As promised, we’re back with our take on what has (and hasn’t happened) in the ongoing negotiations over the bipartisan infrastructure bill. We’re not quite there yet with the train wreck analogy, but we might be by our next issue. We’ll see how things go these next 48 hours. Speaking of train wrecks, we also dig in on the latest moves around the January 6 investigation in the House with the first hearing underway today.
Thanks for reading and please keep the comments coming.
Let’s start with infrastructure…
GREED AND GRIDLOCK
I think a good place to start on the Senate’s now teetering “bipartisan” infrastructure bill is with a great line from one of my favorite crime movies, The Long Good Friday, which stars Bob Hoskins as a London underworld kingpin whose empire suddenly starts to crumble.
At the climax of the movie gangland boss Hoskins grabs the underling who betrayed him and caused his empire to implode and snarls: “I can smell your greed and your ambition!”
Greed and ambition. That’s what’s now jamming up the infrastructure deal. At the last minute the Democrats are getting greedy… holding out for billions more – on top of new billions already agreed to – for new funding for transit and other spending priorities close to their hearts, and interest groups. When negotiations stalled yesterday – which was supposed to be action day – the R’s were quick to open up the leak spigot and drive a midday story in the Washington Post blaming greedy Democrats for trying to hold them up for late, new spending. The Dems, naturally, were quick to respond with their own version of events in a New York Times story a few hours later.
Alas the problem is not just Democratic spending greed. The most hard-headed chunk of Senate (and House) Republicans suffer from blind ambition. With Delta COVID surging and the economy potentially stalling, those R’s smell growing political trouble for President Joe Biden. With the all-important midterm elections looming, they are becoming less interested in helping the POTUS score a big political win on infrastructure.
So, if the negotiations are starting to crack up, the big question is: will President Biden get involved and force the Democrats to pull back a little and get the deal closed? In this game of political chicken, the President and his allies should realize that the Republicans can easily live with the deal blowing up. It's not good for America, but as President, it'll be more Biden's failure than anyone else's simply because he has the biggest job in town. The Republicans would be very happy to let the Democrats blow this thing up at the last minute, and then slip comfortably into pure opposition mode as the D’s fight to spend three to four trillion dollars on social programs that they initially pretended were infrastructure. (See more here from savvy GOP policy nerd Yuval Levin.) Still, despite the thin and cracking ice the deal is currently skating on, I still think there's a slightly better than even chance a deal is made soon because too many people on both sides want it to happen.
I agree. I would say overall, I'm still, as I have been, incredibly optimistic that something is going to get done on this bipartisan deal. I have a genuinely hard time thinking that either side at this point will want to walk away. There are benefits in it for both groups. I just don't see that over a percentage point here or there, that ultimately people will let this die. There's too much at stake.
Now, that having been said, I've seen some high-level polling that shows Republicans are going to have a very hard time convincing people that they were serious in willing to work with a President who spent an entire campaign talking about working with Republicans. The American people have heard Joe Biden's message about working with the other side and a larger number of Americans than who voted for him believe he is willing as President to do that. The challenge for Republicans is that they haven’t spent any time talking about that during the last political campaign and little of their actions have shown that they have a desire to work with a Democratic President, ten Senators notwithstanding. So, I don't think anybody benefits from this, but I think undoubtedly the loser in this would be Republicans, far greater than Democrats. Republicans are the ones with much more at stake here. Both sides want a win, I think, and both sides would benefit from one.
Exactly. If both sides can get out of the Greed and Ambition business mentioned above for a week, this thing can happen. But, now it’s all down to Biden. He needs to give his side a big push and force them to settle for less than their appetite is demanding. So, does Joe Biden want to blow up the one shot he has at a huge bipartisan accomplishment over a dozen billion bucks of extra transit funding? My bet is he doesn’t and won’t.
As we’ve seen from the leaks you mentioned from yesterday, I think that when the griping gets loudest, you know you're down to a couple of issues, and there's a good chance that it's a precursor to getting something done. Again, I'm still optimistic that this is going to be something that happens. It probably isn't going to happen on a timetable that everybody has wanted, but I'm still betting that by week’s end, we're celebrating the movement forward on a bipartisan deal procedurally (lots of hurdles still left) but moving forward in a positive direction.
IS KEVIN MCCARTHY MAKING THE JANUARY 6 COMMITTEE EVEN MORE POWERFUL?
