WASHINGTON – Members of the House Democratic leadership met Tuesday to plot the party’s route to winning a majority in November, but also to look for potential votes for a platform that could face an onslaught of opposition from their own party members and elements of the business community.
Some moderate Democrats have said they will not support the party’s new call for infrastructure spending in the $1.3 trillion package of bills that the newly-elected leadership unveiled Monday.
Part of the dilemma is that House Democrats are scrambling to counter President Trump’s America First approach, especially for provisions like a public-private partnership for infrastructure, which the president opposes. But Democrats are also trying to devise an agenda that can bring together mainstream and progressive voters, and to ensure that as much of their reform agenda – such as raising the minimum wage and providing paid family leave – doesn’t come under fire from business allies, members of the party’s economic progressive wing, as well as some progressives who were encouraged by Nancy Pelosi’s triumph at the party’s leadership election to unseat her.
The main thrust of the infrastructure package included is $200 billion in “shovel ready” investments in new and existing infrastructure, the White House says. The package is intended to be bipartisan, even though some of its more expansive provisions – like the so-called Green New Deal, climate protection and Social Security expansion ideas – are to be left to later discussions in Congress.
Pelosi and other members of House Democratic leadership – led by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Deputy Majority Leader James Clyburn, D-S.C. – met Tuesday morning at their weekly whip meeting. The meeting is a chance for leaders to lay out their wish list for the most likely buys and offers they will be able to get out of individual House committees. It’s one of the largest of its kind to date and is separate from the elections which will pick new House Democrats.
Former DNC chair Tom Perez, who now leads the party’s House campaign effort, is also at the meeting with other members of the House Democratic leadership.
One difficulty for Democrats is that some of their most junior members in rural districts face potential primary challenges to explain their agreement to sign onto an infrastructure package that will be greatly favored by the Congressional Progressive Caucus but disfavored by those in Democratic-leaning districts such as those in Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio.
Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., said that the caucus had approved the package unanimously, but the Democrats’ minority caucus, which he chairs, might not.
“We’re going to discuss it,” he said. “We’re going to have the caucus meetings to figure out the best place to find consensus.”
Several Democrats from conservative districts have said they will oppose their own party’s infrastructure package. They include Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., and Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., both among the Democrats’ top priorities in 2020. Both Lipinski and Gottheimer were among the 17 Democrats who voted against the Obamacare repeal package in 2015. In contrast, about 45 Democrats voted for Pelosi in a Jan. 3 race.
One of the problems with the infrastructure package, which House Democrats hope to get to the president’s desk for approval before Thanksgiving, is that it has little to nothing to do with climate change, which was a major focus for the party’s first two years in the majority.