Winners and losers from House Democrats’ messy Friday fracas

Biden worked the phones. Moderates refused to cave. And Pelosi lived to fight another day.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, right, and Majority Whip James E. Clyburn conduct a news conference before the House sent a bipartisan infrastructure bill to President Biden's desk. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, right, and Majority Whip James E. Clyburn conduct a news conference before the House sent a bipartisan infrastructure bill to President Biden's desk. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted November 8, 2021 at 5:47pm

ANALYSIS — Nancy Pelosi says she and a moderate Democratic senator who will play a leading role in deciding the fate of President Joe Biden’s agenda — and probably her political future — “talk enough.”

“So my message to, not to Manchin — I mean, we talk enough, he knows what my message is — but with all due respect in the world for the point of view he represents, I disagree,” the California Democrat said of West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III on Thursday. “We’re friends, I respect him. He’s a good person. He’s agreed to so much that is in the bill.”

But not everything in a $1.7 trillion budget reconciliation bill the House could take up as soon as next week — and that spans everything from prescription drugs to climate change.

As long as a Congressional Budget Office assessment of the bill aligns with White House-compiled cost projections, Democratic moderates in the House say they will vote for the reconciliation measure. And Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York said in a Saturday Instagram video that progressives also are on board — although she and five others who voted against a related bipartisan infrastructure bill on Friday remained miffed about how Democratic leaders pushed that through.

The action soon will shift to the Senate, which is expected to make changes and send the reconciliation measure back to the House. Pelosi faces a progressive revolt if Senate moderates secure major alterations. That means the speaker and Manchin, a former West Virginia University quarterback, will be huddling a lot in the coming weeks.

Here are winners, losers and those still fighting after several wild weeks on the south side of the Capitol.

Winners

Republican leaders. Granted, they haven’t had to do much here to secure a W — that is, except tweet jabs and score points with Republicans and independents who voted Democratic last year. As the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial races showed last week, they can be lured back to the GOP column.

“Pelosi is attempting to ram this massive spending bill through WITHOUT the report from the Congressional Budget Office stating how much it costs,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., tweeted Friday, before the speaker agreed to wait for CBO tabulations. “What’s she trying to hide? Taxpayers deserve to know exactly how much this thing will cost.”

No matter whether the reconciliation measure becomes law or not, GOP incumbents and candidates have talking points aplenty about its cost, even after moderates shrank its initial price tag. Republicans have, so far, executed one of Chinese battle strategist Sun Tzu’s mantras: “Ultimate excellence lies not in winning every battle, but in defeating the enemy without ever fighting.”

Democrats almost handed vulnerable Republicans a win with their floor procedure for passing both measures. “They’re bringing it up as one bill,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Ultimately, Pelosi opted to pass the infrastructure bill with 13 GOP votes, 228-206, alongside a rule that tees up a final reconciliation vote.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The California Democrat, who has not even said if she will seek another term much less try to remain as the top House Democrat, has one objective: Pass both bills. She’s halfway there. On the one hand, the reconciliation process has been anything but smooth. But Pelosi is no doubt familiar with the sports adage that “a win is a win.”

Progressive leaders. After holding up the train for weeks, Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and her colleagues stood aside. They could have orchestrated a mass protest of the infrastructure measure but instead helped the speaker send it to Biden’s desk. On reconciliation, they declared victory. “Ninety-eight percent of this bill has been preconferenced,” Jayapal said Friday. “Ninety-eight percent of this was agreed to in a framework that President Biden put out [that] now has been translated into legislative text.”

Jayapal certainly has flexed her political muscle. On Friday, however, she showed that, if most serious 2022 forecasts are correct, one can go from shadow speaker to the leader of a much less influential caucus in a single trip around the sun.

“Of course it’s worth it if we’re making people’s lives better,” Jayapal said when asked if passing both bills would be worth losing Democrats’ House majority. “What's the alternative? To do nothing. I mean … that’s not gonna get us anywhere. … Part of what we have to do is really understand the economic frustration that people have right now.”

Losers

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer and Majority Whip James E. Clyburn. When the boss wins, subordinates often lose. Such is the white-collar working world — and such is wrangling, counting and securing House votes.

Barring a moderate or progressive reconciliation revolt, Hoyer and Clyburn likely will get the job done — but with the speaker’s help and Biden blowing up holdouts’ phones. Hoyer noted on Friday that a CBO score will take a while. But he and Clyburn knew moderates wanted one some time ago. And that comes after Democratic leaders scrapped floor votes on both measures late last month, lacking enough votes.

Moderate leaders. This group had a rough week. All eyes were on them Friday, and the Democratic base might be newly hesitant to turn out in some districts after the moderates took the reconciliation bill hostage with their CBO demand. And that came after progressives handed them the reconciliation hot potato, seemingly outmaneuvering them in closed-door talks by securing changes on immigration and other policy issues.

Democratic middle-of-the-roaders like Stephanie Murphy of Florida, a Blue Dog Coalition chair, and others like Kathleen Rice of New York, Carolyn Bourdeaux of Georgia, Ed Case of Hawaii and Ron Kind of Wisconsin, headed home to explain their climb up CBO mountain. Will voters really be interested in the CBO score come Election Day 2022?

But moderates didn’t leave town completely scathed: Their votes helped pass an infrastructure measure both parties have wanted for a decade or more.

Heading to OT

President Joe Biden. There is still a chance both measures reach his desk, so the former longtime senator who campaigned on shepherding major legislation has not lost yet.

But he hasn’t won yet, either — though he certainly will celebrate when he signs the infrastructure bill into law. Biden could use another one amid a number of dismal polls about his job performance and priorities.

It’s never great for a president when members of his own party say things like “Where’s the president?” — as a top House Democratic aide did last week to Punchbowl News. Biden appeared to have kept enough Democrats on the infrastructure train after he delivered remarks from the White House about a positive jobs report on Friday. “I’m asking every House member, member of the House of Representatives, to vote ‘yes,’” he said, noting he was heading back to the Oval Office to work the phones “right now.”

For a president whose job approval and disapproval numbers have flipped by nearly 10 points since June, according to FiveThirtyEight, Biden had no choice but to stick his neck out.

‘Sinemanchin.’ For Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, it soon will be time to put their cards on the table. The pair has been at the center of the Democrats vs. Democrats drama for months. They have demanded big changes, even when not even Biden knew exactly what either wanted.

Moderates and progressives, as long as the CBO score contains no big surprises, appear to have decided it is time to send something — anything — to the Senate. Some House Democrats and congressional observers have accused Sinemanchin of playing coy to run out the clock and kill the reconciliation bill, in large part over worries about their own political futures if voters in their states balk at the cost of both bills.

For this mercurial duo, it soon will be game on. Finally.