Senate Dems look to finally push major agenda items over the finish line
It won’t be easy, but thanks to Joe Manchin, Biden’s legislative priorities have a chance to be signed into law. Plus: Pelosi visits the Indo-Pacific and the Senate tees up another PACT vote.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
— IN MEMORIAM: The country lost two beacons of Black excellence on Sunday.
Bill Russell, 11-time NBA champion, Olympic gold medalist, the first Black NBA coach, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and civil rights hero, died peacefully at the age of 88.
Related: “Bill Russell, basketball great who worked for civil rights, dies at 88” (Louie Estrada / WaPo) … “World reacts to the death of American sports icon Bill Russell” (ESPN) … “NBA reacts to Hall of Famer Bill Russell's death” (NBA.com) … “As a racial justice activist, NBA great Bill Russell was a legend off the court” (Dustin Jones / NPR) … “Bill Russell: ‘A lifetime phenomenon as an athlete’” (Marc J. Spears / Andscape) … “Bill Russell's biggest wins were against the NBA” (A Sherrod Blakely / Bleacher Report)
Nichelle Nichols, best known for her groundbreaking role as Nyota Uhura in Star Trek: The Original Series, died of heart failure at the age of 89. Nichols also spent her time as an advocate for NASA, was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1992 and was an honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.
Related: “Nichelle Nichols, Lieutenant Uhura on ‘Star Trek,’ Dies at 89” (Bruce Weber / NYT) … “Nichelle Nichols, trailblazing 'Star Trek' actress, dies at 89” (Zoe Sottile, Chris Boyette and Todd Leopold / CNN) … “Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura in ‘Star Trek’ franchise, dies at 89” (Adam Bernstein / WaPo) … “George Takei, William Shatner, J.J. Abrams and more ‘Star Trek’ figures pay tribute to Nichelle Nichols” (J. Kim Murphy / Variety) … “Nichelle Nichols, Uhura in ‘Star Trek,’ dies at 89” (Carmel Dagan / Yahoo)
— BREAKING: The first shipment of grain left a port in Ukraine since Russia invaded the country in February, according to Turkey, which helped broker the deal between the two country’s governments, Suzan Fraser at AP News reports. Additional ships are expected to depart and the Biden administration is hopeful that the shipments will help alleviate the global food crisis that has led to high prices here at home.
— SENATE DEMS’ AGENDA-DEFINING WEEK: Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia breathed new life into his party’s legislative agenda last week when he announced a surprise deal with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer on the Inflation Reduction Act, a bill that would invest billions in climate justice and health care while reforming the tax code to pay for the provisions.
Schumer’s legislative tightrope: In a sense, reaching an agreement with Manchin was the easy part for Schumer. Now he and his members are playing a waiting game while the Senate referee decides if the deal falls within the guidelines of the complex rules that govern the process Democrats will use to pass the bill without Republican support.
GOP agents of chaos: Schumer also faces an emboldened crop of Senate Republicans who feel duped by the fact that Schumer and Manchin announced their deal after Senate Republicans voted for a bill Leader Mitch McConnell said they wouldn’t support if an agreement included the climate and tax components.
Republicans will be able to introduce an unlimited number of relevant amendments to the bill in a practice called a “vote-a-rama” that could force Democrats up for reelection this year in swing states like Georgia, Arizona and Nevada to take risky votes.
What about Sinema? Senate Republicans will also try to tank the bill altogether with what are known as “poison pills”: Amendments that will drastically reshape the agreement to the point Senate Democrats withdraw their support altogether.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, the other Democratic swing vote, could vote with Republicans during the vote-a-rama and has yet to indicate if she will support the bill, Hans Nichols at Axios reports. (The Schumer-Manchin agreement would close a loophole that allows investment managers to treat certain interest payments as capital gains instead of standard income, which they would pay a higher tax rate on. Sinema has expressed support for the loophole.) Nichols also reports that Sinema has given no guarantee that would vote for the final amendment that would restore the original deal.
Sinema reportedly is annoyed that Manchin and Schumer brokered this deal in secrecy. But Manchin said it was because he didn’t think the agreement would happen after a year and half of fits and starts that saw some Democrats so frustrated that they called on Manchin to switch parties. (The White House on Friday declined to comment on if it has reached out to Sinema to encourage her to vote for the bill.)
Manchin on Sunday said to Jake Tapper on CNN’s State of the Union that he thinks Sinema would ultimately come around once she sees that the nationwide benefits of the agreement outweigh any personal reservations she has about any specific provisions.