The other interesting Capitol Hill news is that the Democrats have resigned themselves to the fact that the House January 6 investigation is going go full Kabuki…
… with Kevin McCarthy and the Republicans walking away and now attacking the whole thing as a partisan farce. Shrewdly the Democrats are responding by giving a huge spotlight to renegade conservative Rep. Liz Cheney, who will be one of the two Members to give high profile opening statements as the Committee kicks off its work today. That will be quite effective because Cheney has tremendous credibility as a true old-school conservative and she's not afraid to speak her mind about January 6. My guess is net-net, the Democrats will win the exchange because of Cheney and because, ultimately, they, um, do have the facts on their side. That can help even in politics. McCarthy is clearly afraid of the Jan 6 Committee because he has Members in the GOP Conference who could well be culpable in the January 6 insurrection. The ultimate facts here are most probably not his friend. By now walking away from the Committee, the GOP House Leader has played his last card, and he'll be at the mercy of whatever the Committee does with its muscular bipartisan credentials from Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, the other Republican member serving on the Committee. This battle will take over the House now, and the already poisonous atmosphere will get even worse.
I think you’re completely right here (though I didn’t hear your praise of Pelosi as much as last week). McCarthy played his last card in this quite frankly weeks ago and he continues to be in an incredibly perilous political position. And that doesn't even get into what's right and wrong. But I think he's ceded the high ground here and Pelosi is going to make him pay for it. The Committee that she has appointed is now fully bipartisan and nobody is left on that dais to protect Republican witnesses, or Republicans that are subpoenaed to testify. And I think it also speaks volumes that Republicans don't want to know more about the reasons and the causes for January 6. I've said this all along, you don't want to investigate the root causes of this because you don't want it to show what it means for their party. And the challenge that McCarthy has is that Pelosi called his bluff and appointed two of his members, and has made this now maybe bigger than if he had simply agreed to a reasonable bipartisan investigation. So, it's really hard tactically to look at this and think that Kevin McCarthy did anything but play his cards wrong at any number of turns.
Murphy: A few interesting special elections are worth watching. In Marcia Fudge’s District in Cleveland (she is going to the Cabinet to run HUD) two candidates are really slugging it out in a safe D district. Early front-runner Nina Turner has found herself in a tough race against surging challenger Shontel Brown. Turner was a ranking combat General in the Bernie apparat and was quite public in her distain for Joe Biden. Brown is a regular organization style Dem, and supported by the Black Caucus PAC and Rep. James Clyburn. Like the NYC Mayoral Primary, a real message about the state of the Democratic Party grassroots will come out of this donnybrook on August 3. Tons of outside money, of course, is pouring in.
On the Repub side, today is a big primary runoff in TX 6th district; a safe GOP seat where Susan Wright is running to replace her husband, Congressman Rob Wright, who passed away in February from COVID. She is strongly endorsed by Donald Trump. Easy right? It should be what operatives call a “widow’s walk.” Not so fast. Her opponent, State Rep Jake Ellzey – a former fighter pilot backed by former Gov Rick Perry – has made a race out of it, outraising Wright 3 to 1. He doesn’t have the alleged all-powerful Trump primary endorsement, but he’s made this a real race. Will be interesting to see if the Trump blessing is no longer enough to prevail.
I’m saving my tidbits this week for Friday! Stay tuned.
If the bipartisan infrastructure bill does manage to get out of the Senate this week, the next question will be: will Speaker Pelosi make good on her threat not to move it without a multi-trillion dollar social spending bill also passing? That bill’s outcome is still in doubt because I've yet to hear all important Senator Joe Manchin, or his more conservative colleague like Kirsten Sinema of Arizona endorse it at the current level. So Robert, we’re at state of the poker game now where we're going to start turning over cards, and the chips are going to go one way or the other.
Looking ahead as the leaks will undoubtedly show each sides’ cards this week, the positioning of leaks mean people understand the downside of this not getting done and, to my earlier point, Republicans wouldn't have started Monday leaking why they're not to blame, if they thought they held most of the cards. They don't and therefore they were trying to get out there and at least put down the marker that quite frankly the American people don't see. That's why, in the end, cooler heads will prevail on both sides. The President will weigh in and, quite frankly, get both sides to do what's in the best interest of the country.
Finally, former GOP Senator Mike Enzi (Wyoming) passed away today at 77, after a tragic biking accident. He was a low key, old-school conservative pol and was well-liked in the Chamber. We could use more guys like Enzi in the GOP. Here is his farewell speech, about how he came into politics, is worth a view.
See you on Friday.
Gibbs and Murphy