Meet Pramila Jayapal and Josh Gottheimer, the Democrats leading factions that are at odds over infrastructure

·7 min read

WASHINGTON – The Democratic-led House will vote on bipartisan infrastructure legislation Thursday, but two parts of the House Democratic Caucus remain at odds.

Moderate and progressive Democrats are working through disagreements on how to proceed ahead of the critical vote.

Leading the way? Two powerful House members: Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., a moderate and co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus.

They're both leading the two sides of the House Democratic Caucus that have been squabbling and threatening to derail parts of President Joe Biden's agenda if they don't get their way on how to pass the infrastructure bill and a separate budget bill. In the House, Democrats hold just a slight majority, meaning only a handful of Democratic defections can stall a bill.

Jayapal and Gottheimer have been negotiating with Democratic leaders for weeks on how to address issues with the two pieces of legislation and when to pass them.

The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill devotes money to roads and bridges while the $3.5 trillion bill includes progressive domestic priorities like free pre-kindergarten and community college, and climate change initiatives.

Moderates have been insisting the House should not wait and should immediately pass the bipartisan infrastructure legislation, which passed the Senate on an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis last month, to send it to the president's desk to be signed into law.

House progressives have threatened to stand in the way of this, saying they have no plans of voting for the infrastructure deal unless the separate multi-trillion budget deal is agreed to or passed. They fear moderates will not pass the larger budget bill after the smaller, bipartisan legislation is passed.

More: Congress returns to work facing major decisions on Biden's agenda and infrastructure

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had been touting that same message for months until Monday evening when she told members, according to those familiar with the conversations, that Democrats can no longer wait until the budget package is approved before voting in favor of the bipartisan legislation.

More: Evictions win is latest example of House progressives' influence on Biden. That may affect the infrastructure bill

As the vote approaches, the two sides haven't backed off their positions.

Jayapal and other progressives penned an op-ed to CNN Monday saying they "remain committed to voting for the infrastructure bill only after the Build Back Better Act is passed."

Gottheimer, on the otherhand, told PBS on Monday "you can't hold one up, this infrastructure bill, while you're working on the other one. That just doesn't make sense for the country."

As the drama continues to unfold, here are the key-players to watch leading up to Thursday's vote, and what they want:

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (R-NJ), left, and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA).
Rep. Josh Gottheimer (R-NJ), left, and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA).

Jayapal and progressives

Jayapal, 56, represents Washington's 7th Congressional District that encompasses most of Seattle. She is chair of the 96-member Progressive Caucus in the House.

She was elected to Congress in 2016 and is the first Indian woman to serve in the House. Before being elected to Congress, Jayapal worked in advocacy, serving as a civil rights activist, as well as in the Washington State Senate.

The caucus has proven this year it can force officials to take action in the halls of the Capitol and West Wing.

This summer, a group of progressive lawmakers staged a protest by sleeping on the steps of the Capitol that led to the administration introducing a new, short-lived freeze on eviction moratoriums. Earlier this year, they pressured the Biden administration to reverse course on keeping a historically low Trump-era limit on the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the U.S.

More: Lawmakers Cori Bush, Elizabeth Warren will introduce bill to give HHS power to impose eviction moratoriums

And throughout the summer, members of the caucus reiterated they will not vote in favor of the smaller, bipartisan infrastructure legislation without an agreement or vote on the larger package.

Jayapal told USA TODAY in August "We are not voting for the bipartisan bill without the reconciliation bill. We've said that for three months, and we're continuing to say that," she said.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., holds a news conference to announce legislation that would tax the net worth of America's wealthiest individuals at the U.S. Capitol on March 01, 2021 in Washington, D.C.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., holds a news conference to announce legislation that would tax the net worth of America's wealthiest individuals at the U.S. Capitol on March 01, 2021 in Washington, D.C.

In the CNN op-ed, Jayapal, joined by progressive Reps. Katie Porter, D-Calif., and Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., argued the bipartisan package isn't enough.

"Congress now faces a choice: advance the entirety of an agenda that gets American families the help they need, or deliver only a fraction of it," they wrote.

The $3.5 trillion budget bill they're advocating faces a murky future itself.

The legislation, which could be passed through a special process called reconciliation — which means it could be passed through the Senate with a majority vote and bypass a Republican filibuster — doesn't have the support of all Democratic-voting senators.

More: What is 'reconciliation,' and why is it holding up the infrastructure package?

Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Krysten Sinema of Arizona have both maintained the $3.5 trillion price tag is too high. As a result, Democrats in the House and Senate have been negotiating changes to the bill to bring all Democrats on board.

Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.
Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.

Pelosi said during the Monday-night caucus call that “We had to accommodate the changes that were being necessitated. And we cannot be ready to say until the Senate passed the bill, we can’t do” the bipartisan piece of legislation.

But despite not having cleared the Senate, and the price tag fluctuating and probably lowering, Jayapal and the other progressives wrote the two pieces of legislation "are two parts of a whole, so they must be passed together."

In a separate press release Tuesday, Jayapal wrote, "the two are integrally tied together, and we will only vote for the infrastructure bill after passing the reconciliation bill.”

They have maintained concern moderate Democrats, like Gottheimer and others, may not support the larger piece of legislation in the future without tying it to the smaller infrastructure package.

Gottheimer and moderates

Gottheimer, 46, represents New Jersey's 5th Congressional District, which includes suburban and rural areas of the state west of New York City.

Elected in 2016, he has emerged as one of the leaders of the moderate faction of the Democratic party, and has consistently been ranked on Georgetown's Lugar Center's Bipartisan Index as the most bipartisan Democrat, and one of the most bipartisan members of the House.

More: As shutdown looms, Gottheimer joins Republicans on spending bill most Democrats opposed

Before serving in Congress, he served as a speech writer to Bill Clinton during his presidency, and was an advisor to former Secretary of States Hillary Clinton and John Kerry during their separate presidential campaigns.

Gottheimer and other moderates have said the House should vote on the bipartisan infrastructure deal, and not tie the two pieces of legislation together.

"These are two separate bills," he said on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday, "You've got the infrastructure, a historic once-in-a-century [bill]... There's no reason why we shouldn't pass that right away and get those shovels in the ground."

Despite a possible purge of progressive votes during this week's vote, Gottheimer has expressed confidence they would be able to pass the infrastructure bill.

U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer
U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer

If they lose progressive votes, they would need some GOP support.

House Republican leadership has formally came out against the bipartisan infrastructure bill, with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., telling reporters, "I don't view it as a bipartisan bill any longer."

But a small number of Republicans have suggested they are planning on voting in favor of the legislation.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger's office told USA TODAY on Tuesday he will vote for the bipartisan infrastructure bill. The Republican from Illinois said "maybe 15 to 20" Republicans will support the bill.

Kinzinger, who has bucked GOP leadership before when he voted to impeach former President Donald Trump after the January 6 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol, also told USA TODAY Tuesday evening he thinks “maybe 15 to 20” Republicans will support the bill.

"The Senate did its job here and I hope the House does too. It is not true that the hard infrastructure bill enables the Bernie Sanders bill as these are totally separate votes. Conflating the two is a mistake," Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., told POLITICO.

Gottheimer has also said he will still support a larger budget bill, too.

"I think, ultimately, both are going to pass and become law," he told PBS, saying "we have got to get both done."

"I'm very optimistic, and I just can't say this strongly enough, that we are going to get to an agreement on reconciliation. But it's a separate bill," Gottheimer continued. They "have got to get this first bill done on infrastructure."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jayapal and Gottheimer: The Democrats at odds over infrastructure bill

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