Progressives defy Pelosi, say they'll block infrastructure bill


Progressives on Thursday vowed to block a popular infrastructure bill — a central piece of President Biden’s domestic agenda — just hours after the president urged their support and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced plans to bring the bipartisan proposal to the House floor for a vote the same day.

The move by dozens of members in the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) was hardly a departure of tactics: Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who chairs the group, has said for months that liberals would oppose the infrastructure bill until there was a concrete agreement with Democratic centrists on a larger social spending package. 

Still, their decision to hold that line constitutes a remarkable escalation of the high-stakes power struggle between Pelosi and the progressive members of her own caucus, who said they simply can’t back the infrastructure bill without greater assurances that a larger social spending bill will contain their priorities.

In an exceptional interaction Thursday, Pelosi walked into a strategic meeting of the CPC, only to leave a short time later without speaking to the group.  

Jayapal emerged not long afterwards to explain the group’s position. With a number of issues still unresolved in the social spending bill — and parts of the text yet to be written — Jayapal said liberals are sticking with their initial strategy, even if it means bucking leadership to delay the vote on the bipartisan infrastructure framework, often referred to as the BIF, until next week. 

“There are ... too many 'no' votes for the BIF to pass today. However, we are committed to staying here until we get this Build Back Better Act done, get the legislative text,” Jayapal said after huddling in the basement of the Capitol with other members of the CPC. 

But extending an olive leaf to Biden and leaders, Jayapal said the CPC later Thursday will endorse a resolution endorsing Biden’s $1.75 trillion framework, which was rolled out by the White House Thursday morning. 

“With the framework that is there, we can endorse that in principle, but we do need to have the legislative text and we will vote both bills through together,” she added.

“The investments that have been outlined are the things that CPC have been fighting for. They exist because we have held the line — of course we endorse them,” progressive Rep. Ayana Pressley (D-Mass.) told The Hill. “We have full support for the Build Back Better Act.”

In standing firm, Jayapal has plenty of air support from her fellow CPC members. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) told reporters she’s a “hell no” on the infrastructure package unless both bills move through Congress together. And Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.) argued that withholding their votes on the roads-and-bridges bill is the only leverage progressives have to ensure passage of the social spending and climate package.

"If we vote for the BIF, I think that that's it. I think we lose the other bill. I don't trust what the senators are going to do,” Vargas said. “In fact, to be fair to the senators, they haven't said they were going to vote in favor of this thing anyway."

While most members of the CPC hailed the substance of Biden's framework, at least one lawmaker was voicing dissent. Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), a first-term progressive, said she felt "bamboozled" by the policy framework unveiled by the White House Thursday morning, voicing concerns that certain family benefits were insufficient. 

The intransigence from progressives has sparked frustration even from some senior members of the CPC.

“That’s one of the problems with these relatively new members who have never operated in a governing majority before in Congress. ... They’re very unrealistic, and at some point the law collapses if they don’t help,” House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) told The Hill.

Another progressive, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), predicted the infrastructure bill would still come to the floor on Thursday but that it will fail. 

"I don't think it will pass if it comes up today, but that doesn't mean we won't have a vote,” he said.

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