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At This Hour

Biden Tries to Get Legislation Passed before Going Overseas; Schism in the Democratic Party. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired October 28, 2021 - 11:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone, I'm Kate Bolduan. President Biden wrapped up a meeting on the Hill and unveiled details of the latest version of his massive spending bill, he proposes, of $1.75 trillion.

A trip to the Hill to pitch that and to try to save his domestic agenda. In just minutes, President Biden will be delivering remarks at the White House on the state of these negotiations.

But we don't know right now -- what we don't know right now is whether the president is the final word on all of this. His new framework strips out several key initiatives, including paid family leave and free community college. That's according to the framework.

Major priorities of Joe Biden's yet now out in order to win over moderate senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. Make no mistake, there are a lot of big moments in every presidency. This is a very big moment for Joe Biden's presidency.

He delayed his departure to Europe this morning in order to make this final push, to get his party to come together around a deal, since Republicans are united against this effort. Let's begin our coverage with CNN's John Harwood. He's live at the White House.

We'll hear from the president, just minutes away, John.

What do you think we're about to hear from President Biden?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think we'll hear a very strong case in the affirmative for what's in this package, not what was cut out of the package. He originally asked for $3.5 trillion; lost priorities like two years of free community college for everyone in America, lost the paid leave program, which even, as late as last week, he thought would survive in reduced form.

He's going to talk about $1.75 trillion of investments in education, universal pre-K, expanded Pell grants, health care, strengthened ObamaCare, strengthened Medicare through additional dental benefits; in children, expanded child tax credit, housing, new money for affordable housing and climate change as he goes to this meeting in Glasgow for worldwide efforts to combat climate change, more than $0.5 trillion in investments in curbing climate change.

Not everything he wanted but, as the White House chief of staff said today in real dollars, twice what was done during the New Deal. That's going to be a standard that he's going to try to use to sell the House caucus around moving ahead with this infrastructure bill today.

Not clear whether that's going to succeed. Doesn't have to succeed. But it would be helpful for the president if it did.

And then we'll see if he can, in fact, as he indicated today, hold Kyrsten Sinema, Joe Manchin and the other 48 senators behind this package. If he can do those things, get the infrastructure bill passed and hold all 50 senators, all but a couple of House members behind this deal, he would have done something substantial.

And significantly he could change the story line from the White House from struggling to getting his agenda passed to getting it passed. Then he can turn back to trying to get firm control of this pandemic, which has been the principal source of his political problems in the past couple months.

BOLDUAN: John, you have great reporting on this. Stick with me if you could. I'm going to go from the White House to Capitol Hill, while we keep our eye on the White House. Manu Raju is standing by with the latest.

You've got some great reporting on what came out, what was said inside that meeting with Joe Biden. Tell me what you're learning.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right now there is a high-stakes game of chicken between the Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and progressives in her own caucus over the president's infrastructure plan.

Pelosi, I am told, made very clear she plans to put that infrastructure plan on the House floor today. That, of course, already passed the Senate. If it were to be approved by the House today, it would go straight to Joe Biden's desk.

But there is a problem. The progressives are threatening to taint this bill, to vote no because of their concerns that that larger package will not go through Congress because they don't trust Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin to ultimately vote for this bill. They say this framework agreement is simply not enough for them.

So I'm told, behind closed doors, Pelosi told her caucus, quote, "Don't embarrass the president as he's going overseas and vote down this infrastructure bill."

And she went further. She said she would put this bill on the floor and leave the vote open, try to force members to get behind this ultimately.

Now she got some pushback by the representative Jan Schakowsky from Illinois, who said, what about Manchin and Sinema?


RAJU: Pelosi responded, "Look, take the president at his word." He said he's going to get this bill through. Listen to him and ultimately this will get passed because of the work he's done with those two moderates.

Is that enough to convince the progressives?

I heard going into today there are about 55 House progressives who are threatening to vote against the bill because that larger package is not moving at the same time. Emerging from this caucus meeting, Pramila Jayapal, the leader of the progressive caucus.

She said she would vote against this if it were to come for a vote today, the infrastructure bill, and she said no minds have really changed in that room.

Nevertheless, Pelosi said in that room, Kate, she said the vote is going to happen today. A number of members stood up and cheered and said, vote, vote, vote. But some members sat down and didn't vote.

Ultimately there's so little margin for error for the president to get this done and, given we don't expect many Republicans to vote for this infrastructure bill, they can't afford to lose that many to get the narrower package through.

So a lot of questions, Kate, about what's going to happen here.

The question is does Pelosi punt on the infrastructure bill or do the progressives cave?

We'll have to see in the coming hours.

BOLDUAN: But this comes down to a fundamental issue that has been the same since the beginning, that you just hit on: trust; a lack of trust all around within the Democratic Party on the Hill. But it all seems to be coming to a head in this moment.

