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The Hill 22 July, 2021 - 05:00am 22 views

Infrastructure vote fails as senators try to salvage bipartisan deal

POLITICO 22 July, 2021 - 07:00am

The vote to move forward a bipartisan infrastructure deal failed, but centrists are trying to shore up the votes for next week.


The vote amounted to a setback to a key priority of President Joe Biden, although members of both parties expect at least one more try in the coming days. GOP centrists say they may be willing to provide the votes as early as Monday, when they think discussions will conclude over a bill expected to provide nearly $600 billion.

“We’re a no today because we’re not ready,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), the lead Republican negotiator. “We’re saying we do want to take up this bill as soon as we are, and we think that’ll be Monday.”

Portman organized a letter of 11 Republican senators to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer indicating Republicans will put up the votes to beat a filibuster next week. He and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), the lead negotiator, also released a sunny statement in the aftermath of the failed vote pledging that a group of 12 Democrats and 10 Republicans are “optimistic that we will finalize, and be prepared to advance, this historic bipartisan proposal.”

Schumer voted against advancing the proposal, allowing him to bring it up quickly whenever the group clinches a deal. Schumer is carefully trying to give the group a chance to finally clinch its legislation, ensuring he doesn’t alienate moderate Democrats he needs to advance the rest of Biden’s priorities.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a leading Democrat in the group, said he felt “confident” their effort would have the 60 votes to advance over a filibuster by next week. Manchin said “at first I was concerned” that Wednesday’s failed vote might send “the wrong message” about the state of negotiations. But Schumer reassured him that if 60 votes exist to pass it, the vote will come up again.

Schumer “will bring this back to reconsideration if we show him we have the support,” Manchin said on Wednesday.

Republicans’ letter to Schumer stipulates they “intend to [advance] the bill pending final negotiations that are going through right now and on getting a score back” on the bill’s financing, said a Republican senator familiar with the letter. But Republican leaders remain skeptical that the conference will provide the votes to move forward until the group finally produces hundreds of pages of legislative text, which could take days, if not longer, given the difficulties in drafting legislation.

“We’re going to have to have a product. You can’t vote on a framework. There just isn’t the kind of trust around it right now that would allow that to happen,” said Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.).

The Republicans supportive of moving forward as early as Monday include Portman and GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Todd Young of Indiana, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Mitt Romney of Utah, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Mike Rounds of South Dakota and Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, a new addition to supporters on the GOP side.

Cramer did not sign onto the subsequent bipartisan statement on Wednesday afternoon, however. And Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), a member of the bipartisan group, said he did not sign the letter to Schumer and also dropped off the bipartisan group’s statement.

“I don’t know why we would set a deadline of Monday,” Moran said. “I don’t think this is the right strategy.”

Cramer said he signed on to the letter with the hope of increasing momentum. “The letter is unbinding enough that I don’t think you box yourself in,” the North Dakota Republican said. “What the letter does is it keeps the ball in play, at least it puts a little extra encouragement to Leader Schumer to provide a little more time for the group to continue working.”

Requesting anonymity, a Republican senator said that the group’s Republicans were at risk of getting out “over their skis” by committing to an unfinished product.

Schumer set up the vote on an unfinished bill to pressure negotiators to finish up their work after months of talks among Republicans, the White House and Senate Democrats. And the Senate Democratic leader made one last case for Republican support this week, however, arguing Republicans "should feel comfortable" moving forward because there is no hard deadline to finish the bill and it could be amended once the Senate begins debate on it.

"We all want the same thing, to pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill. But in order to finish the bill, we first need to start," Schumer said Wednesday morning. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell countered that Schumer was "intent on holding a vote he knows will fail." He called Schumer's tactics a "stunt."

Nearly a month ago, the 10 members of the bipartisan group celebrated their framework with President Joe Biden at the White House. But actually drafting the legislation and funding it has proven more complicated.

Last week, GOP negotiators removed IRS enforcement as a financing mechanism, after it proved too toxic with the rest of the Republican caucus. Instead, the group is eyeing delaying a rule related to Medicare to help make up the difference in funding. In addition, negotiators have yet to finalize how they’ll distribute unused coronavirus relief funds.

The larger bipartisan group of senators gathered on Wednesday for a pivotal lunch as they labor to clinch a plan to spend nearly $600 billion in new money on roads, bridges and broadband. The core 10 members of that group met late Tuesday and are close to finishing their agreement, though drafting the actual legislation will take several more days.

Portman and others briefed the larger group on the state of play, and there's a sense within the bipartisan crew that they are nearly done with their long-running discussions. Among the remaining hang-ups are public transportation funding and financing of the bill.

Manchin said it was reasonable for Republicans to want to review those portions before committing to move forward.

Why was Joe Biden in Ohio yet again? Because 2022 is a now-or-never moment for Democrats.

USA TODAY 22 July, 2021 - 04:02am

Open Senate seats do not come along very often. Rob Portman’s retirement is a chance for Democrats to take stock of their long-term competitiveness.

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President Joe Biden aims to rev up support for his economic agenda during a visit to Cincinnati union training center on Wednesday. The trip comes as the fate of Biden's infrastructure proposal remains unclear. (July 21) AP Domestic

For more than a century, Ohio has been considered a bellwether state. Its voters have sided with the winning presidential ticket in all but two elections from 1896 to 2016. Yet, after two victories by Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, the 2016 outcome suggested Ohio was moving from purple to red – as the state voted 5 points to the right of the rest of the country.

Republicans have held control of all statewide offices for a decade and maintain large majorities in the state legislature. A poor showing among Democrats in Ohio in 2018 in an otherwise strong midterm and another convincing Donald Trump victory in 2020 suggest the state is no longer competitive for Democrats. And yet, Joe Biden just made his third trip to Ohio since becoming president Jan. 20.

