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Monday, November 29, 2021

In the House of Representatives and Senate, Nancy Pelosi makes Democrats play ball

WASHINGTON – On Wednesday night in September, when President Joe Biden stabbed a Republican dugout during the annual Congressional baseball game, Speaker Nancy Pelosi sat next to her soberly, shaking her finger on her cell phone, trying to save the top of her party. legislative priority as it teetered on the brink of collapse.

At the other end of the line was Senator Joe Manchin, DW.Va., who had decided to vote on Biden’s radical social policy bill, and Pelosi, sitting in the VIP section behind a dugout in the National Park, was trying to convince him to cover $ 2.1 trillion in costs and provisions on climate change that she considered important for legislation.

In a moment captured by C-SPAN cameras that went viral, Pelosi seemed to start to freak out as Manchin, according to sources with knowledge of the call, told her he couldn’t accept more than $ 1.5 trillion – and was willing to provide a document. setting out clearly from his parameters for the package, the benchmarks that House Democrats demanded to see.

The call reflected how Pelosi’s pivotal role in realizing Biden’s agenda on Capitol Hill went far beyond the House, which is her primary responsibility, to the Senate, where she had quiet and little-known negotiations with key lawmakers who have the power to kill. package or promote it into law.

Her hardship efforts and replete with near-death experiences finally paid off on Friday when the House made a $ 2.2 trillion social and climate change policy decision.

Along the way, Pelosi, who is known for winning legislative victories in difficult circumstances, has been forced to repeatedly abandon open debate on the bill in an effort to unite rival liberal and moderate factions in her caucus. The most important, but less visible part of her task was to identify and persuade a couple of opposition Democrats in the Senate, Manchin and Kirsten Cinema of Arizona, who opposed the main elements of the Biden plan and had the power to reverse any delicate Pelosi deal. was able to strike.

It wasn’t until she called Manchin at a baseball game that Pelosi discovered that the West Virginian’s demands were contained in a sort of impromptu contract that he passed on to Senator Chuck Schumer, New York. and the majority leader at the end of July. The document, signed by both men, was kept secret – including from her – for several months.

“I’d like to know about it,” Pelosi said Friday, talking about how she felt dumbfounded. “However, that was what it was.”

Manchin’s insistence on holding on to the package’s value thwarted Pelosi’s plan to quickly push the monumental social policy law, sending it instead through a series of twists and turns until Friday morning, when she finally managed to pass it.

She still hasn’t finished, and now the Senate has a chance to change this measure in the hopes of eventually sending it back for final House approval and Biden’s signature. Manchin is still demanding major changes, such as ditching the new four-week paid family and sick leave program, which Pelosi has made his top priority.

But in the weeks since their call, Manchin has privately expressed his willingness to accept a more costly plan than the one he originally insisted on, and the speaker now says she is confident the House-approved measure will be returned by the Senate in the main. without changes.

“They might want to hone or hone this or that, and that’s negotiation,” Pelosi said of the Senate. “But a little over 90 percent of that account is what it is.”

The initial approval of the bill in the House was a significant achievement in itself, given the unanimous opposition of Republicans and deep divisions among Democrats over the package. And it happened despite whispers in the hallways of the Capitol that lawmakers no longer fear Pelosi as much as they have in the past, as her term is believed to be drawing to a close.

In the end, as with financial aid in 2008, the Obama-era incentive plan in 2009 and the Affordable Care Act in 2010, among other things, Pelosi found a way to win when it looked like she might lose. This time, she did it with a bill that contains historic initiatives on environment and essential health care, childcare, family leave, and educational programs that she and her fellow Democrats have pushed towards for decades.

Pelosi, 81, admitted Friday that it is legacy law, even if she was unwilling to ask questions about her own future.

“We have to accept it, and then we have to see it so that I have an almost religious experience of understanding what it is,” Pelosi said in her Capitol office shortly after a vote on the bill, which was delayed until Friday. In the morning, a disgruntled eight-hour rewinder from Bakersfield, Republican leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy. “But this is a big deal.”