Let's bring in Kaitlan Collins, live in Rome, where the president will be traveling after his speech.

Kaitlan, I'm wondering if this is an either/or now, since Biden is really putting his cards on the table and laying it all on the line. Either he is a victorious dealmaker after this or he is a gambler, who is left -- comes up empty-handed and weaker because he's rejected by his own party.

Is that what he's looking at?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's the standard being set by the Democrats and the White House, what it means if he comes to Rome empty-handed without an agreement, without the infrastructure bill, without an agreement on the framework after he pitched it to them behind closed doors earlier. It's one the president started setting behind closed doors, meeting

with Democrats, saying the prestige of the United States is on the line, obviously referring to the climate aspect of this bill, given he's coming to Rome and then going to an international climate conference, where he wants to be able to say, look at the standard and the example that the United States is setting.

And he wants other countries to fall in line. Of course, if there is no agreement, that kind of raises some questions about how much he can ask for commitments from other nations if he's not gotten one from his own party back in Washington, of course.

Already what this framework is, is a lot different than what the president had proposed when it came to the climate aspect of this. So, of course, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi telling her caucus earlier that, what Manu reported, she doesn't want them to embarrass the president by sending him overseas after voting down this infrastructure bill.

And the president himself talking about what this means on the world stage but also what it means for his own presidency, saying this can determine the legacy of his presidency.

So those will all be factors, of course, that the White House is considering. But he is getting on a plane after he makes this speech and he is coming here to Rome, regardless of what Democrats do today.

BOLDUAN: John, just to hit one more time on some of the reporting -- some of Manu's reporting -- which is what Biden told House Democrats, I'll read Manu's reporting with him with us.

He said, "I don't think it's hyperbole to say that the House and Senate majorities and my presidency will be determined by what happens in the next week."

You don't set the stakes higher than that, John.

HARWOOD: Absolutely. But that's what happens with presidencies. You have the first year, when you've got the wind at your back or the maximum wind at your back, to try to get your agenda through.

I'm reminded of when Bill Clinton was a first-year president in 1993. He was struggling to get his budget program passed. He had a phone call with Bob Kerry, Democratic senator from Nebraska, who'd run against him.

And he said to Kerry, withholding his vote, if you want to bring this presidency down, go right ahead.

Kerry ultimately flinched from that, voted for the package, Al Gore broke the tie as vice president and it passed.

That's exactly what Joe Biden is trying to repeat this time. So in effect he is issuing that call both to House progressives, saying, my presidency is on the line; you need to stand behind it.

And he's saying the same to Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema on this not entirely completely baked package. He'll say to them, I made a commitment to the House progressives; you need to keep my presidency from coming down, raising the stakes.

I think that given, say, Nancy Pelosi's track record --


HARWOOD: -- if she puts this bill on the floor today, it would be unwise to bet against her. And Joe Biden is gambling his own credibility on what will happen in the Senate.

BOLDUAN: That's one interesting element of this, Manu, which is all the reporting is that Biden thinks that he's within inches of a deal with Manchin and Sinema on this. I'm curious what it means. It feels like the way it's been painted for quite some time, is they've been within inches.

How much further along are they, really?

RAJU: Yes. That's the concern among the Democratic liberals in the House, even they say they are close.

What does that mean?

The lack of trust which you talked about earlier, that is a real concern among the progressives. I talked to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the leading House progressives.

And she told me that a framework does not mean a deal. Just because there's a framework, it could be months until there's actual legislative text.

And what does that look like?

This is a short framework, a handful of pages here. But the details of the bill would be hundreds, if not thousands of pages. And that could take weeks and weeks and weeks, months, potentially, to put together.

That is the real concern of the White House right now, that, if they listen to what the progressives are saying, if Pelosi ultimately is forced to do what the progressives want, that everything will just get mired down and would take up until potentially the end of the year, maybe longer, to get this through.

Then we get into the midterm election season and things will get harder and harder, given the narrow majorities and concerns. They could lose the House and the Senate. So they're putting on the full- court press to get progressives to change their mind, saying, trust me, I can get Manchin and Sinema on board.

That's what I heard Joe Biden said today, we are within inches of getting them together. But he did not say they signed off on that deal. That still is not going to be enough, even if he were to say he's signed off on this deal, to get a lot of liberals on board. They don't trust the moderates here. Not to mention, Kate, the enormous amount of concessions they believe

they've already made -- Medicare, paid leave, other key issues here. So how this ultimately gets resolved in a few hours we'll see.

But there's an expectation Pelosi is not going to put a bill on the floor if it's going to fail. That's what progressives hope; she'll ultimately punt and do this all over again in the coming weeks.

BOLDUAN: It would be pretty remarkable. They've blown through a couple deadlines and promised votes for infrastructure already. But let me bring in our CNN political director, David Chalian.

