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House Democrats delay vote on infrastructure bill after late-night negotiations

Centrist Democrats want to pass the $550 billion bill, but progressives want to delay a vote to gain leverage for a larger safety net package.
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WASHINGTON — House Democrats delayed a planned vote Thursday on a major infrastructure package, heading home for the night after intraparty fighting hamstrung their ability to pass the legislation.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., announced after a series of late-night negotiations that the vote had been postponed indefinitely as Democrats battle over the way forward on President Joe Biden's agenda.

The party's centrist wing wanted the infrastructure bill to be passed quickly, painting the $550 billion package as a bipartisan win. But the left wing of the party is resisting, arguing that the House should delay passing the infrastructure bill to gain leverage to force the Senate to pass a larger $3.5 trillion social safety net package.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., spent hours trying to broker a deal, with lawmakers shuffling in and out of her office, but eventually gave up in the 10 p.m. hour.

Just after midnight as she departed the Capitol, Pelosi said that a vote would happen Friday. “There will be a vote today," she said.

“We're not trillions of dollars apart,” the speaker told reporters.

After the vote was delayed, White House press secretary Jen Psaki conceded in a statement that "Democrats do have some differences," but she said "we share common goals."

"A great deal of progress has been made this week, and we are closer to an agreement than ever," Psaki said. "But we are not there yet, and so, we will need some additional time to finish the work, starting tomorrow morning first thing."

Democrats ended the evening at an impasse, with progressives' resolve hardening toward the end of the day that the two pieces of legislation must move together.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a key centrist holdout on the larger bill, emerged from a late meeting with White House officials and said: "I don't see a deal tonight."

Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., the chairman of the Budget Committee, said he was on an evening call with the progressive caucus and saw "increased resolve" to vote down the bill if it came up Thursday.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., called for postponing the infrastructure vote.

"It is an absurd way to do business, to be negotiating a multitrillion-dollar bill a few minutes before a major vote with virtually nobody knowing what's going on," he told reporters.

The legislation, which passed the Senate last month, is opposed by scores of progressive Democratic lawmakers, who say they want progress on legislation to bolster the social safety net, called Build Back Better, to come first.

"If it happens before the Build Back Better Act, I think it will be voted down. I know it will be voted down," said progressive Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., counting himself among the "no" votes.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, has promised that more than half the 95 members of the group will vote against the infrastructure bill if it comes up before the safety net bill.

The holdup is the result of a standoff between Democratic moderates, who want to de-link the two measures and pass the $550 billion infrastructure bill quickly, and progressive lawmakers, who are holding it up because they don't trust centrists to support the bigger one without the smaller one.

Jayapal said the problem is the Senate, particularly Manchin and centrist Democrat Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who haven't said what they support or oppose in the $3.5 trillion House version.

"They need to come up with their counteroffer, and then we sit down and negotiate from there," she told reporters Wednesday.

Manchin proposed Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., a $1.5 trillion top line number for reconciliation in late July, according to a memo published Thursday by Politico. A person familiar with the proposal confirmed the account to NBC News.

A spokesman said Schumer "never agreed to any of the conditions Sen. Manchin laid out; he merely acknowledged where Sen. Manchin was on the subject at the time," adding: "As the document reads, Sen. Manchin did not rule out voting for a reconciliation bill that exceeded the ideas he outlined, and Leader Schumer made clear that he would work to convince Sen. Manchin to support a final reconciliation bill — as he has doing been for weeks.”

Manchin acknowledged to reporters Thursday that his "top line" had been $1.5 trillion, but he sidestepped questions about whether the figure was set in stone.

"We have a lot of good things we can do," he said. Asked about progressive Democrats' frustration with him, he said they should elect more liberals to achieve their goals. "I've never been a liberal in any way, shape or form," he said.

In a statement posted to Sinema's Twitter account, her office said she shared her priorities and a dollar figure with the White House in August. The statement said that while she has said publicly that she "would not support a bill costing $3.5 trillion," she has been engaged in "good-faith discussions" with Schumer and Biden to "find common ground."

Centrist Democrats said the infrastructure bill had to pass Thursday.

Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., a leader of the Blue Dog Coalition, said Democratic leadership "needs to whip this vote as aggressively as they whipped the budget resolution vote."

"If the vote were to fail tomorrow or be delayed, there would be a significant breach in trust that would slow the momentum in moving forward in delivering the Biden agenda," she said.

House Republicans don't plan to offer much help. They're pressuring their members to vote "no" on the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters the Democrats shouldn't have linked the bills. “The majority of our members are going to vote no because they don’t view it as an infrastructure bill,” he said.

Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., said it doesn't matter what day the bill passes.

"The only thing that my district cares about is that we deliver. They don't care about the process," he said. "They don't care whether we do it on Sept. 27 or 29 or Oct. 2. What matters is that we deliver. And Democrats win by being the party that delivers."