Psaki: We don't know how we're going to raise the minimum wage to $15 at this point, but we'll try

“We don’t have a clear answer on what that looks like at this point,” she said at today’s briefing about hiking the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour, after Senate Dems gave up on including it in Biden’s COVID package. “It just remains a commitment and something [the president] will use his political capital to get done.”

Will he? How, exactly? Because that sounds like an empty promise being made which Psaki knows the White House can’t keep but which she’s hoping will earn them credit from the left for good intentions.

I can think of five ways in which they might conceivably get the votes they need in the Senate for a standalone bill for a $15 minimum wage, and they’re all unlikely. But first, watch Psaki at this afternoon’s presser:

They can’t give up on the idea formally since there’ll be hell to pay among a lefty base that was counting on them if they do. And Dems know it:

Frustration has escalated to anger in some progressive circles, with elected officials and activists becoming increasingly antsy about the prospect of actually passing a chief campaign pledge. Where there was once optimism and urgency around a consensus Democratic issue, the latter emotion has become distinctly more pronounced. For weeks, the chance for a national pay raise dangled amid arcane congressional intrigue…

“If you’ll pardon my language, we’re done f***ing around,” said a source close to the White House who has been in touch with senior administration officials about the wage discussions. “This is a dealbreaker issue. What we need to see is that the administration is going to the wall with everything it has politically, exhausted all democratic means necessary, to deliver.”

“We can’t just go out there and promise people things and then not deliver,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who has been a staunch advocate of the $15 proposal and nothing less. “In two years if we go out and tell people why we didn’t pass the minimum wage, saying ‘the parliamentarian wouldn’t let us do it’ is really not going to cut it,” she told The Daily Beast on Thursday, shortly before the news became public.

Hence the reporter’s question: Is the White House willing to fight for the minimum-wage hike as hard as it’s fighting for Neera Tanden? Psaki dismisses that as apples and oranges, but if Dems are doomed to fail on this — and they are — then they need to make a big show of how much effort they exerted en route to exhausting all options. To be seen as more invested in Tanden’s fate than a $15 wage at a moment when they control all of government will be treated by progressives as a neoliberal betrayal. They need lefties to view this as a matter of Republican obstruction rather than a failure of Democratic will, which is tricky business at a moment when Joe Manchin won’t go any higher than $11 per hour.

If parliamentary rules prevent them from tying a minimum-wage hike to the COVID bill, what are their options for passing a standalone bill? Let’s count.

1. They could nuke the filibuster and pass it with 50 votes — in theory. In practice, Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema refuse to consider eliminating the filibuster. And even if they were open to it, why would Manchin go nuclear to help pass a bill which he opposes on the merits?

2. They could elect a filibuster-proof Democratic Senate majority. That’s not impossible, as those who followed politics during Obama’s first term will recall, but that ambition will take multiple election cycles to achieve. And given how well Republicans do in midterms when Democrats control the White House, Schumer’s caucus is likely to shed seats before it gains any new ones. Besides, if and when Dems build a majority that’s in striking distance of being filibuster-proof (say, 56-57 seats), they’ll probably have enough hardcore liberals in that caucus to nuke the filibuster even without Manchin’s and Sinema’s support.

3. Compromise with Republicans. Mitt Romney and Tom Cotton have floated a $10 minimum wage and Josh Hawley has floated a $15 one for corporations with revenue of $1 billion or more. It’s an open question whether either of those plans could deliver 10 Republican votes, though. And Democrats may refuse to compromise with Hawley on principle at this point because of his role in objecting to the certification of Biden’s victory in January, before the attack on the Capitol. Beyond that, despite the fact that the reality of the filibuster means Democrats have no choice but to compromise in order to raise the minimum wage, their base wouldn’t like seeing them concede to Republican demands at a moment when they control all of the federal government’s lawmaking arms — especially not so soon after the inauguration. A capitulation within the first 100 days of Biden’s term would be a bad look.

4. Tie it to a must-pass bill. A minimum-wage hike could always be attached to a government funding bill or a bill to raise the debt ceiling in the belief that Republicans will have no choice but to surrender on it and provide the 60 votes needed. But Schumer presumably knows better than to call the GOP’s bluff on a matter of core right-wing economics like the minimum wage and how it affects small businesses. If Dems dared Republicans to vote no by sticking it in a must-pass bill, they’re apt to find that the bill wouldn’t pass after all and we’d suddenly face a shutdown or a debt crisis. Plus, it would invite reprisals from the next Republican majority, which will attach some core GOP wishlist item to a must-pass bill of its own and expect Democrats to choke on it the same way. It’s a nonstarter.

5. Hope Trump gets excited about the idea. Honestly, this may be their best play. Biden can’t lobby Trump to embrace the idea of a $15 minimum wage, needless to say, but certainly Josh Hawley could. Tucker Carlson could, if he’s so inclined. It’s not as if Trump would refuse on principle to adopt a Democratic policy proposal: Look no further than December, when he flipped over the table on the last round of COVID stimulus by briefly demanding $2,000 checks for taxpayers after having been lukewarm about the idea. He’s the only person in the party with the influence to make a populist position something close to GOP orthodoxy. Even for him, swinging 10 Republicans in favor of a $15 minimum wage would be a heavy lift, but if anyone can do it he can do it. If I were Team Joe, I’d be brainstorming to see if there’s anyone they know with any kind of influence in TrumpWorld who might be willing to push the idea to him. He’s their only chance to mainstream this on the right. If they don’t explore this avenue, they’re sunk.

Exit question: Even if Trump were open to a $15 minimum wage, would he dare risk handing Biden a major political victory by swinging behind the idea?