David, can you talk about what you see happening in this moment?

Joe Biden not mincing words at what he thinks is at stake here.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, his entire presidency resting on the next week, he said inside that room, not mincing words.

I think what you see here is a moment where the Democratic Party is going to decide, as a party, if they are going to back their president; get in line, give the trust that this is going to get to the right place, send him out on the world stage with a victory and start putting this internal division aside -- or if they will be a party still about exposing their internal divisions and battling over the president's agenda, that leaves it lingering out there for weeks to come, potentially.

That's sort of the decision here. That's why you see this ratcheting- up of the pressure. But the reality, Kate, will be in the numbers.

Whether or not enough progressives back off that position, with the few Republicans perhaps, who said they would vote for that bipartisan infrastructure bill, does Pelosi actually have the math there?

Manu saying right now it doesn't seem like that's the case. So right now it seems Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have been sort of in charge of what actually gets in this final bill. And the House progressives seem to have some sort of veto power over the process of when and how this gets done.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Look, so this is kind of -- if you take this without talking about numbers and figures and graphs, Kaitlan, if you're looking at this, where we are right now is, there are still disputes over what is in, what should be in and what is out of the bill and of what size.

There seems to still be lack of clarity about how to cover the cost, where to raise the taxes in order to cover the size of the bill and also disputes over, in what order and how these votes are going to be held, should be held, want to be held.

What that says to me, Kaitlan, is they are in the same exact place they have been all along save for one difference: Joe Biden has stepped up.


BOLDUAN: And he seems to be saying now, I own this and it's time. Put on your big girl/big boy pants, it's time to go.

COLLINS: Yes. I think do that's new, where you're seeing the president come out and say this is the framework, this is what I'm selling you, because, before it had been the White House wouldn't always disclose what senator Manchin and Sinema were saying to the president when they were meeting privately.

I also think the idea of, you know, just how tenuous this is and what we're seeing and hearing from progressives is, look how much this has changed just in the last few days alone, where we have gone from slashed paid leave from 12 weeks to 4 weeks, now not in there at all; prescription drug prices not in there.

How they're paying for it, a big sticking point; they came up with this proposal to have a billionaires' tax, going after the richest of the rich Americans and their wealth and taxing that. Now that's also out of it after it was just unveiled, you know, about 24-36 hours ago.

So everything has changed so quickly here when it comes to what's going to be in, what's going to be out and what this is going to look like in the end. And they do not have the legislative text here.

They just have these bullet points essentially -- that they have explanations of what's in it but I think that is what the concern will be that the White House is facing up against.

I do think by seeing the president go and make his case behind closed doors with party leaders obviously strongly supporting him, and coming out to the White House to give this speech before he heads to Rome, does show he is trying to use the momentum and the muscle of the presidency to convince these lawmakers to get on board.

So if these progressives do end up saying they're not going to vote for this infrastructure bill, that is the progressives telling the president, no, which is very significant to see members of their own party telling the president, pretty explicitly after he came to Capitol Hill and made this appeal, no, we don't think this is the right way to proceed.

So that is what we are all waiting to see, what their actual outcome will be here.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

Manu, some new reporting?

RAJU: Kyrsten Sinema, the key Democratic senator, just put out a statement after the White House released this framework agreement, that they say they have, over this larger package.

She says, "After months of productive, good-faith negotiations with President Biden and the White House, we have made significant progress in the proposed budget reconciliation package," the larger package I was referring to.

"I look forward to getting this done, expanding economic opportunities and helping everyday Americans get ahead."

So she sounds positive about this overall $1.75 trillion framework. She, of course, was at the center of these negotiations for months. And there have been questions about whether she'll support this, questions from the Left, over whether she'll vote yes when time comes for voting on this bill, when it's put together in actual detailed legislative form.

She doesn't say explicitly I support this framework, I will vote yes. But she does say, you know, we've made significant progress on the proposed framework. So she's sounding very positive about it.

Will that be enough to convince some of the progressives who don't trust her that she'll vote for the larger bill and convince them to vote for the infrastructure bill expected on House floor today?

It's still an open question. But a positive statement from Kyrsten Sinema.

BOLDUAN: Look, let me bring in CNN's Dana Bash, joining the conversation as well.

Dana, call me cynical but because Kyrsten Sinema says so little, everyone is forced to read into her statements I think just too much, because she should be more plain spoken about what she stands for publicly and what she doesn't.

What I hear in that statement is a little bit of, yes, as Manu says, progress and optimism. But she's still not saying anything.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: She's not, for the same reason ironically that progressives aren't saying explicitly, I'm on board, because there's nothing to be on board with. There's no legislative language.

There is a framework. There are details. She might not be saying publicly but, I know, you know, we talk to members of Congress who do speak to her a lot. So they know where she stands.

