Politico's score on Infrastructure Bowl: Progressives 2, Dem leadership 0

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

I’d give progressives a couple of extra points myself, but Politico’s score at least gets the dynamic correct. For the second time, Democratic leadership got forced into an embarrassing retreat after attempting to strong-arm a popular infrastructure bill through the House. This time, progressives managed to torpedo Joe Biden’s prestige as well as Nancy Pelosi’s:

House liberals left the Capitol triumphant on Thursday night after once again scuttling a major vote. Every other Democrat was fuming.

For the second time in less than a month, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team had to delay a vote on Senate-passed infrastructure bill amid progressive opposition, denying President Joe Biden a much-need win as Democrats’ bigger, $1.75 trillion social spending plan also remains in limbo. …

Democrats slunk out of the House chamber embarrassed — furious at the liberals who dug in and a White House that refused to pressure them to relent — and openly fretting about the long-term repercussions, given the tough climb they face in the midterms. Progressive leaders are predicting the party will work out its differences and pass both bills in the House within days. But it’s a far cry from what top Democrats had hoped to deliver ahead of a critical week for the party.

House Democrats should be embarrassed, but not as embarrassed as Biden, who broke every rule of presidential leverage on Capitol Hill. Presidents don’t go down to Capitol Hill without a win already in their pocket, and Biden went twice and came up empty. As Punchbowl points out, Biden went the second time without even delivering a clear ask, let alone a clear plan for his reconciliation project:

In fact, it was even worse than that, Punchbowl also reports. Even after Pelosi intervened and attempted to refocus on getting an infrastructure win yesterday, Biden apparently still didn’t get the hint:

During a call between White House Legislative Director of Legislative Affairs Louisa Terrell, National Economic Council Director Brian Deese, several senior White House officials, and key Democratic lawmakers, Terrell was repeatedly asked to spell out their position on the infrastructure bill, according to multiple sources. Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), chair of the New Democrat Coalition, asked straight out whether Biden wanted House Democrats to vote for the infrastructure bill. The White House officials said they “support both bills,” meaning the infrastructure and reconciliation bills. This further strengthened progressives’ argument.

And Biden called a member of the House from Air Force One as he flew to Rome to thank her for her public support for the Build Back Better Act. Yet Biden never once mentioned the infrastructure bill, said sources familiar with the call.

“We would have had a victory today if only he had asked for it,” one Democratic aide said of Biden.

That’s why a 2-zip lead for progressives in this case may understate the status quo on the infrastructure bill. Biden has completely undercut the idea that its loss harms him at all, even though passage of the bill would have given him his first real legislative win since the third COVID-19 relief package in March. Biden may well be more aligned with progressives than even Pelosi is, seeing the bipartisan infrastructure bill (BIF) as nothing more than an entrée to his massive social-engineering project.

If that’s the case, though, Biden may never get Kyrsten Sinema or Joe Manchin to commit to the latter. Sinema hasn’t drawn many public red lines, but one of the few is that she will not vote on the reconciliation bill until the House passes the BIF. Could she be convinced to move off that position? Possibly, but as long as progressives and Biden keep tying the two together, it sure doesn’t seem likely. And as long as Bernie Sanders and progressives keep demanding massive Medicare expansions in the reconciliation bill, Manchin doesn’t look likely to flip either — not in another five weeks, and probably not ever.

It’s possible that Biden and Pelosi can do enough horse trading before the Transportation CR expires in early December, but … that’s what we thought five weeks ago when progressives torpedoed the infrastructure bill the first time.  If this keeps getting pushed into the midterms, and especially if Terry McAuliffe loses in Virginia next week, progressives might just win their way into getting nothing at all in this session of Congress.