‘Bad cop’: Seattle’s Pramila Jayapal emerges as key player in Biden negotiations

With trillions of dollars and potentially President Joe Biden’s entire national agenda at stake, United States Democratic Representative Pramila Jayapal has looked down on her own party leadership. She didn’t blink.

All day Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Said the House would vote that day on $ 1 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill that is a small part of Biden’s agenda.

And all day, Jayapal had said that she, and most of the 96 members of the progressive congressional caucus she heads, would not vote for the infrastructure bill unless it was associated with the rest of the Biden’s program – a massive $ 3.5 trillion package to raise taxes. on the wealthy, make community colleges free, provide child care and paid family leave, expand medicare, and invest in climate change programs.

On Thursday night, one of the few moderate Democrats skeptical of the bigger package told CNN he was “1,000 percent” certain that the infrastructure bill would pass that night. Moments later Jayapal said she was sure there would be no vote and if there was it would not be adopted.

Jayapal was right. Realizing she didn’t have the votes, Pelosi never presented the bill for a vote on Thursday night.

Jayapal, the third-term congresswoman from West Seattle, has emerged as one of the key negotiators as Democrats, with very slim majorities in the House and Senate, trying to push through the ambitious care proposals health, child care, education and climate that Biden ran and are critical to the success of his presidency.

Biden’s agenda is split into these two bills and Jayapal, and the party’s newly energized and organized progressive wing is trying to make sure the smaller doesn’t go without the bigger.

“We made all these promises to voters across the country that we were going to keep this agenda, this is not some crazy leftist wish list,” Jayapal said in an interview on Friday. “I feel like we in the Democratic Party have lost so many voters because they don’t see us fighting over things that might be a little harder to cross the finish line.”

The crux of the matter: Biden and the vast majority of Democrats in the House and Senate want to pass both bills.

The Senate passed the physical infrastructure package, increasing spending on roads, public transport and broadband internet. It was negotiated, in part, by two centrist Democrats, Senator Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, and Senator Kyrsten Sinema, of Arizona.

But Manchin and Sinema balked at the bigger bill. And with Democrats having only a one-vote majority in the Senate and having no hope of getting even a single Republican vote for the biggest package, they can’t afford to lose any. senators.

Meanwhile, Jayapal and his progressive caucus have used the infrastructure bill as leverage. Ultimately, they will support it, but they refuse to vote for it until Manchin and Sinema (and the rest of the Senate) sign on to some form of the climate and social package.

“If you vote for this other package,” Jayapal said, describing his tactics, “we are voting for your package. So it’s like a mutually assured success, things are linked.

Negotiations are continuing. Biden came to Congress to meet privately with House Democrats on Friday and expressed confidence that they would eventually pass both bills.

The main centers of power now include not only Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, not just the White House and the two recalcitrant senators, but Jayapal and the caucus she represents.

“Jayapal offers a master class in recent weeks on how to exercise power”, wrote Brian Fallon, director of the progressive group Demand Justice, and former collaborator of Schumer and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Jayapal’s tactic of withholding support for one bill until it gets a commitment on the other “has worked 100%,” Fallon said.

“It allowed the Biden administration to take a step back,” he said. “They let Jayapal be the bad cop here, I think there’s kind of a winking relationship in her making these requests. I think the White House was kind of happy that it played this role.

Jayapal declined on Friday to say what the bigger bill they might be willing to sacrifice in order to appease Manchin and Sinema. She first wants to see a “final offer” from the two senators.

This is a relatively new development within the Democratic Party – the progressive wing of the party is showing strength and not, Jayapal said, “settling for the smallest thing all the time.”

“It’s a huge change from the status quo,” Max Berger, of the progressive group More Perfect Union, wrote this week. “Progressives have a veto over what Democrats vote in the House. It is the beginning of an era of progressive governance that will transfer power to the workers.

Jayapal, Fallon said, has “changed the dynamic in Washington a bit, because the next time the House Progressive Caucus says we’re going to keep this, people will believe them.”

Jayapal chairs the Progressive Caucus, having served as co-chair last year. When she arrived at Congress in 2017, she said, “there hadn’t been a lot of collective action here.”

Since then, the caucus has increased its membership and staff. He passed a new set of rules, requiring members to vote with the caucus in certain situations.

“I feel like I was able to bring the mentality of an organizer here and build a caucus that sees itself as a collective caucus, the collective entity, and acts collectively,” Jayapal said.

Last week, she said, involved “very little sleep” – maybe four or five hours a night, as she keeps in touch with her members and tries to voice their concerns during negotiations. It was difficult to turn on CNN or MSNBC without seeing her in the center of a swarm of journalists.

She calls, texts and constantly meets progressive members. She met Pelosi in the speaker’s office earlier this week. She speaks “regularly” with the White House.

They are of course all pushing for the same policy, although there may be disagreements on how to achieve this. Neither the president nor the announcer have looked at her yet, really demanding his vote.

“I’m sure that time will come,” she said. “But we have a lot of votes and, you know, we continue to represent the caucus.”

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