That's not necessarily a good thing on some of the key issues that they care a lot about; namely, the whole notion of being able to negotiate on prescription drug prices.

This is one of those incredibly popular provisions in this that is gone right now because the senator from Arizona says she doesn't support it. She's telling people privately, well, it will hurt competition and innovation.

And, you know, saying she supports basically the pharma position on this, which is that the drug prices should stay higher for consumers, which is anathema to Republicans and Democrats.

[11:20:00] BASH: So that's just one way to get at the substance here. And just the flip side of the spectrum, on the Democratic side of the -- of the spectrum of the Democrats, I should say, and that is the United States Senate, Kate.

You know who we haven't heard from?

Bernie Sanders; Bernie Sanders has not said he is supportive of this framework.

And you know why?

Because he's not supportive of this framework as its stands. And his voice and his decision and what he says or doesn't say will have not just an impact on a 50-50 Senate but he holds a lot of sway with the progressives, who were trying to decide whether or not to give the president what he asked for in the most dramatic of ways, which is support for not just this bill but support for the future of his presidency.

BOLDUAN: Which also, even more important, on what we're about to hear from President Biden, because it's not behind closed doors; it's what he'll pronounce to the public. And part of the audience, John Harwood, part of the audience for what he's going to be speaking to right now, are members of his own party on Capitol Hill.

HARWOOD: That's right. And I think it's important to keep in perspective the nature of the splinter within the Democratic Party. It's a very narrow splinter. The vast majority of the Democratic Party has been united behind the bulk of what President Biden has tried to do.

The torture of the last couple of weeks has been driven by the determination of those two senators, Manchin and Sinema, to indulge the power they have to veto this, because all 50 votes are needed.

House progressives, the challenge in getting them on board, is a lack of trust in those two being willing ultimately to line up and be part of the team. And the significance of what Joe Biden did today is to stand in front of Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema and say to the House Caucus, don't trust them, trust me. I'm telling you that we're going to do it.

He's now going to make the case to the public as to why this is a huge step forward for the American people in terms of health, education, climate change, an entire range of proposals, social safety net, in addition to what's being done on climate.

And he's betting that he can mobilize the public sufficiently -- many of these individual planks of his program have already been seen to be popular. But now he's got to make the case for a package as a whole.

BOLDUAN: Let's go back to Manu Raju, has more reporting on the Hill.

What are you picking up now?

RAJU: Joe Manchin just talked to reporters and made a very brief statement. He was asked whether or not he supports this framework.

He said this is all in the hands of the House right now. He said there are good-faith negotiations happening. He said that's really all he has to say at the moment, very brief remarks; not saying he's supporting this overall framework, not saying anything necessarily positive about what he has seen so far, other than the fact there are good-faith negotiations, something he's been saying frankly for months.

It's unclear where he'll stand. That certainly is not going to go far enough to convince progressives he would be a yes at the end of the day here, even though they have moved substantially in his direction to win his support, whittling down the price tag, a key number of social programs.

But he says to reporters, good-faith negotiations are happening, see what the House does. He had a part of negotiating and we'll see how that plays out sometime today. But he's not said if he's in favor of the framework.

BOLDUAN: Manu, is that statement from Manchin -- it's not even in line with past statements from Joe Manchin. He's been very public and not waited for the House to act without speaking publicly where he stands on overall price tag, the revenue sources, the taxes or even what's included in the bill.

So when he says all in the hands of the House right now, I'm going to take this as a no comment from Joe Manchin at this moment.

Am I wrong?

RAJU: I think that's correct, Kate. It's surprising because he is the one who's been in the center of all these talks. He is the one who knows where this framework -- what it would look like today.

White House officials were meeting with him and Kyrsten Sinema for hours yesterday, going through all these different proposals. When he came out of that meeting yesterday; I asked him about what happened and he said, it's up to the caucus to decide, indicating that he has essentially -- what they had proposed, as far as that he'd be willing to go.

So he know what is in here. He didn't need extra time to evaluate this proposal. He knew that paid leave was going to be dropped. It was dropped because of him. He knew what the price tag was. He indicated privately, I'm told, that he would be willing to go up to $1.75 trillion. He had been at $1.5 trillion.

So the fact that he's not willing to say, yes, I will support it, was going to be viewed by liberals as a warning sign; at the end of the day, if they were to vote yes on this infrastructure bill today, he may turn around and sink this bill, even though it's smaller than they would and they would still like to get it passed.


RAJU: And perhaps that is not enough for them to vote yes on the infrastructure bill later today.

BOLDUAN: Stand by, everyone. We are waiting to hear from President Biden and how he makes the pitch, what pitch he makes to the American people, to members of his own party, to get this over the finish line. A huge moment in Joe Biden's presidency. We're waiting to hear from him. We'll bust the break if he comes out. Stay with us. We'll be right back.