President Biden and top Democrats in Congress are facing a daunting set of challenges this week as they maneuver to unite their party’s feuding factions around their multitrillion-dollar domestic agenda and keep the government from shutting down before a Friday deadline.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said on Sunday night that the House would vote on a bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill on Thursday, pushing off action that had been planned for Monday and giving Democrats more time to reach a consensus on the measure.
Progressives have said they will not back that legislation until they see action by Congress on a sprawling $3.5 trillion social safety net and climate change package, but moderates have balked at the size and scope of that bill, leaving both bills in limbo.
With slim majorities in both chambers, Democrats cannot afford to lose even a single Democratic vote in the Senate — and have room for as few as three defections in the House — to push through the legislation in the face of Republican opposition. House Democrats are slated to meet Monday afternoon to hash out their differences on the measures.
The talks are unfolding under the cloud of a potential government shutdown. The House infrastructure vote will come hours before government funding — as well as key transportation programs addressed in the infrastructure bill — is scheduled to lapse after midnight on Sept. 30.
Republicans are expected on Monday to block action in the Senate on a stopgap spending measure to extend funding into December, which would also raise the debt ceiling to allow the government to meet its obligations. Their opposition risks a shutdown this week and a catastrophic debt default within weeks, leaving Democrats searching for a new strategy for averting fiscal disaster.
The House passed the temporary spending bill last week with only Democratic votes.
Ms. Pelosi had committed last month to holding a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure legislation by Monday, after a group of centrist Democrats threatened to vote against a budget blueprint needed to push through the party’s signature $3.5 trillion social policy and climate change bill without a quick vote on their priority.
Ms. Pelosi’s announcement that the House would aim to pass the infrastructure bill later in the week reflected the difficulty of the task that Democratic leaders face as they try to knit together a compromise to move forward with Mr. Biden’s agenda.
“I’m never bringing a bill to the floor that doesn’t have the votes,” Ms. Pelosi said of the infrastructure bill on “This Week” on ABC on Sunday.
Mr. Biden and members of his cabinet huddled with lawmakers over the weekend in a bid to push the two bills over the finish line, according to a White House official familiar with the discussions.
Representative Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington and the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, pledged again on Sunday that liberal lawmakers would not support the infrastructure bill unless it was accompanied by action on the $3.5 trillion plan.
“The speaker is an incredibly good vote counter, and she knows exactly where her caucus stands, and we’ve been really clear on that,” Ms. Jayapal said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “The votes aren’t there.”
An earlier version of this article misstated when government funding is set to lapse. It is Sept. 30, not Sept. 31.
For nearly two decades, lawmakers in Washington have waged an escalating display of brinkmanship over the federal government’s ability to borrow money to pay its bills. They have forced administrations of both parties to take evasive actions, pushing the nation dangerously close to economic calamity. But they have never actually tipped the United States into default.
The dance is repeating this fall, but this time the dynamics are different — and the threat of default is greater than ever.
Republicans in Congress have refused to help raise the nation’s debt limit, even though the need to borrow stems from the bipartisan practice of running large budget deficits. Republicans agree the U.S. must pay its bills, but on Monday they are expected to block a measure in the Senate that would enable the government to do so. Democrats, insistent that Republicans help pay for past decisions to boost spending and cut taxes, have so far refused to use a special process to raise the limit on their own.
Observers inside and outside Washington are worried neither side will budge in time, roiling financial markets and capsizing the economy’s nascent recovery from the pandemic downturn.
If the limit is not raised or suspended, officials at the Treasury Department warn, the government will soon exhaust its ability to borrow money, forcing officials to choose between missing payments on military salaries, Social Security benefits and the interest it owes to investors who have financed America’s spending spree.
Yet Republicans have threatened to filibuster any attempt by Senate Democrats to pass a simple bill to increase borrowing. Party leaders like Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky want to force Democrats to raise the limit on their own, through a fast-track congressional process that bypasses a Republican filibuster.
“If they want to tax, borrow, and spend historic sums of money without our input,” Mr. McConnell said on the Senate floor this week, “they will have to raise the debt limit without our help.”
With President Biden’s approval ratings falling below 50 percent after the most trying stretch of his young administration, pushing through his ambitious legislative agenda has taken on a new urgency for Democratic lawmakers.
