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Distrust between progressives and moderates complicates Democratic congressional agenda

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Senate Judiciary Committee Hears Testimony From Attorney General Nominee Merrick Garland
Sen. Cory Booker speaks before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the Hart Senate Office Building on February 22, 2021 in Washington.Al Drago / Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — It’s turned into a make-or-break week for Democrats on Capitol Hill.

Today, NBC’s Sahil Kapur and Teaganne Finn write, the Senate is voting on a bill to avert a government shutdown and a debt default, which Republicans have vowed to block.

On Thursday, House Democrats are set to vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill (after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced she was moving the vote back), with progressives still promising to defeat it if the larger reconciliation bill isn’t passed first.

And what’s missing for Democrats – in the eighth month of Joe Biden’s presidency – is trust.

When one of us asked Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., on “Meet the Press” why House Democrats shouldn’t pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill now and take Sen. Joe Manchin’s, D-W.V., word that he will get behind reconciliation afterwards, Booker replied:

“Look, I have been looked in the eye by people in this town and they've meant it sincerely. There's honor in them saying it. ‘Hey, Cory, we're not going to get this in such-and-such a bill, but we'll get to it.’ Well, sometimes that ‘get to it’ turns out to be a year, the next Congress, or what have you. I'm sorry, when you have the leverage, you use the leverage, as long as it's not about ego or partisanship.”

Here was moderate Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., on CNN yesterday:

"I don't believe any Democrat or a small fraction of Democrats is going to come -- come for a vote on infrastructure, on two million jobs a year for hardworking men and women of labor, and to make sure to fight climate change, and vote against it.”

And here’s an anonymous moderate House Democrat wondering to Politico why President Biden isn’t whipping his party to support the infrastructure legislation he was touting just a month ago:

“I don’t understand why the president isn’t whipping his own historic bill.”

As we said last week, there are two huge forces shaping the overall infrastructure/reconciliation debate: 1) that both measures are Too Big to Fail for Democrats’ success, and 2) that Dem margins in the House and Senate are Too Small for this kind of legislative high-wire act.

But there’s a third force at play: a lack of trust between Democratic progressives and moderates.

Times like these

And at a time when Democrats are fretting about the rise of authoritarianism, the erosion of the democracy and the potential/possible/likely return of Trump, this is what Democrats want to fight over, as well as mistrust each other over?

Whether infrastructure should be voted ahead of reconciliation?

Another way to ask this: How is this process debate going to look like two years from now? Four years from now? Ten years from now?

Back to the drawing board?

As for today’s Senate vote on the legislation to fund the government and raise the debt limit, Senate Republicans are poised to block the bill, per NBC’s Kapur and Finn.

“The legislation needs 60 votes to break a filibuster, meaning at least 10 Republicans would have to break ranks. So far, only one GOP senator — John Kennedy of Louisiana — has said he is likely to vote for it, citing disaster aid funding Louisiana needs.”

And if Republican senators filibuster it, then Dems will need to come with a Plan B, Axios writes.

That Plan B is to:

  • Pass a short-term extension separately to avoid a government shutdown, then;
  • Attach increasing the debt limit to a reconciliation measure, which Democrats have insisted they don’t want to do.

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Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

3: The number of people killed in an Amtrak derailment in Montana this weekend that also injured at least 50.

32 percent: The approximate year-over-year increase in used car and truck prices this August compared to last August.

42,963,500: The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 224,146 more since Friday morning.)

692,137: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 3,654 more since Friday morning.)

390,114,328: The number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S., per the CDC. (That’s 2,292,624 more since Friday morning.)

55.3 percent: The share of all Americans who are fully vaccinated, per the CDC.

66.6 percent: The share of all U.S. adults at least 18 years of age who are fully vaccinated, per CDC

ICYMI: What ELSE is happening in the world

Biden is stuck between immigration advocates in his own party on one side and Republicans on the other, leaving the White House politically isolated and with no clear refuge.

Virginia GOP gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin told Axios that President Biden won the 2020 election fairly, but “wouldn’t say whether he would have voted to certify the election on Jan. 6 if he were a member of Congress.”

Yahoo reports that then CIA Director Mike Pompeo and other top CIA officials discussed kidnapping Julian Assange.

The Washington Post has a deep dive on the local Colorado elections clerk who has been accused of allowing someone to copy county voting machine hard drives and later upload them to the internet amid the discredited push questioning the results of the 2020 election.