Biden to meet with House Democrats amid infrastructure vote chaos

House Democrats will hear from President Joe Biden later Friday at a second closed-door huddle of the group that day, after their first two-hour meeting left members with little clarity on the path forward on Biden's two major priorities.

The first Friday Democratic caucus meeting followed a late night — Speaker Nancy Pelosi left the Capitol after midnight, the culmination of hours of scrambling to secure a deal with key Senate Democratic moderates Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. Biden will attend a second huddle with House Democrats in the afternoon.

"We’re working on trying to get to a place where everybody is comfortable," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, adding that he believes "there is overwhelming support in our caucus — almost unanimous support in our caucus — for both [bills]. And we're going to have additional discussions of how that end is accomplished.”

Talks between the speaker, the centrist senators, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and the White House resumed in earnest Friday. White House officials met Thursday evening in Manchin’s office in the Capitol along with Sinema, but the West Virginia Democrat appeared unmoved after their meeting.

Those centrists want the bipartisan infrastructure bill to pass the House but are less keen on a sweeping spending package that could cost up to $3.5 trillion. House progressives, meanwhile, are threatening to tank the infrastructure legislation without certain guarantees on the multitrillion-dollar social safety net bill that would reform policies on child care, health care and climate change.

“The resolution is not here in this caucus — the resolution is with two senators, and the rest of the 98 percent of the Democratic Caucus,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal said, noting she’s been in touch with the White House “multiple times” since last night.

“I feel very confident that we're going to be able to deliver both these things, but you're gonna have to give us some time because it does take time to put together these kinds of transformational investments.”

While senior Democrats say they are making progress in talks, the framework remains unfinished and lawmakers are unlikely to see a final top line in their caucus meeting, according to multiple sources.

And Sinema is no longer physically in Washington, heading to Phoenix for a medical appointment, according to her office. She is staying in touch with the White House and Democrats remotely, though that means there won't be another late night — for her at least — holed up in the Senate with negotiators.

"Last night, Kyrsten and our team offered the White House continued discussions and negotiations for this morning. We're awaiting word from the White House for their availability," her office said.

The impasse has left a signature element of Biden’s agenda in limbo and is exposing divisions among Democrats over the scale and scope of their agenda.

“We’re on a path” to have a vote Friday, Pelosi said as she entered the Capitol Friday morning, though she told reporters it would be “useful for us to have a conversation later today.”

But when Hoyer was asked if a vote were happening Friday, he said: “We’ll see.”

Pelosi and Democratic leaders punted a planned Thursday vote on the infrastructure legislation while negotiations continued with Senate moderates. Democratic leaders have hoped to strike a deal that would cost a total of $2.1 trillion, but Manchin remains firm at his $1.5 trillion top line, less than half of what progressives want in the final bill.

"I feel frustrated. I want to vote today on this on this package," Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) said. "I don't know what's gonna happen."

Progressives have held firm on their demand to hold a vote on the social spending bill before the infrastructure legislation. They have repeatedly warned that they'll sink the infrastructure bill if it comes to the floor before the social spending bill.

"We need a vote” rather than a framework agreement, said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) as she went into the caucus meeting.

The failure to pass an infrastructure bill on Thursday also puts highway and transit funding temporarily in a lurch, as that day was the deadline to renew surface transportation programs. Department of Transportation employees could face furloughs if the programs are not reauthorized, though lawmakers have discussed a temporary extension of the programs that could quickly pass through both chambers.

Democrats, however, are still hoping they can reach a deal on the broader framework Friday and then pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill. Their goal is to reach agreement on the legislation’s total cost and some of its major provisions.

Pelosi, for her part, said that the House would vote Friday on the bill as she left the Capitol building just after midnight. “There will be a vote today,” she said.

Party leaders used a procedural maneuver to avoid starting a new legislative day — a nod to moderates who had wanted a Thursday vote on the legislation.

Burgess Everett contributed to this report.

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