Good morning! It’s Thursday, September 23, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 411 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,139 days away.
Biden tries to rally Democrats around his spending agenda
President Biden met separately with Democratic lawmakers from the party’s moderate and progressive wings on Wednesday, his most personal involvement yet in the efforts to rescue his sweeping economic agenda from congressional infighting.
Democrats are scrambling to bridge the gap between moderates and progressives by September 27 — this coming Monday — when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has promised moderates that she will hold a vote on the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill. Progressives are threatening to sink the bill if it isn’t accompanied by the single-party reconciliation bill containing the rest of Biden’s agenda (which won’t be ready by then). But moderates say if the bipartisan bill fails, progressives can say goodbye to reconciliation.
With Democrats wielding the slimmest of majorities in both chambers, every threat carries weight. Here’s what you should know about the latest developments:
— Democrats are no closer to consensus. According to a White House readout, each of Biden’s meetings were “productive and candid” — but there are no indications that he was successful in moving either of his party’s ideological factions closer to the other.
It seems the party’s leaders are trying to rescue the two bills by crafting a framework for a spending package that both factions can agree on, hoping that will be enough reconciliation progress to convince progressives to support the bipartisan bill. According to Punchbowl News, Democrats will be working “frantically” over the next few days to put together the framework, although many lawmakers are “skeptical” it can be done by Monday.
As Punchbowl noted, “the biggest point of contention” is the topline price of the package, which progressives want to be $3.5 trillion over 10 years and moderates want to be closer to $1.5 trillion. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) told reporters that Biden pleaded him on Wednesday to “give me a number,” hoping to settle on a topline acceptable to both sides.
— The bipartisan infrastructure bill could go down in flames. One of Biden’s signature legislative achievements thus far has been ushering his beloved bipartisan infrastructure package through the Senate in a lopsided 69-30 vote. But, as of this moment, the bipartisan bill’s odds are not looking great in the House.
Rep. Marc Pocan (D-WI) told CNN on Wednesday that there are 50 Democrats who plan to oppose the measure because the reconciliation package has not been approved yet. That means Pelosi would have to rely on Republican support to pass the bill — but the GOP announced Wednesday that they will whip against the measure, making it unlikely Pelosi will get the cross-party support she needs. Only three House Republicans have signaled plans to support the Senate bill so far.
Pelosi’s allies say never to bet against her, and express confidence she’ll break the logjam among her members. But if there is one bedrock principle to her legislative strategy it is that she is loath to put a bill up for a vote she knows will fail. That’s why Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) is predicting Pelosi will break her promise to moderates and postpone the vote: “I don’t think the speaker is going to bring up a bill that is going to fail,” she said confidently after a two-hour meeting with Pelosi.
— No one seems worried about a government shutdown or debt default. On Wednesday, I devoted the newsletter to explaining the debt ceiling and why it matters. Hopefully, that gave you a sense of the financial calamity in store if the debt ceiling isn’t raised by mid-October. But that isn’t the only crucial deadline facing lawmakers: government funding will expire on October 1, risking a shutdown if a stopgap funding bill hasn’t been passed by then.
The House approved a continuing resolution (CR) earlier this week to extend government funding and suspend the debt ceiling, but it is doomed in the Senate, where Republicans are prepared to reject it because of the debt ceiling provision. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is calling for Democrats to handle the debt ceiling themselves, via reconciliation. So far, they’ve resisted that idea — but some Democrats are reportedly considering it as the threat of default grows.
However, no one seems all that spooked by the twin deadlines bearing down on them. According to Politico, Biden has “largely deferred to Democratic leaders” on the debt ceiling and has “remained mostly mom on the matter, even as efforts to convince Republicans to budge — including one involving former Republican Treasury secretaries — have come up short. As far as one can tell from the various readouts of Biden’s meetings on Wednesday, the debt ceiling does not seem to have come up once.
What else you need to know
— The FDA approved Pfizer booster shots for people over the age of 65 and adults at high risk of severe illness.
— President Biden spoke by phone with French President Emmanuel Macron, seeking to mend a rift sparked by a U.S. submarine deal with Australia. The French ambassador to the U.S., who Macron recalled last week, will return to Washington next week.
— Biden announced that his administration would donate 500 million additional doses of the Pfizer vaccine to developing countries, doubling the U.S. commitment.
— Bipartisan negotiations on police reform collapsed after months of stalled talks.
— Biden’s approval rating has reached a new low of 43%, according to a new Gallup poll.
Policy Roundup: Legal
By Wake Up To Politics legal contributor Anna Salvatore.
Under a Trump-era pandemic order, the Biden administration began deporting hundreds of Haitian migrants this week. More than 10,000 Haitians have streamed to the U.S. border, seeking an escape from a country riven by gang violence and internal power struggles after President Jovenel Moïse’s assassination in July. While some have been deported, others have been released into the U.S., despite the Biden administration’s promises to the contrary.