Biden didn't do any better against Trump in 2020 than Hillary Clinton did in 2016; both Democrats lost Ohio by 8 points. Republicans comfortably won every statewide office – even though the Republican speaker of the Ohio House, Larry Householder, was arrested a few months before the election. In July of 2020, Householder and four others were charged with taking $60 million in bribes for a bailout of the nuclear power industry in the state. Last month, the Ohio House of Representatives took the dramatic step of expelling him.

So why is Biden spending so much time in a state that seems to be so far out of reach for Democrats? The answer lies in the 2022 midterms. Open Senate seats do not come along very often, and Republican Rob Portman’s retirement presents an opportunity for Democrats to take stock of their long-term competitiveness in the state.

Tough Republican primaries for the party's Senate and gubernatorial nominations provide the slimmest of openings for a successful Democratic comeback. Ultimately, 2022 will signal to Democrats whether they have a future in the state. It’s sink or swim, and Biden knows it.

Biden visited a union training center in Cincinnati and discussed his economic recovery efforts at a CNN town hall, where he gave an upbeat response to a question about inflation. "We're going to be providing good opportunities and jobs for people who, in fact, are going to be reinvesting that money back in all the things we're talking about, driving down prices, not raising prices," he said.

The economic focus reflects the 2020 post-mortem provided by Democrat Marcy Kaptur, the longest-serving female ever in the U.S. House of Representatives and who represents towns and auto industry factories along the Lake Erie coastline from Cleveland to Toledo. Kaptur criticized national Democrats for focusing too much on identity politics while losing ground on the economic issues that drive voting decisions for many in the state.

It would appear that Ohio Democrats got the memo. Both Rep. Tim Ryan, a Senate candidate, and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, a gubernatorial candidate, have been hammering economic populism in the mold of Sen. Sherrod Brown. Brown’s 2018 reelection was among the few bright spots for Democrats in the state. We can expect to see Ryan and Whaley focus on jobs and health care, while trying to localize issues to Ohio and separate themselves from some of the more controversial stances of national Democrats. This is right out of the Brown and Kaptur playbook.

Ryan appears to have a clear path to the nomination, and Whaley’s main competitor is likely to be Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley. These relatively clear-cut primaries are in stark contrast to what's happening in the Republican Party – and Democrats hope to use this to their advantage.

Portman’s exit has produced a strong field of Republicans vying to succeed him. Former State Treasurer Josh Mandel (who ran against Brown in 2012), "Hillbilly Elegy" author J.D. Vance and former Ohio Republican Party Chair Jane Timken are among those in a very large and accomplished field seeking the nomination.  

Former President Donald Trump will not be on the ticket, but his spirit most likely will be. All the Republican contenders have gone out of their way to mimic Trump in their social media and in their public appearances. For instance, Mandel’s Twitter feed has been particularly noteworthy with controversial tweets, including a suspension from the platform in March. Vance has gone on a mea culpa tour, apologizing for calling Trump “reprehensible” and urging others not to vote for Trump in 2016. Vance has since embraced him, stating: "I’m not just a flip-flopper, I’m a flip-flop-flipper on Trump."

If Trump were to wade into the race, his blessing would undoubtedly determine the party’s nominee. If the first few months of the race are any indication, the Republican primary will be brutal.

Trump’s presence stimulated turnout in 2016 and 2020 (especially among rural voters), but his name isn't on the ballot in 2022. Although the president’s party almost always loses ground in midterm elections, Democrats are hopeful that Trump's absence can help them close the turnout gap. That will be critical if they are to have any chance at success.

If Democrats have another poor showing in 2022, then Ohio will lose its status as a swing state for 2024. If they are competitive, then Ohio will continue to get love from presidential campaigns in the next election. Biden’s visits to the Buckeye State suggest a sliver of optimism for Democrats, and he is doing his part to raise their odds. What happens in 2022 is a last stand for Democrats to avoid the state moving from reddish purple to blood red.

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Biden believes in bipartisanship, but admits the 'well has been so poisoned over the last 4 years'

The Week Magazine 21 July, 2021 - 09:58pm

President Biden is standing firm on bipartisanship, telling the audience at CNN's town hall in Cincinnati on Wednesday night that it produces results.

Biden worked with Republicans during his time as a senator and vice president, and said he will continue to do so as president. "I'm going to say something outrageous," he told moderator Don Lemon. "I don't know you'll find any Republican I ever worked with who says I ever broke my word, didn't do exactly what I said I would do and keep my word. And I was able to get an awful lot of compromises put together to do really good things, to change things."

This is still possible today, Biden said, although he acknowledged that the "well has been so poisoned over the last four years, and even now there's still this lingering effort." Republicans have come up to Biden privately to say they agree him on issues, the president said, but add that if they vote along with him, they'll face primary challenges. 

Still, "I think that's all beginning to move," Biden said. "I don't mean overnight, don't get me wrong, I'm not playing out some panacea here, but I think people are figuring out that if we want to ... I've always found you get rewarded for doing what you think at the time is the right thing and people really believe you believe it's the right thing to do. And so I think you're seeing it coming together."

Biden thinks that on Monday, the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill will move forward after the procedural vote. "I'm not being facetious," he said. "You had up to 20 Republicans sign the letter saying, 'We think we need this deal.'" He's in close contact with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), with the pair routinely discussing the bill. "Portman is a good man," Biden said. "I talked to him before I got here, and I really mean, he's a decent, honorable man, and he and I are working on trying to get this infrastructure bill passed." 

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