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'A Great Deal Of Anxiety' For Democrats As Biden Agenda Stalls
Joe Biden

'A Great Deal Of Anxiety' For Democrats As Biden Agenda Stalls

WASHINGTON (AP) — Hopes for a large infrastructure investment are dwindling, an ambitious elections and voting bill is on the verge of being killed, and legislation on police brutality, gun control, and immigration has all but died.

After six months of Democratic control in Washington, the party's progressive wing is becoming increasingly agitated as campaign promises go unfulfilled — stymied not only by Republican obstruction, but also by Democrats' own inability to unite fully around priorities.

The next few months will be critical for President Joe Biden and his congressional allies to seize what some see as a historic opportunity to rebuild the economy and reshape the country.

“There’s a lot of anxiety,” said Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., a co-chair of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. “It’s really a question for President Biden: What kind of president does he want to be?”

The summer work period is traditionally one of the busiest for Congress, but it has been especially intense this year as Democrats struggle to deliver on Biden's agenda. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer warned colleagues on Monday that June will "test our resolve," as senators returned with infrastructure talks dragging and the limits of bipartisanship in the 50-50 Senate becoming increasingly clear.

Over the weekend, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., announced his opposition to the voting bill, titled S.1, which many Democrats see as critical to protecting democracy and a direct response to restrictive new voting laws being passed in Republican-led states egged on by former President Donald Trump.

“Do I feel discouraged? Yes,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, predicting that if the promises are not kept, “we will lose voters for a generation.”

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

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.

Leading civil rights figures, including Rev. Al Sharpton and Marc Morial, are scheduled to meet with Manchin in Washington on Tuesday. Biden encouraged them to visit the senator to discuss the voting bill and the legislative agenda, but not to put pressure on the senator — at least not yet, according to a person familiar with the discussion but not authorized to speak on the subject.

While Manchin has expressed support for another voting bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, supporters of S.1 argue that both are required, and Biden agrees that Congress should move forward with both, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

Simultaneously, Democratic groups supporting S.1 pledged to continue a $30 million campaign urging Democratic senators to rewrite filibuster rules and pass the bill, including television ads in Manchin's home state of West Virginia.

But it isn't just Manchin who is opposed to changing the filibuster laws; without his or other filibuster defenders, such as Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., Democratic senators will be forced to confront the limits of their fragile majority.

Failure to deliver on popular campaign promises may exacerbate party divisions and expose Democrats to criticism from within their own ranks as well as from Republicans eager to demonstrate that Biden's party is incapable of governing.

“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.”

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

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

Rather than pressuring dissenting senators, Schumer is attempting to persuade them that either bipartisan deals with Republicans are possible, or they must go it alone on infrastructure or other priorities, 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.

“This would be his LBJ moment — can he pick up the phone and work his magic to get his Democrats on board?” said Khanna.

This article was contributed to by Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire and Brian Slodysko.

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