Opinion: Never Underestimate Nancy Pelosi

Opinion: Never Underestimate Nancy Pelosi

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Lincoln Mitchell (@LincolnMitchell) teaches in the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. His most recent book is “The Giants and Their City: Major League Baseball in San Francisco, 1976-1992.” (Kent State University Press, 2020) The opinions expressed here are his own. Read more opinion on CNN.

(CNN)On Tuesday, the US Senate passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package by a 69-30 vote. Now, the only obstacle that stands in the way of it becoming law is passage in the US House of Representatives.

At first glance this might not seem like an obstacle at all, considering the House has a Democratic majority. But Democrats only have a slim majority, and many in the progressive wing of the party have concerns about the limitations of the infrastructure bill. They want to pair it with the $3.5 trillion budget package working its way through the Senate.

Meanwhile, some moderate Democrats in the House are concerned with the price tag of the budget bill — as well as some of the provisions included within. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will therefore face a significant challenge in rounding up the necessary votes to pass the infrastructure bill.

However, it is essential that the House pass this bill. Not only will it provide necessary infrastructure upgrades agreed upon by both parties in the Senate, but its passage is a key test of the Democrats’ ability to effectively deliver for the American people when in power.

For President Joe Biden, who has made infrastructure one of his key legislative issues, the stakes could not be higher. But he can breathe a little easier because no legislator in recent decades has been as adept as Pelosi at counting the votes — and knowing when she has the votes she needs. In 2009, it was Pelosi who promised then-President Barack Obama the votes on the Affordable Care Act. She delivered then — and she will deliver more than a decade later for Biden, too.

While the progressive caucus has grown significantly since 2009, Pelosi’s seasoned political and legislative skills have prepared her for this moment. Throughout the Trump era, Pelosi kept the Democratic caucus unified in its opposition to Trump, using her majority to prevent any major legislation by the former President during his last two years in office. In addition, she delivered not one, but two, impeachment votes during that period. Nearly all Democratic House Members voted for impeachment in 2019, and the entire Democratic House conference supported impeachment in 2021. (While Trump was impeached both times, he was not convicted either time in the Senate.)

If she can keep her caucus focused on the threat that the Republican Party, largely still loyal to Trump, poses — especially if this bill fails — she should succeed. And Pelosi fully recognizes the challenge she will face from House Republicans. While 19 Senate Republicans voted for the recent infrastructure bill, Republicans in the House will likely be considerably more unified in their opposition to the bill — not least because they know the damage they can do to Biden and Pelosi by obstructing passage of the legislation.

Any Republican opposition to the infrastructure bill means that Pelosi will have to win 217 out of 220 Democratic votes in the House. (There are currently three vacancies in t

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