With planned infrastructure vote looming, Dems struggle to unite on Biden agenda amid legislative standoff

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There are just four days until Democrats' tentative deadline to vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill in the House, and moderates and progressives are still in a standoff over what to send to President Biden's desk and when.

Democratic leadership, along with rank-and-file members of both wings of the party, met with Biden on Wednesday. And despite praise for the president's dedication to a deal, it doesn't appear they are any closer to agreements on what to include in the reconciliation bill or whether the infrastructure bill should pass next week. 

"I reiterated what I have consistently said: progressives will vote for both bills because we proudly support the President’s entire Build Back Better package, but that a majority of our 96-member caucus will only vote for the small infrastructure bill after the Build Back Better Act passes," Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said after her meeting with the president. 

"I hope that out of that will come the firm understanding that both pieces of legislation, which together are transformational I think for the American people, have got to go together," Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said Wednesday just ahead of his meeting with the president. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., finishes talking to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, Monday, July 12, 2021, following a meeting with President Joe Biden. Sanders met with Biden again Wednesday. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) (AP)

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Asked Thursday what she's hearing from her colleagues about the White House meetings, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., emphasized that she wants to make sure all of Biden's agenda gets passed at all costs. 

"We're all Democrats… and we're all trying to get to the same end point," Warren said. "We all understand that we need roads and bridges. We also need childcare and we need expanded access to health care. And we need to make a real down payment in the fight for climate change." 

Warren added: "It's a lot of negotiations going on to try to get that done. The president is clearly putting his shoulder behind it. But keep in mind: This is the agenda that President Biden ran on… we are going to get there." 

Moderates had some different ideas. 

"It's fair to say that everyone in the room agreed on two things – that we need to pass the President's Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill on Monday and that, separately, we also want a reconciliation package," Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., said. Ahead of the meeting he said on MSNBC that it will be a "shame" if any Democrats vote against the infrastructure bill next week due to concerns about reconciliation. 

"I have faith in Speaker Pelosi's ability to count and whip votes in the House," Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., another moderate, said after the meetings regarding next week's infrastructure vote. "And I also believe that this would be… an embarrassing move for my colleagues to bring down one of the president's priorities that was negotiated in a bipartisan way and has broad support and does good things for America, because they feel like they need to make some sort of statement."

Despite all of that, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Democrats are "on schedule" for a vote on the infrastructure bill Monday. She refused to discuss the details of the reconciliation bill – but those may be key to keeping the infrastructure bill on schedule. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said earlier this week that he believes it's procedurally impossible for the reconciliation bill to pass the Senate before the end of the week – a prospect that's become even more remote each day. But he expressed some hope that the bill could be written – or the framework for it at least agreed upon – by the Sept. 27 target date for the House vote on infrastructure. 

If that framework does get completed and progressives agree with it and trust that moderates will vote of it, then it's possible that they could reverse their stance on the infrastructure bill. 

But that is by no means a sure thing. Jayapal and her allies have made clear that they want the reconciliation bill to pass both houses before they do anything on the infrastructure bill. 

There are also still many details to work out on what exactly will be in the reconciliation bill. Warren and Sens. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., and others Thursday morning demanded that Medicaid expansion be included in the final reconciliation bill. 

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"We push for the expansion of Medicaid because that's what Georgians voted for when they sent me and Jon Ossoff to the Senate. And that's what the American people voted for when they gave us the majority," Warnock said. "People are literally dying, especially the working poor, because they have no access to health care at all."

Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, D-Ga., added: "I am done with arguing, begging and protesting. It is time to finish the job of ensuring that everyone has affordable quality health care." 

Meetings between Democrats and the White House are likely to continue Thursday as Democrats look to forge some sort of agreement with the clock ticking down on their agenda. Top Democrats have consistently said they're optimistic that a deal can be made. But with how dug in all sides are it's unclear how that deal can be made or what it would look like. 

Fox Business' Hillary Vaughn, Caroline McKee, Chad Pergram and Liz Friden contributed to this report.

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