After Showdown Abroad, Biden Faces One At Home

After Showdown Abroad, Biden Faces One At Home

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(CNN)President Joe Biden now turns to a puzzle almost as thankless as negotiating with Vladimir Putin — pushing his stalled agenda through a deadlocked Congress.

Air Force One delivered Biden back to Washington after his talks with the Russian President that capped his European tour. He now gets to wrestle with the limits of a 50-50 Senate, Republican obstruction and splits between moderate and progressive Democrats that threaten his ambitious plans to rebuild the nation’s physical infrastructure, tackle the climate crisis and expand the social safety net.

After successfully enacting a massive Covid-19 rescue bill and rolling out an unprecedented vaccination drive, the President is now under increasing pressure to satisfy Democratic hopes of transformative reform in a fast narrowing window for action.

    Biden may also be contending with the crosswinds of the mounting pressure from progressives on Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer to retire, so that Biden would be in position to name a replacement before Democrats potentially lose their majorities in the midterms.

      The White House rejected assessments that Biden’s agenda was in trouble when the President left for Europe last week. And while the political equation in Washington is challenging, the President’s hopes of solving his legislative Rubik’s cube may have improved slightly while he was abroad.

        There were signs of movement, for instance, as the latest bipartisan group trying to hash out a deal on infrastructure met Wednesday on Capitol Hill. Members and leaders, however, acknowledged there is still a long way to go as they try to find consensus on how to pay for the improvements. Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Senate Republican, told reporters the group has done a good job trying to address the concerns of both parties but said “a lot of details … need to be filled in.”

        In another potentially positive sign for the President, conservative West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin, a major impediment to progressive dreams of a transformational presidency, is circulating changes and proposed additions to two voting rights bills. Those bills are seen by Democrats as the best hope of countering scores of statehouse measures drawn up by Republicans that make it harder to vote and easier to rig the results of elections.

          But the glimmers of hope for the Democratic agenda pale in comparison to Biden’s task of keeping his own party united, and dealing with the reality that Republicans can put the brakes on his plans because of the Senate requirement for a supermajority of 60 votes to pass major legislation.

          To pass an infrastructure bill for instance, the President will first have to secure a deal among 20 bipartisan senators now looking for common ground. Any deal will be well short of the original $2 trillion bill he had originally envisaged and will center on traditional projects like roads and bridges while removing controversial social spending he had packed into his original blueprint. Another issue is how to pay for the package, with Republicans refusing to scale back tax cuts introduced in the 2017 law passed by then-President Donald Trump.

          Progressives demand action on their priorities

          Complicating Biden’s challenge, progressive Democrats are skeptical that any Senate compromise will satisfy their priorities. And they warn that they would not agree to such a pared back compromise without a commitment to pass items like home health care and climate change mitigation measures, which were in the original infrastructure bill, through the Senate by using a simple majority device used for budget legislation known as reconciliation.

          “We’ve already wasted three weeks of bipartisan negotiations only for them to lead nowhere,” Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal of Washington told reporters on a press call.

          “I have been saying for weeks that we are not going to be able to get the votes for a smaller package unless there is simultaneous movement of an agreed-upon reconciliation package that includes everything.”

          Democratic Sens. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Jeff Merkley of Oregon similarly said this week that they will not support a bipartisan infrastructure package unless they have a guarantee that climate action will be included in a separate reconciliation package.

          Markey said “it’s time” to move beyond bipartisan infrastructure negotiations and for Democrats to “go our own way.” He underscored the urgency of getting something done before the August recess, a key deadline that is looming for Biden.

          “We shouldn’t leave here until we get it done. We cannot let Republican calls for bipartisanship deny the American people the climate action that they have been demanding,” he said. “There has to be a gua

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