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While her primary responsibility was to dispute with the House of Representatives, Pelosi devoted much of her time to Manchin and Cinema, both of whom have the power to thwart a deal in an equally divided Senate if they refuse.

Pelosi is associated with both. She became close to Manchin, who, like Pelosi, grew up in a political family, due to their shared Italian heritage and Catholicism, as well as her work on health and retirement benefits for miners, represented in her office by a statue of a miner given to her. Manchin. … When Pelosi wanted to send Manchin a message about her voting rights this year, she ordered it literally on a silver platter given to her by Robert S. Byrd, the former West Virginia Senate leader, whom Manchin often calls a guiding light. The tray, which is warmly written in appreciation for Pelosi’s work in raising funds to secure the Democratic Senate majority in 1987, was a reminder to Manchin of the speaker’s past relationship with his predecessor.

“I thought he should see it,” Pelosi said with a grin.

Pelosi knew Cinema as an activist in Arizona even before she was elected to the House of Representatives, where they developed mutual respect and understanding. It was the warning signs from Sinema in late September that prompted Pelosi to embark on the delicate task of separating the social policy law from the bipartisan infrastructure measure that had already been approved by the Senate with Sinema as the lead author.

Progressives were adamant that they would only support the public works bill after they were reassured that Senate Democrats, especially Manchin and Cinema, were committed to voting on the Social Policy Bill – a guarantee that did not and does not exist before. so far.

With the voting deadline approaching, Pelosi opened a reverse channel for Sinema through former Rep. Joe Kennedy III, a friend of Cinema, who entered the House with her in 2013.

He reported in response that Cinema was willing to completely abandon the social spending bill unless it sees the House of Representatives move quickly forward in the area of ​​public works. In response, Pelosi sent her colleagues a letter on Sept.26 saying that the House of Representatives would pass the infrastructure bill the next day, a plan that drew fierce opposition from advocates of progress and led to a stalemate for several weeks.

As for Manchin, Pelosi stepped up her communication with him following a September 16 video conference call with Biden and Sumer. The three Democrats, who have been friends and colleagues for decades, have strengthened their ties through negotiations, taunting and cheering each other on in their vastly different styles.

During this particular call, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter, Biden told two congressional leaders that he was encouraged by his discussions with Sinema and Manchin, although they agreed that it might be beneficial for Pelosi to speak with Manchin as well. …

“I’m with you,” Biden told Pelosi and Sumer about their plans.

“Put an F in front of that,” Schumer said enthusiastically.

“Now that you have switched to this language, I want to thank you, Mr. President,” retorted the speaker, who does not approve of profanity.

“Nancy won’t let me swear,” Schumer replied. “I try to keep my mouth dirty in front of her, with some success.”

“Every time I look at Nancy, I think of myself as some kind of servant,” the president said.

When she returned to Manchin, he received an encouraging message.

“There is a place where we can get together,” he told Pelosi, according to people familiar with the conversation. “I’m pretty sure. I always want to make a deal. “

With the focus now shifting to the Senate, Pelosi said Manchin should accept the cuts he has already received in social spending, not more.

“Be proud of what you’ve already done,” she said, advising Manchin, and then quickly moved on to an argument she made for Democrats who wanted a more generous bill: “It’s still a gigantic number.” Having reached such an ambitious measure, Republican critics accuse Pelosi of putting Democrats in political danger by “knocking them off the cliff,” according to Senator Mitch McConnell, a Republican minority leader, as she prepares. leave Congress. Pelosi rejected the criticism but refused to discuss her own plans.

“The first to ask is the last to know,” she warned.

Pelosi thanks Biden for the foresight and persistence in implementing social safety nets and climate legislation, and he gave her and her colleagues credit when he called Friday to congratulate her after the vote.

He ended the conversation with what has become a common expression of his respect for Pelosi, according to people familiar with the exchange.

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