Congressional leadership will have their first joint meeting with President Biden this week amid a GOP reckoning about the future of the party heading into 2022. The Senate is returning from a one-week break on Monday, while the House will return to Washington on Tuesday after being out for three weeks with much of the action taking place off the floor.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will meet with Biden on Wednesday. It’s the first time Biden has met with the four top congressional leaders as a group since being inaugurated in January. It will also be his first meeting with McConnell and McCarthy. While it appears Biden doesn’t have much of a relationship with McCarthy, who came to power under Trump, he’s spoken with McConnell on the phone and the two have known each other for decades first as Senate colleagues and then cutting deals during the Obama administration.
The meeting is expected to largely focus on Biden’s $4 trillion spending plan, which is divided up between a $2.3 trillion jobs proposal and a second $1.8 trillion bill focused on education and childcare. Biden was already facing dug-in opposition to his package from Republicans, who warned that it went well beyond the bounds of “core” infrastructure like roads, bridges, rail and broadband. He was dealt a blow late last week with a jobs report that came in substantially below what economists were expecting, fueling criticism from Republicans that now is not the time to raise taxes. Biden has proposed paying for his plan by beefing up taxes on corporations, capital gains and some high-income earners.
The two sides were already far apart on infrastructure. A group of Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), have proposed a $568 billion infrastructure proposal. But Capito told MSNBC that the divide between Biden and congressional Republicans on an infrastructure package is “not nearly as big as what you might think,” adding that the $568 billion proposal that she unveiled with 10 Republicans is not their “final offer.” Capito is expected to take a group of Republicans to the White House to meet with Biden on Thursday.
But there are still big gaps on the scope of a bill and how to pay for it. McConnell has predicted that none of his caucus would support Biden’s plan, putting what Republicans would accept around $600 billion though other Republicans have suggested that could go as high as $800 billion. Democrats are likely to have to pass most, if not all, of Biden’s plan through reconciliation — a process that lets them sideline Republicans by bypassing the Senate’s 60-vote filibuster needed to pass most legislation. That comes with headaches of its own given the razor-thin margins in both chambers. That’s particularly acute in the Senate where Biden would need the entire 50-member caucus in order to pass his plan without Republican help.
But Democrats are set for a clash over whether to expand Medicare eligibility as part of the package. And a group is still pitching peeling off part of the infrastructure package that can get 60-plus votes into its own bill and then passing the rest through reconciliation.
Cheney: The high-profile meeting with Biden comes as Republicans are dealing with their own headline-grabbing drama. House Republicans could vote as soon as Wednesday to try to boot Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) out from her No. 3 spot in leadership over her high-profile criticism of both former President Trump and the false claim, spread by both Trump and some of his most fervent supporters, that the 2020 election was “stolen.”
Frustration with Cheney boiled over while the House was out of town and McCarthy on Sunday publicly backed Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) for conference chair after days of behind-the-scenes maneuvering. Beyond just Cheney’s fate in leadership, the vote will have reverberations for both the direction of the party and Trump’s role heading into 2022 where McCarthy wants to win back the majority and fulfill his long-sought goal of securing the speaker’s gavel. The vote comes months after Cheney handedly defeated an unsuccessful attempt by Trump’s allies to unseat her earlier this year. But this time McCarthy and Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), his No. 2, are supportive of the efforts to oust Cheney, arguing that it will help Republicans unify going into the midterm election.
“There are still a few members that are talking about things that happened in the past, not really focused on what we need to do to move forward and win the majority back next year,” Scalise told Fox Business. “We’re going to have to be unified if we defeat the socialist agenda you’re seeing in Washington.”
Election reform: The Senate Rules Committee will hold a vote Tuesday on Democrats’ top legislative priority: The For the People Act. Democrats in the House and Senate designated the bill as their first of the new Congress — giving it bill number H.R. 1 and S. 1, respectively — to signify its importance to their agenda.
The House passed the bill for a second time earlier this year, but it faces a rockier path in the Senate. In an effort to solidify Democratic support, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), the Rules Committee chairwoman, filed a substitute amendment that largely leaves the bill unchanged but does give state and local officials more flexibility in complying with the legislation. But that’s unlikely to satisfy Republicans, who are united in opposition to the bill arguing that it effectively cedes control of elections to the federal government. Democrats argue with state legislatures across the country introducing bills to tighten voting rights action from Congress is needed.
The bill is considered a must-watch for the fight over the fate of the Senate’s 60-vote legislative filibuster. Schumer has vowed to put the bill on the floor and wants to pass it by August. But without the support of 10 Republicans, Democrats will need to decide what, if anything, they are willing to do about the legislative filibuster that requires 60 votes to pass most bills. Democrats, to the ire of progressive activists, don’t currently have the votes to nix the filibuster, a move that would require the support of all 50 members of their caucus. Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) are on the record in opposition and several others are wary. Even if they did, Manchin has signaled that he has concerns about the broad election reform bill and would rather focus on the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would renew and strengthen the Voting Rights Act.
“The vote should be accessible. It should be secure and it should be fair and that’s the responsibility we have,” Manchin told “Talkline with Hoppy Kercheval.” “The John Lewis Voting Rights Act. It’s something we used to ratify bipartisan, no problem at all… I think we should ratify it for all 50 states.”
Capitol attack: Administration Committee Chair Zoe Lofgren is holding high-profile hearings this week on the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, when a pro-Trump mob stormed the building and interrupted the counting of the Electoral College vote for hours. Michael Bolton, the inspector general for the Capitol Police, is scheduled to testify on Monday, when he’s expected to discuss his latest report on the Capitol attack. Bolton’s office determined that the Capitol Police” did not have adequately detailed and up-to-date guidance in place for its counter-surveillance and threat assessment operations, which could have led to unclear guidance and accountability.”
“Additionally, a lack of clear and detailed communication procedures could have increased inefficiencies with processes as well as led to critical counter-surveillance information not being appropriately communicated throughout the Department,” Bolton wrote in summary of his report that was released by Lofgren’s committee.
The committee will also hold a hearing Tuesday the Architect of the Capitol’s emergency preparedness as part of its oversight of the Jan. 6 attack.
China: The Senate Commerce Committee is expected to take up the Endless Frontiers Act, spearheaded by Schumer and Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), after a mark up last month was delayed when committee members filed roughly 200 amendments to the bill.
The bill would invest more than $100 billion in emerging technologies in an effort to put the US on a level playing field with China. That includes establishing a Technology and Innovation Directorate at the National Science Foundation, which would use $100 billion in federal funds over five years to research emerging technologies including artificial intelligence, quantum computing and semiconductors.
Reuters reported over the weekend that as part of a compromise between Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the committee chairwoman, and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), the panel’s top Republican, the bill will also now create White House manufacturing officer that would need to be confirmed by the Senate and would head a new Office of Manufacturing and Industrial Innovation Policy.
Nominations: Schumer has teed up nominees for the Senate floor this week. The Senate will take its first vote on Monday at 5:30 p.m. on whether or not to advance Andrea Palm to be a deputy secretary of Health and Human Services. After the Senate wraps up Palm’s nomination, they’ll turn it Cynthia Marten’s nomination to be a deputy secretary of State for political affairs.