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With The Clock Ticking, Democrats Face A Painful Test On Their Agenda.
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With The Clock Ticking, Democrats Face A Painful Test On Their Agenda.


WASHINGTON (AP) — Preparing for political trouble, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer warned Democratic colleagues that the month of June will “test our resolve” as senators return Monday to debate infrastructure, voting rights, and other stalled-out priorities at a critical juncture in Congress.

Six months into the party's control of Washington, with Joe Biden in the White House and Democrats controlling the House and Senate, there is a gloomy uncertainty about their ability to deliver on campaign promises.

As Democrats struggle to deliver on Biden's agenda, the limits of bipartisanship in the 50-50 Senate become clear: talks on an infrastructure package are teetering, though Biden is set to meet with the lead GOP negotiator again Monday, and an ambitious elections overhaul bill is effectively dead after Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., announced his opposition on Sunday.

“We need to get the ball rolling,” said Yvette Simpson, CEO of the liberal advocacy group Democracy for America.

“We told everyone in the pandemic to come out against all odds and vote,” she said of the 2020 election, promising that with Democrats in power, “we’re going to have all these great things happen, their lives are going to be better, and what they’re finding is that it looks like Washington as usual.”

The summer work period is traditionally one of the busiest for Congress, but Democrats are growing concerned because time is running out for Biden to negotiate a comprehensive infrastructure package and other priorities are piling up unfinished. The days ahead are often viewed as a last chance at legislating before the August recess and the start of campaigns for next year's elections.

In laying out the agenda, Schumer is challenging senators to be prepared to make difficult decisions, but he is also putting his own ability to lead the big-tent party through a volatile period of shifting priorities and tactics in the aftermath of the Trump era and the Capitol insurgency to the test.

While Democratic senators in the evenly divided Senate have been generating goodwill by considering bipartisan bills, they are under increasing pressure from the voters who elected them to fight harder for legislation that Republicans are determined to block with the filibuster. Democrats in the evenly divided Senate hold the majority because Vice President Kamala Harris can be the tie breaker.

S.1, the elections and voting reform bill, appears to be headed for defeat; however, Schumer has indicated that votes on gun control legislation and the Equality Act, a House-passed bill to ensure civil rights for the LGBTQ community, may be forthcoming.

Some senators are ready to change the rules to eliminate the filibuster, which they blame for the delays. The long-standing Senate filibuster rules require 60 votes to advance most legislation, which means as many as 10 Republicans would need to cross party lines to help Democrats achieve their priorities. Some senators propose lowering the voting threshold to 51.

But, in announcing his opposition to the voting rights bill as the "wrong piece of legislation to bring our country together" on Sunday, Manchin also reiterated his refusal to end the filibuster — for the time being, denying his party a crucial vote needed to change the rules that could help advance its agenda.

Without Manchin's or others' support, including Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who also wants to keep the filibuster, Schumer is effectively warning that Democratic senators will be forced to confront the limits of their fragile majority, which could exacerbate party divisions and expose Democrats to criticism from Republicans eager to demonstrate that Biden's party cannot govern.

“The work period in June will be extremely challenging,” Schumer warned, adding, “I want to be clear that the next few weeks will be difficult and will test our resolve as a Congress and a conference.”

According to two Democratic aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private strategy, Schumer has been laying the groundwork for this moment since he became majority leader in January, attempting to build the case that bipartisanship can work in some cases — such as the passage of an Asian hate crimes bill or a water public works package — but also has its limits.

Their weekly closed-door policy caucus lunches have been intense, especially during the two special sessions they held to privately debate the path forward on the voting rights bill, according to one of the aides.

Senators rise one by one to ask pointed questions or express their views on the elections overhaul, which many Democrats see as critical to protecting democracy, particularly as states led by Republicans impose restrictive new voting laws.

Manchin's opposition is a serious setback for the election bill, which has taken on new urgency for Democrats as former President Donald Trump encourages state-level changes, similar to how he urged his supporters to "fight like hell" for his presidency before storming the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Rather than pressuring dissenting senators, Schumer is attempting to persuade them that either bipartisan deals with Republicans are possible, or they must pursue a stand-alone strategy on infrastructure or other issues, according to aides.

According to one aide, Schumer is no arm-twisting leader in the mold of Lyndon B. Johnson, who was known as the majority leader's hardball cajoling prior to becoming president.

Schumer took stock of the gains so far in a letter to colleagues released the day Republicans used the filibuster to prevent the formation of a bipartisan commission to investigate the insurgency, but he also said, "We have also seen the limits of bipartisanship."

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