IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Three ways this summer could break for Democrats

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.
Image: Members Of Congress Work On Infrastructure Legislation On Capitol Hill
Sen. Mitt Romney leaves a meeting on the Biden administration's proposed infrastructure plan at the U.S. Capitol on June 23, 2021.Samuel Corum / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Well, it looks like we have a deal on infrastructure — at least a tentative framework.

“We’ve agreed to a framework on the entire package,” Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, told reporters Wednesday night after meeting with Biden White House officials. “Republicans and Democrats have come together along with the White House, and we’ve agreed on a framework and we’re going to be heading to the White House tomorrow.”

The details, importantly, remain a work in progress. “There’s some details to be worked out,” Sen. Rob Portman said, per NBC’s Capitol Hill team, which also reports that today’s White House meeting will take place at 11:45 a.m. ET.

Yet regardless if the deal holds or if it collapses (how are progressive Democratic senators going to receive it?), one of these three scenarios will have become reality come Labor Day, NBC’s Benjy Sarlin predicts.

Scenario #1: Bipartisanship breaks out

In her op-ed for preserving the filibuster, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., argued that there’s more bipartisanship going on than the conventional wisdom suggests. There are the negotiations on infrastructure. There’s the Senate bill boosting scientific research to compete with China. And there are still ongoing talks on police reform and immigration.

Under this scenario, maybe Sinema’s right and we’re on the verge of a sudden breakout of bipartisan legislation, far more modest on the substance than what Democrats want, but at least enough to restore some faith in the ability of parties to cut deals and make incremental progress. Perhaps that’s what Biden’s presidency was meant to be all along, a general turning down of the temperature after Trump cranked the thermostat knob all the way. And this infrastructure deal — if it holds — becomes a model for future legislation.

Of course, how Democrats would feel about this has a lot to do with whether some of their partisan-only priorities make it into a follow-up reconciliation bill.

Scenario #2: Democrats go big (and mostly alone)

Remember all the talk of an FDR-sized presidency? The proposals that generated that talk — historic investments in climate, education, child care, health care, housing, and more — are all still on the table. They’re just stalled while Democrats wait for Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., et al., to signal they are ready to back a giant reconciliation bill.

Under this scenario, Democrats go big, either after a bipartisan infrastructure deal passes or talks collapse, and manage to get a significant portion of Biden’s proposals enacted. While it’s unlikely his proposed tax increases and spending make it past a narrowly divided House and Senate, even passing a major chunk of them would be a "BFD," in Biden parlance, with potential achievements for almost every corner of the party. Given where the party has moved since 2009, it’s possible his domestic agenda could easily eclipse President Obama’s in its scale. Is that enough for Democrats disappointed by the failure to break the filibuster to feel like this presidency was a major step forward?

Scenario #3: Dems get played

Finally, maybe Democrats are being dangerously naive and wasting a once-in-a-generation chance at a governing majority that will soon disappear, all while Trump and Trumpism continue to gather power and threaten to retake control in 2024.

This is the fear of just about every faction of the party left of Manchin and Sinema, informed by President Obama’s struggle to bring Republicans along on issues like health care, where Democrats negotiated across the aisle for months before moving a bill on their own. In doing so, they ended up running out the clock on their 60-vote Senate majority, ending hopes for legislation on major agenda items like climate and immigration, as well as added economic stimulus.

It’s not hard to imagine a world where none of the bipartisan talks on the table produce anything significant and Democrats struggle to pass something on their own, either due to infighting, or an unexpected loss of a seat, or rising political fears ahead of the midterms. No infrastructure, no jobs plan, no families plan, no anything.

So what’s it going to be come Labor Day? A real outbreak of bipartisanship? Democrats going it alone and succeeding? Or Democrats getting played and coming up (mostly) empty?

Choose your own adventure.

Tweet of the day

Biden’s high-wire act

But to get both bills done — a bipartisan infrastructure deal, plus a go-it-alone reconciliation package with everything else — won’t be easy.

Can President Biden convince progressive Democratic senators to fall in line and accept half a loaf on infrastructure?

If he does, can Republicans capitalize on the reconciliation package’s price tag?

Could the reconciliation talks drag into the fall — and thus closer to the 2022 midterms?

And maybe most important of all, will there be any changes to the Dems’ fragile majorities in the Senate and House?

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

1.9 years: The decrease in average life expectancy in the U.S. between 2018 and 2020.

4 percent: The decline in the U.S. birth rate in the last year, the largest single-year drop in 50 years.

33,724,033: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 14,175 more than yesterday morning.)

606,355: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 353 more than yesterday morning.)

319,872,053: The number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S.

41.8 percent: The share of all Americans who are fully vaccinated, per NBC News.

56.1 percent: The share of all American adults over 18 who are fully vaccinated, per CDC.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

The recall effort against Gov. Gavin Newsom will go forward with ample signatures.

A new report by a Republican-led Michigan Senate committee finds no evidence of widespread fraud in the state and blasts Trump-backed efforts to lead an “audit” in the state.

Joe Biden has picked Cindy McCain for a United Nations food and agriculture post.

Rodney Scott is out as the head of U.S. border patrol.

Another tricky subject working its way through a key Hill committee: antitrust reform.

The New York Times looks at what the city’s mayoral race might mean for progressives.

Don’t miss Andrea Mitchell on how the U.S. and its allies are increasing pressure on Russia to keep open a humanitarian route to Syria.