Recognizing that a president’s popularity is the best indicator for how his party will fare in the midterm elections, Democrats are confronting a stark prospect: If Mr. Biden doesn’t succeed in the halls of Congress this fall, it could doom his party’s majorities at the polls next fall.
Not that such a do-or-die dilemma is itself sufficient to stop Democrats’ intraparty squabbling, which the president on Friday termed a “stalemate.” Divisions between moderates and liberals over the substance, the price tag and even the legislative timing of Mr. Biden’s twin priorities, a bipartisan public works bill and broader social welfare legislation, could still undermine the proposals.
But it is increasingly clear to Democratic officials that beyond fully taming the still-raging pandemic, the only way Mr. Biden can rebound politically — and the party can retain its tenuous grip on power in the Capitol — is if he and they are able to hold up tangible achievements to voters.
Voting is already underway in the Virginia governor’s race, and with Election Day just five weeks away, the race between former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, and the business executive Glenn Youngkin has grown closer, in part because of Mr. Biden’s dip in the polls.
In an interview, the rarely subtle Mr. McAuliffe underlined the risk posed by congressional inaction, all but demanding that lawmakers act.
“Voters didn’t send Democrats to Washington to sit around and chitty-chat all day,” said Mr. McAuliffe, himself a former national party chair. “They need to get this done.”
Voters, he said, want “to see competence; they want to see people doing their jobs.”
Mr. McAuliffe, who is in a dead heat with Mr. Youngkin in public and private surveys, is close to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a number of White House officials. He and his advisers have been blunt with Biden aides about the closeness of the governor’s race and have argued that the souring political environment for Democrats is the reason that the contest has grown more competitive, according to party officials familiar with the conversations.
His fellow moderates, if not quite feeling the same level of political urgency, agree and are perplexed by Mr. Biden’s failure to press both Ms. Pelosi and recalcitrant progressives to approve the infrastructure bill and provide him with a substantial, and much-needed, victory.
President Biden may have gotten ahead of the government’s scientists in announcing prematurely that virtually all Americans would begin getting coronavirus booster shots this fall, but he made a show of getting his own. The president spoke briefly before he received a Pfizer-BioNTech booster on Monday afternoon.
“Let me be clear,” Mr. Biden said before he got the shot. “Boosters are important. But the most important thing we need to do is get more people vaccinated. The vast majority of Americans are doing the right thing.”
His third shot came only days after federal regulators moved to allow millions of Americans to get Pfizer booster shots if individuals received a second dose of that vaccine at least six months ago and met new eligibility rules. Frontline workers, older people and younger adults with medical conditions or jobs that place them at higher risk got the green light following weeks of intense debate within regulatory agencies that left much of the American public confused about the specifics of the booster plan.
Mr. Biden, eligible for a booster at age 78, has been vaccinated in public before when he got his first Pfizer dose last December, a contrast to his predecessor, Donald J. Trump, who received an early vaccine at the White House but did not talk about it at the time. But Mr. Biden has pursued the opposite strategy.
On Monday, he added to the air of nonchalance around the booster by answering reporters’ questions — about critiques of vaccine policy, infrastructure negotiations and other topics — while getting injected.
World Health Organization officials have called for a global moratorium on booster shot programs until the end of the year, describing them as an unequal and ineffective use of the limited pool of available vaccines. Asked about the criticism, Mr. Biden reiterated that the United States had provided more vaccine doses to the global effort than all other countries combined, and would continue to do more.
Mr. Biden said that about 23 percent of adult Americans had not received a single dose of the vaccine, and they were causing “an awful lot of damage for the rest of the country.”
Asked what vaccination percentage would get things back to normal, Mr. Biden said he was not a scientist, but that so many people “can’t go unvaccinated and us not continue to have a problem.”
Mr. Biden said that he was moving forward with vaccination requirements where he could impose them, and that he planned to travel to Chicago on Wednesday to talk about individual businesses implementing their own vaccination mandates.
A Reuters/Ipsos national survey conducted Aug. 27-30 found that 76 percent of Americans who have received at least one shot of a vaccine want a booster. Only 6 percent do not, the poll found.
Mr. Biden asked on Friday for people who were not yet eligible to be patient. He said that his administration was “looking to the time when we’re going to be able to expand the booster shots, basically across the board,” and that boosters for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines were likely in the offing.
