Democrats are feuding over spending, Border Patrol tactics and other issues as time runs short on President Biden’s first-year agenda.
Dozens of liberal House Democrats vow to vote against Mr. Biden’s $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. Such a defection will doom the measure if they reach no agreement on a companion $3.5 trillion plan for social safety net programs.
With time running out, 11 liberal Democratic senators urged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, to delay a vote on the smaller infrastructure bill scheduled for Monday.
“They go together, and they have got to go together,” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent, told reporters. “That was the agreement that was made. … That’s the agreement that has to be kept.”
Mrs. Pelosi emerged from a White House meeting to say Democrats’ plans are “on schedule.”
“We’re calm, and everybody’s good,” she said.
The White House is confronting numerous other headaches. Members of the liberal House “Squad” are forcing the defeat this week of $1 billion in aid for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.
The Senate parliamentarian ruled that Democrats can’t include their immigration changes in the larger spending bill. The move would have enabled Democrats to approve an amnesty without any Republican support — probably the only way the proposal could have passed and appeased the liberal base.
A surge of migrants, mostly from Haiti, is still out of control at the Texas border. Vice President Kamala Harris, the oft-maligned border czar, has called for an investigation of Border Patrol agents on horseback who appeared to use reins to try to control some of the migrants.
A bipartisan effort for police reform, backed by the president, is essentially dead, congressional negotiators said Wednesday.
With the COVID-19 pandemic still not under control and the administration’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan fresh in voters’ minds, Mr. Biden’s job approval rating fell to its lowest point yet — 43% — in Gallup’s tracking poll on Wednesday.
That’s a drop of 13 points since June. Even Ms. Harris tops the president in approval, at 49%.
In Iowa, 62% of voters disapprove of Mr. Biden’s performance, according to a Des Moines Register poll released this week.
In addition, the federal government will hit its borrowing limit late next week with no deal in sight for avoiding a shutdown and a possible default on Washington’s debts.
With deadlines in Congress looming next week to complete key legislation, intraparty disagreements raise the specter of Democrats failing to produce any significant achievements heading into the 2022 midterms.
“There could be a moment in the coming week or two when it looks like the whole process could collapse,” Brian Gardner, chief Washington policy strategist for the investment banking firm Stifel, told investors in a note Wednesday.
He said he believes Democrats and the White House will eventually pass scaled-down versions of the spending bills, although the “odds of a collapse of the two bills have increased in recent weeks as different camps within the Democratic Party have issued threats and ultimatums.”
Mr. Biden was holding meetings at the White House on Wednesday with Democratic leaders and holdout liberals and moderates, including Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kirsten Sinema of Arizona.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said he hopes presidential pressure is “the secret sauce” to work out a comprehensive deal.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki called it “an important moment.”
“We’re in a pivotal period of our negotiations and discussions. … He sees his role as uniting and bringing people together,” she said of the president. “We’re at a point where we need to agree what the path forward is.”
Liberals are despairing.
“Democrats only have 1 shot to save democracy and enact Biden’s agenda, but we have Manchin, Sinema, and some ‘moderates’ who’d much rather work for their personal interests and lobbyists, so the rest of us are screwed. What a tragedy,” tweeted Wajahat Ali, a senior fellow at the liberal Western States Center.
The latest crisis on the border is adding to criticism that Mr. Biden’s leadership isn’t competent. Republicans are calling the migrant surge a national security emergency and a humanitarian crisis.
“Americans know a train wreck when we see one,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “Our citizens deserve better than this failure of leadership. And so do the people Democrats are luring here with a mirage.”
The political implications for moderate Democrats in passing the $3.5 trillion package, and with it about $3 trillion in tax increases, came into sharper focus Wednesday. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce released ads urging five vulnerable House Democrats it endorsed in 2020 to vote against the measure.
The ads target Reps. Cynthia Axne of Iowa, Angie Craig of Minnesota, Josh Harder of California, Antonio Delgado of New York and Elaine Luria of Virginia. The five lawmakers are considered at risk of losing their seats next year.
Mr. Gardner said the White House badly needs to regain its footing with the midterms approaching.
“The Biden administration has had a rough few weeks,” he told investors. “The situation with COVID, a disorderly withdrawal from Afghanistan, plus renewed chaos on the border have negatively impacted President Biden’s approval numbers, especially in some key swing states. Therefore, Democrats cannot afford to let the infrastructure bills collapse because it could dispirit the Democratic base. An unmotivated base, coupled with weakness among swing voters who question Democrats’ ability to govern, could be catastrophic for Democrats in the 2022 midterm elections.”
Senate Republicans say they will not vote next week for a House-passed measure to fund government operations through early December and suspend the nation’s debt limit — currently $28 trillion — until December 2022.
Six former Treasury secretaries wrote to congressional leaders Wednesday expressing a “deep sense of urgency” on the debt limit.
“Failing to address the debt limit, and allowing an unprecedented default, could cause serious economic and national security harm. Even a short-lived default could threaten economic growth,” they wrote. The letter was signed by Michael Blumenthal, Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, Henry Paulson, Timothy Geithner and Jack Lew.
The Republican National Committee said Mr. Biden’s series of meetings with Democrats was aimed at pushing through a “reckless tax and spend spree.”
“Americans and small businesses are already experiencing rising prices and a worker shortage, and yet Biden and Democrats are forcing a $3.5 trillion socialist wish list and the largest tax increase in decades,” said RNC spokesman Nathan Brand. “Prices of everyday goods, from gas to groceries, continue to skyrocket, and Americans simply cannot afford trillions more in inflationary spending. Higher prices and higher taxes are here to stay thanks to Joe Biden’s failed policies, and American workers are bearing the burden.”