- Biden has faced bipartisan criticism for his handling of the situation, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) blasting the president for continuing “hateful and xenophobic Trump policies.” Lawmakers and activists have also accused border agents of racist treatment of the migrants.
The prosecution rested its case on Monday in the trial of R. Kelly, a famous R&B singer accused of running a sex ring for decades. Testimony began in early August in Brooklyn federal court, where women who’d lived with Kelly said that he had been physically abusive, controlling, and coercive, having even forced one young woman to have an abortion. Grooming is “not an event, it’s a pattern,” said forensic psychologist Dawn Hughes. “It’s not a single incident, it’s a process.”
- The judge said on Tuesday that closing arguments could begin this week, meaning that jurors will soon decide whether to convict Kelly of federal anti-racketeering law. Kelly is not expected to testify in his own defense.
In what international observers described as a “show trial,” the man who inspired the film “Hotel Rwanda” was sentenced Monday to 25 years in prison for terrorism charges. Paul Rusesabagina gained fame in 1994 for sheltering more than 1,200 people in his hotel during the Rwandan genocide, and he has since become a prominent critic of President Paul Kugame. In response, Kugame accused him of sponsoring terrorist attacks in Rwanda—a charge that’s drawing international censure.
- “The prosecution evidence against him was unveiled but not challenged,” said a Clooney Foundation observer. “Given Mr. Rusesabagina’s age and poor health, this severe sentence is likely to be a death sentence.”
More legal headlines:
- On Monday night, the Senate confirmed former public defender Veronica Ross to the 10th Circuit. According to the White House, President Biden has now nominated more federal judges by this point in his term than any president in the last 50 years.
- The Missouri couple who pointed guns at Black Lives Matter protesters might have their firearms licenses suspended.
- A first-edition printed copy of the U.S. Constitution will soon go on sale at Sotheby’s, where it could sell for up to $20 million.
- Can the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court release decisions that are closed to the public? The Supreme Court will soon consider this question.
All times Eastern, unless otherwise noted.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will receive their daily intelligence briefing at 9:30 a.m. Biden will then receive his weekly economic briefing at 12 p.m., before having lunch with Harris at 12:30 p.m.
In addition to the briefing and lunch, Harris will meet with President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo of Ghana at 11:15 a.m. and with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India at 3:15 p.m.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will hold her daily press briefing at 12 p.m.
The Senate will convene at 9 a.m. Following remarks from each party leader, the chamber chamber will resume consideration of Florence Pan’s nomination to be a U.S. District Judge for the District of Columbia.
At around 10 a.m., the chamber will vote on Pan’s confirmation, followed by a cloture vote advance the nomination of Sarah Bianchi to be Deputy U.S. Trade Representative for Asia, Africa, Investment, Services, Textiles, and Industrial Competitiveness. The chamber will then hold up to two hours of debate on Bianchi’s nomination, followed by a vote on her confirmation.
Later in the day, the Senate is expected to hold cloture and confirmation votes on six other Biden nominees:
- Daniel Kritenbrink, to be an Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
- Karen Donfried, to be Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs and Eurasian Affairs
- Monica Medina, to be Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
- Mary Catherine Phee, to be Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs
- Todd Robinson, to be Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
- Jessica Lewis, to be Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs
On the committee level, the Senate Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing at 10:15 a.m. on U.S. cybersecurity strategy. Witnesses will include National Cyber Director Chris Inglis and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Director Jen Easterly.
The House will convene at 10 a.m. Following one-minute speeches from members of both parties, the chamber will move to legislative business at 12 p.m. and vote under “suspension of the rules” on H.R. 5232, the Iron Dome Supplemental Appropriations Act. The bill would provide $1 billion in funding for the Iron Dome, the Israeli aerial defense system; the money was originally included in the government funding bill passed by the House on Tuesday but stripped out after protests by progressive Democrats.
Later, the House will complete consideration of H.R. 4350, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022, voting on 17 amendments to the package and then the bill itself. The package would authorize $770.3 billion in Defense Department funding from 2022 to 2024.
The chamber may also vote on passage of up to eight bills under “suspension of the rules”:
- S. 848, the Consider Teachers Act of 2021
- H.R. 1029, the Free Veterans from Fees Act
- H.R. 1154, the Great Dismal Swamp National Heritage Area Act
- H.R. 3533, to establish occupational series for Federal positions in software development, software engineering, data science, and data management
- H.R. 3599, the Federal Rotational Cyber Workforce Program Act of 2021
- H.R. 1204, the District of Columbia Chief Financial Officer Salary Home Rule Act
- H.R. 978, the Chai Suthammanont Remembrance Act of 2021
- H.R. 2617, the Performance Enhancement Reform Act
On the committee level, the House Transportation Committee will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. on “the surge in air rage,” the recent uptick in violent outbursts aboard airplanes. An American Airlines flight attendant will testify, along with officials from the Association of Flight Attendants, Airports Council International, and Airlines for America.
The Supreme Court is not in session.
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