastructure bill will open a new chapter in Biden’s presidency, and a reversal of his fortunes. Already, the bill’s passage has been accompanied by a set of promising jobs numbers (read more in “Economics Roundup” below) and an announcement about an antiviral pill that could help curb the pandemic Biden has struggled to bring to an end.  

But a number of other challenges await the president before the end of the year. The House vote on the bipartisan infrastructure package only came after a chaotic day on Capitol Hill, as moderates and progressives feuded over the ordering of the public works bill and Biden’s other main legislative priority, his $1.75 trillion social spending package.

Under an agreement brokered by Biden, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and the Congressional Black Caucus, the House is now slated to vote on the spending package — formally known as the Build Back Better Act — next week.

With provisions expanding access to health care, education, paid leave, home care, child care, public housing, as well as America’s biggest push yet to combat climate change, the spending package would make headway on almost every facet of Biden’s domestic agenda.

Ushering through the Biden agenda has been one of the most grueling challenges of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s long career. (Nathan Posner / Wake Up To Politics)

Although passage is now expected in the House (once it has been scored by the Congressional Budget Office), Democrats are likely staring down another drawn-out process in the Senate, where centrists Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) will continue whittling down the legislation until they are comfortable with its largesse.

Once the “two tracks” of the Infrastructure and spending bills have passed, Congress will have to turn to addressing two looming deadlines: saving the economy from a government shutdown and a catastrophic debt default. Legislation will be needed to avert both crises by December 3.

Meanwhile, Biden will have to embark on a rescue mission of his own. A USA Today/Suffolk poll conducted after the Virginia election but before the infrastructure vote recorded Biden’s approval rating at a dismal 38%, while Democrats are already sounding alarm bells ahead of next year’s midterm elections.  

After the months-long saga of pushing his agenda through Congress, Biden may think his biggest trials are behind him. But polls and historical trends suggest that his next task of selling the legislation to the public — and trying to persuade them to give Democrats two more years of united control in Washington — may end up being even harder.

What else you should know

— The U.S. will reopen its borders to fully vaccinated travelers today, lifting pandemic-era restrictions that were in place for 18 months.

— A federal court in Louisiana has blocked the Biden administration’s vaccine requirement for businesses with 100 or more employees. The mandate is now temporarily halted while legal challenges continue.

— Former President Donald Trump is tangled in a legal quandary of his own, as an Atlanta prosecutor is reportedly moving towards convening a special grand jury in her probe of Trump’s attempts to overturn the Georgia election results in 2020.

The Biden administration’s vaccine mandate has been paused. (State of Pennsylvania)

What else you should know

By Wake Up To Politics economics contributor Davis Giangiulio.

The economy added 531,000 jobs in October, a strong turnaround after two months of weaker than expected growth. The unemployment rate also fell to 4.6 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which released the data on Friday. Leisure and hospitality alone added 164,000 jobs, rebounding from when the Delta variant limited gains in this pandemic-hit sector. Even the previous two months that missed expectations were revised upwards: the new totals show the economy gained 483,000 jobs in August and 312,000 in September, compared to originally reported jumps of 235,000 and 194,000 respectively.

October’s improvement in hiring is being celebrated as evidence that the virus’ impact on the economy is slowly fading away. President Joe Biden said “our economy is on the move” in response to the numbers. But problems in the economy remain. The labor force participation rate, measuring those who are employed in the population or are actively looking for work, remains unchanged at 61.7 percent and has been stuck around there for more than a year, down from 63.4 percent before the pandemic. And Black and Asian unemployment rates remained unchanged this month, despite overall gains.

The U.S. gained 531,000 jobs in October, a sign of rebound after the Delta variant weakened growth over the summer. (Judith Jackson)

The Federal Reserve declared their first retreat of pandemic-era policy last week. Federal Open Market Committee members announced their decision to “begin reducing the monthly pace of its net asset purchases” by $15 billion. “Progress on vaccinations and an easing of supply constraints are expected to support continued gains in economic activity and employment,” the committee members said, explaining why they felt confident enough to make the move.

Reductions will begin later this month, and another $15 billion decline will occur in December as well. The Wall Street Journal notes that if this pace is kept up, the purchases could be phased out by June. However, in the FOMC statement, members made clear they are prepared to change the pace if necessary. The asset purchases were done to lower long-term interest rates and create more investment and economic expansion, but the removal of them may make it easier to raise rates to slow down inflation if it gets out of hand.

Meanwhile, two Fed chair candidates met with Biden on Thursday. Fed Chair Jay Powell and Fed Governor Lael Brainard made the trek to the White House; both are seen as the leading candidates for the term that is set to begin in February.

Progressives have rallied around Brainard; opposition to Powell only intensified after a stock trading scandal rocked the Fed earlier this fall. However, Powell continues to earn bipartisan support, with even Treasury Secretary and former Fed Chair Janet Yellen saying last week he’s “done a good job.” Biden said last week that he expects a nominee to be named “fairly quickly.


All times Eastern.
President Joe Biden will wake up at his vacation home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, where he spent the weekend. Biden will depart Delaware at 8:45 a.m. and arrive back at the White House at 9:40 a.m. He will receive his daily intelligence briefing at 10:15 a.m. and honor the Milwaukee Bucks for winning the 2021 NBA Championship at 2:50 p.m.

Vice President Kamala Harris will join Biden for the daily intelligence briefing at 10:15 a.m. Later, at 9:30 p.m., Harris will depart Washington, D.C., for Paris, France, where she will attend the fourth annual Paris Peace Forum this week.

First Lady Jill Biden and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy will hold an event at 2:15 p.m. to kick off a nationwide effort urging parents and guardians to vaccinate 5- to 11-year-olds for Covid-19. The event will be held at Franklin Sherman Elementary School in McLean, Virginia, which was the first school to administer the polio vaccine in 1954.

White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Transportation Secretary Peter Buttigieg will hold a press briefing at 1 p.m. Jean-Pierre is filling in for White House press secretary Jen Psaki, who is quarantining after testing positive for Covid; Buttigieg has been one of the administration’s main salespeople for the just-passed infrastructure package.

The House and Senate are on recess until November 15.

COURTS The Supreme Court will release orders at 9:30 a.m. The justices will hear oral arguments in FBI v. Fazaga at 10 a.m. and Unicolors, Inc. v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz, L.P. at 11 a.m. The former is a lawsuit against the FBI for a surveillance program that targeted a Muslim community in California; the latter is a copyright suit against H&M.