“So I would just say, it’d be better to wait your turn in line, wait your turn to get there,” Mr. Biden said.
Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will appear on Tuesday in what could be the most significant televised congressional hearing involving senior military leaders since Gen. David H. Petraeus was grilled by lawmakers on the fiasco that was the war in Iraq in 2007.
Halfway through his four-year term as the nation’s top military officer, General Milley, along with Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, is certain to face sharp questions about Afghanistan, including their advice to President Biden not to withdraw all U.S. troops from the country.
General Milley has also spoken about his efforts during the last tumultuous months of the Trump administration to protect the military and American democratic institutions from a president who was searching for avenues to remain in power. Those moves, as described in one book, culminated with General Milley twice calling to reassure his Chinese counterpart and extracting promises from the military chain of command not to launch a nuclear weapon on Mr. Trump’s orders without first alerting him.
In so doing, General Milley has prompted demands from some Republicans to resign and rekindled discussions about the ways that former President Donald J. Trump put the military where the country’s founding fathers said it was not supposed to be: at the center of politics.
In normal times, the tumultuous Afghanistan withdrawal punctuated by a tragic errant drone strike would be enough, by themselves, to dominate any congressional hearing with senior Pentagon leaders. But the recent revelations that General Milley may have inserted himself into the chain of command to check Mr. Trump’s capability to launch a nuclear strike raise questions about the limitations of a doctrine traditionally viewed as sacred: civilian control of the military.
Both Democrats and Republicans are expected to demand answers, and a pithy quote in response could land the general in hot water — with Congress or the White House.
“This is a crucial time for Milley,” said Jeffrey J. Schloesser, a retired two-star Army general who as commander of U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan from 2008 to 2009 was General Milley’s boss.
Representative Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming, said in an interview on CBS’s “60 Minutes” on Sunday night that she was “wrong” to oppose same-sex marriage, reversing a longstanding position.
“I was wrong,” Ms. Cheney said. “I was wrong.”
Ms. Cheney famously came out against same-sex marriage in a television interview in 2013, while running for Senate in Wyoming, saying she believed “in the traditional definition of marriage.” Mary Cheney, her sister who is gay and married with children, wrote online at the time that Liz was “on the wrong side of history.”
The issue sparked a public rift inside the close-knit and high-profile political family. Dick Cheney, the former vice president and Ms. Cheney’s father, became an unlikely advocate for gay rights when he stated in 2004 that he supported Mary, and that “freedom means freedom for everyone.”
On Sunday night, Liz Cheney said her father had been right the whole time. “I love my sister very much,” she said. “I love her family very much and I was wrong. It’s a very personal issue, very personal for my family. I believe my dad was right and my sister and I have had that conversation.”
She added, “This is an issue that we have to recognize as human beings that we need to work against discrimination of all kinds in our country, in our state.” And she reiterated her father’s famous line: “Freedom means freedom for everyone.”
Ms. Cheney’s reversal on the issue may be more indicative of the country’s evolution on same-sex marriage than any political transformation of her own. Support for same-sex marriage has reached a record high of 70 percent, according to a Gallup poll conducted last June. Among Republicans, support for same-sex marriage was at 55 percent.
Ms. Cheney, who voted to impeach President Donald J. Trump and who was ousted by Republicans in May from her leadership post, has become an unlikely figure of the “resistance.” She has not ruled out a long-shot primary bid against Mr. Trump in 2024 if he decides to run again.
As vice chairwoman of the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, one of only two Republicans on the panel, she has continued to be a vocal critic of Mr. Trump’s lies about the 2020 election.
But in her “60 Minutes” interview, she made it clear that support for same-sex marriage was not part of a larger softening of her conservative stances on many issues.
She reaffirmed that she was anti-abortion and supported gun rights. She insisted waterboarding was “not torture.” She said she did not regret voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and she proudly stated that she voted for Mr. Trump’s agenda more than 90 percent of the time.
Gay rights advocates said they viewed Ms. Cheney’s reversal as something more personal than political, noting that her original stance was more surprising than the reversal. “I think it is hard to hold hate against your own sister,” Christine Quinn, the former speaker of the New York City Council, who is gay, said of Ms. Cheney’s reversal. “We have always said that knowing someone personally who is L.G.B.T.+ is the key to changing people’s minds and identifying new allies.”
Ms. Quinn added: “We all learned this year that time together is not a given.”