Biden after meeting with House Dems: If it takes six minutes or six weeks, we're going to pass this infrastructure package

Alternate headline: “Biden says bipartisan infrastructure bill won’t pass anytime soon.”

If he thought they were close enough to a deal on reconciliation that the bill might pass tonight or this weekend, he wouldn’t be talking about weeks, right?

For his and his party’s sake, though, it had better not take weeks. It’s true that there’s no good reason why the bipartisan bill needs to pass immediately. But Dems are in serious trouble if it doesn’t pass this month.

He said this upon exiting a short meeting with Pelosi’s House caucus this afternoon:

Six weeks? If it takes that long, it means the bill still won’t have passed by November 2, Election Day in the Virginia gubernatorial race. And if that happens, Terry McAuliffe’s going to have an aneurysm.

In an interview, the rarely subtle Mr. McAuliffe underlined the risk posed by congressional inaction, all but demanding that lawmakers act.

“Voters didn’t send Democrats to Washington to sit around and chitty-chat all day,” said Mr. McAuliffe, himself a former national party chair. “They need to get this done.”

Voters, he said, want “to see competence; they want to see people doing their jobs.”…

“We’re desperate for this,” Mr. McAuliffe said of how he and other current governors view the public works measure, adding: “We need to fix our roads, bridges. This is too important.”

Early voting has already begun in Virginia, which means every day that passes with Democrats demoralized because nothing has passed on infrastructure is a day that McAuliffe is leaving votes on the table. If the negotiations between House progressives and Senate centrists drag on and turn more acrimonious, some Virginia Dem voters may decide to stay home. Swing voters watching the stalemate may decide that Democrats can’t get anything done even when they run the entire show. McAuliffe could lose a squeaker.

And if he loses, the blowback for Biden could be severe. Centrist Dems in Congress may decide that a red wave is on the way and lose their appetite for doing anything on reconciliation. The entire process could break down, creating a feedback loop in which the standoff on infrastructure leads to ruin for McAuliffe, which in turn leads to total collapse of infrastructure negotiations.

As for today’s hotly anticipated meeting between Biden and the House Dem caucus, it seems they came away feeling the same way Americans do after his first eight months in office: Underwhelmed.

You’ll be pleased to know, at least, that Biden ducking tough questions isn’t something he reserves for the media. He did it with his own party today too:

It sounds like his message had two prongs. First, he backed progressives up by insisting that infrastructure remains a package deal. He wants Manchin, Sinema, and the House centrists to come to terms with the left on a reconciliation bill. Second, he backed Manchin up by informing progressives that they’re not going to get anywhere near the $3.5 trillion they want.

If there needs to be a deal on a reconciliation bill before the bipartisan bill can happen and the two sides are still far apart on the topline number then it sure sounds like nothing’s going to pass tonight.

Will Pelosi hold a vote anyway, just to keep her promise to the centrists and to take the temperature of the caucus on how close they are to 218? The centrists reportedly want her to do so, although I’m not sure why now that Biden has encouraged progressives to continue to hold out until there’s a reconciliation deal:

Remember, there are two separate questions on the state of play. One is how far apart the progressives and centrists are on a reconciliation deal. But the other, not to be forgotten, is that some lefties want more than a “deal.” They’re sticking to their initial demand that the Senate needs to pass a reconciliation bill, not just have Manchin and Sinema agree to an informal “framework,” before the House passes the bipartisan bill. It’s a mystery how many progressives are dug in on that demand, but if the number is large enough it could make this process even harder than it looks. If there aren’t enough Republican votes to replace the “pass reconciliation or bust” faction that includes AOC, then Pelosi is stuck. The bipartisan bill could linger for weeks while Schumer, Manchin, and Sinema decide what to do in the Senate. Someone get McAuliffe some Xanax.