POLITICO Playbook: Biden’s promise to progressives


This week could have ended with the Democratic coalition in tatters. The long-awaited infrastructure bill is still on ice. The “Build Back Better” package has been stripped of key proposals on issues ranging from climate change to paid leave. The party ended another week with a big legislative goose egg.

So why are many liberal advocates celebrating and not completely flipping out? Despite the demise of paid leave and a scaled-down investment in the families, children and home caregiving aspect of the bill, backers of the so-called care economy have been noticeably calm.

The answer may have to do with what President JOE BIDEN told allies behind closed doors this week.

— To allies on the Hill: On Wednesday, Biden arrived at the House Democratic Caucus meeting about to disappoint some in his party because some of the most popular items were being left out.

But a source familiar with the meeting tells Playbook that to quell intraparty opposition, the president made a promise: For the provisions left out of the Build Back Better framework — like the politically popular paid leave proposal — this wouldn’t be the last bite at the apple. He would revisit it throughout his presidency.

— Outside advocates tell us the White House and members of Congress have assured paid leave advocates of the same thing. The administration also tried to signal the promise in more subtle ways, like listing care first in a fact sheet about the final package, an administration official pointed out to Playbook, despite climate change mitigation being the area with the most dollars attached.

For now, the promise to keep trying appears to have won the patience of many advocates of the care economy — even if it’s apparent it will be a very tall order for Biden to make good on it.

— One who has met with the administration on these issues said folks are being a bit more realistic right now because (1) they feel like the pandemic has made it easier to generate political will for major investments in the care economy, (2) the White House and congressional allies have told them to keep pushing for more legislation, and (3) they’ve never been brought to the table like this before and feel compelled to keep the relationship intact.

— “Two things can exist at once, right? I can be tremendously excited about the investment in the care economy that is included in the package. And I can be pissed off that paid leave was not included,” APRIL VERRETT, president of SEIU Local 2015, told Playbook. “Both things exist simultaneously.”

They also haven’t given up hope that paid leave can make its way back into the final bill, partly because they are still fighting for it to be included. Sen. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-N.Y.), who’s mounted a last-ditch effort to win over Sen. JOE MANCHIN (D-W.Va.) on the issue, tweeted that she wasn’t giving up. Manchin, however, has been clear that he thinks paid leave shouldn’t be done through reconciliation. (Related: Burgess Everett writes this morning about efforts afoot to add paid leave and lots of other stuff back into Biden’s framework.)

BUT, BUT, BUT: The problem with Biden’s promise is it is unlikely to be kept. Everyone knows this is probably the last opening Democrats have to pass big-ticket legislation for a long time, if not for the remainder of Biden’s presidency. An election year is fast approaching, when moderate Democrats will be more skittish, not less, about passing major bills. And one or both chambers are expected to flip to Republicans.

Good Saturday morning. Thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza, Tara Palmeri.

BIDEN’S SATURDAY — The president has already greeted Italian PM MARIO DRAGHI, taken a family photo with other G-20 leaders, participated in the G-20 summit’s first plenary session and taken part in “a leaders’ side event on supporting women-owned businesses.” Still to come (Eastern time):

— 9:45 a.m.: Biden is meeting with British PM BORIS JOHNSON, French President EMMANUEL MACRON and German Chancellor ANGELA MERKEL to discuss the Iran nuclear deal negotiations.

— 2:50 p.m.: The Bidens will attend a gala dinner with other heads of state.

VP KAMALA HARRIS’ SATURDAY — The VP will get a Moderna booster shot at 11:25 a.m. in the South Court Auditorium.


THE PELOSI-JAYAPAL-KLAIN VORTEX, PART II — White House chief of staff RON KLAIN and Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-Wash.) have done it again. In a great behind-the-scenes account, Heather Caygle, Sarah Ferris and Laura Barrón-López report that Biden refused to ask House Democrats to vote for the bipartisan infrastructure deal (BIF) on Thursday after Jayapal personally asked Klain to back off.

Jayapal made the ask in a phone call with Klain, in which she warned that Biden risked leaving for Europe in embarrassment if he plowed ahead with demands for an immediate vote. Progressives were coming around but weren’t prepared to get on board without seeing the full text of the reconciliation package first.

Klain got the message. Shortly after, Biden came to Capitol Hill and blindsided Speaker NANCY PELOSI’s leadership team by refusing to directly ask members for their votes that day. Jayapal used the lack of a direct appeal as cover to delay the BIF vote again.

This was a replay of what happened in late September — except that time, progressives felt they had Klain’s blessing to sink the BIF if Pelosi tried to bring it to a vote. This time, it appears Klain tried to change Jayapal’s mind.

While Pelosi was trying to muscle votes for BIF, Biden made a single call during his flight to Rome that House Democratic leaders were briefed on, according to the story. It was to Rep. MADELEINE DEAN (D-Pa.) to tell her she did well on TV and to say he wasn’t really interested in pressing for a BIF vote that day.

A FEW TAKEAWAYS — 1) As we wrote Friday, the CPC ended up endorsing Biden’s Build Back Better framework the same day that Biden declined to pressure them — an underreported win for the president. By not jamming Jayapal, Klain might have secured a win in the end — though delay obviously carries its own risks.

2) It’s extraordinary to see the speaker of the House at odds with the president on the strategy for winning passage of his agenda. Yet that’s clearly what’s been happening here for a while.

3) This also spotlights the rise of Jayapal in the House, which has unsettled Democratic leaders who don’t have the bond with Klain she does. Some senior House Democrats think that the chief of staff has been rewarding bad behavior. “They have empowered a monster,” one top aide told us after the September blow-up. The person feels that’s even more the case now.

4) And lastly, in House leadership, there’s boiling frustration with Klain, as our colleagues noted in their story. “His coziness with the left has frustrated leaders and moderate Democrats who view it, at times, as an impediment to getting Biden’s agenda passed,” they write.

If Biden ends up signing both the BBB and BIF, though, we bet this will all blow over very quickly.




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