“We did to see if we could scale this thing to where we could basically put it in a position we have it today, which I think is great, a great opportunity,” Manchin said. “It’s not a Democrat bill. It’s not a Republican bill. It’s definitely not a green bill. This is a red, white and blue bill. And it’s great for America.”
Don’t forget about COVID: There’s also the threat that COVID could disrupt Schumer’s math. All 50 Senate Republicans are expected to oppose the final bill so all 50 Democrats would have to vote in support — with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie — so President Biden could sign it into law.
Manchin himself was out with COVID last week and Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Senate Democrat, is in isolation after testing positive last week. Any new infections could derail the Democrats’ plans to pass the bill before they leave for a monthlong recess on Friday. This will be something to watch.
Pelosi expects no dissent from her members: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Friday that although some of her members who represent high-income taxpayers threatened to withhold their support for any bill that didn’t repeal the $10,000 state and local tax deduction limit, she expected House Democrats to ultimately support the legislation.
Pelosi said the IRA doesn’t have everything House members want but what it includes is remarkable. Most importantly, she said, the bill is fully paid for and requires no new taxes, which keeps Biden’s promise to not raise taxes on anyone earning less than $400,000.
House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer on Friday advised members that they’ll probably have to return from recess this month to pass the bill.
“When they send it to us, we’ll pass it,” she said.
The deal has the White House’s support too: Despite President Biden’s hands-off role in the Schumer-Manchin negotiations, administration officials say he will continue to be vocal about his support of the policies in the bill, which they say he’s been pushing for since he announced his candidacy in 2019.
The White House says Biden views the IRA as a down payment that lays the foundation for Democrats to pass more sweeping legislation if they hold onto the Senate and expand their House majority this November.
About that upcoming election: Even if Democrats can stick together to pull this off, there’s no guarantee that voters will reward them when they head to the polls in less than 100 days for what would be the latest in a list of meaningful legislative accomplishments despite razor-thin margins.
Inflation is squeezing people’s budgets, we’re still in a pandemic with cases on the rise and a monkeypox outbreak stoking fear among Americans. Young voters are especially dispirited that Biden hasn’t canceled student loan debt, pushed harder for immigration reform, or lobbied harder for police reform and immigration reform.
But these same officials and Biden allies outside the White House are optimistic that the IRA plus the recently passed CHIPS and Science Act, a veterans health care that’s bill up for a vote in the Senate this week, some student debt relief and anger at the Supreme Court for overturning the constitutional right to abortion will galvanize the coalition Democrats will need to turn out if they’re to hold onto power for at least two more years.
Related: “Joe Manchin shocks Republicans by revealing he is a Democrat” (Dana Milbank / WaPo)
— BIDEN’S COVID REBOUND: The White House on Saturday afternoon announced President Joe Biden tested positive for COVID-19 again after returning to work late last week following an initial infection on July 21.
Dr. Kevin O’Connor, the president’s physician, said Biden is experiencing no new symptoms. And since he “continues to feel quite well,” there is no need to reinstate treatment. But the president will undergo “close observation” and reinstate the “strict isolation procedures” in the White House residence he adhered to the first time around.
Speaking of treatments, rebound cases like Biden’s have occurred in a small percentage of patients treated with Paxlovid, the oral medication doctors prescribe to prevent severe illness and death after a COVID infection. The explanation: Not enough of the drug is getting to infected cells to stop all viral replication, according to a recent study by researchers at the University of California, Davis. This may be due to the drug being metabolized more quickly in some individuals or the drug needs to be delivered over a longer treatment duration. (Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president’s chief medical advisor and the nation’s top infectious disease expert, also experienced a rebound case in June. He said his symptoms were worse during round two.)
Biden was scheduled to travel to his Delaware home on Sunday for the first time since before his initial positive case and also visit Michigan tomorrow to speak about the CHIPS competitiveness bill Congress passed last week (more on that below…) but those plans have obviously been canceled. Prior to his positive test late Saturday morning, Biden tested negative on Tuesday evening, the mornings of Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
Related: “Of course Biden has rebound COVID” (Rachel Gutman-Wei / The Atlantic)
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— PELOSI FINALLY ANNOUNCES INDO-PACIFIC CODEL: After weeks of speculation, Speaker Pelosi on Sunday morning announced she has led a congressional delegation across the Indo-Pacific region to advance Congress’s values and interests while continuing the Biden administration’s work to strengthen relationships with nations in the region.
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