Senate nears make or break vote on infrastructure

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer pleaded for full party support to advance the bill, which many progressives have reservations about, at a lunch for all 50 Democrats, according to Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin. Afterward, Schumer professed confidence that the Senate was finally ready to move forward after a failed vote one week ago.

“Tonight, I’m intending to call a vote to move to proceed to the bipartisan infrastructure bill,” Schumer said. “I believe we have the votes for that and we will then proceed to amendments and go forward on that bill.”

Wednesday’s breakthrough comes a month after negotiators originally said they had a deal on infrastructure. In the end, it took weeks to finalize the details between a bipartisan group of 10 senators and the White House, and even on the day of the vote the bill is still being written.

But Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, the GOP point man on the deal, said Wednesday that the group and the administration had resolved key issues and that he and other negotiators were ready for the Senate to consider the agreement. According to a rough summary of the state-of-play, negotiators have made major progress in some areas but the deal is not 100 percent completed.

It’s also unlikely that the bill’s finances will be clear to senators voting on its fate Wednesday. But the group of bipartisan senators had settled a difficult debate over water funding and was close to completing deals on public transit and broadband funding.

“As of late last night, and really early this morning, we now have an agreement on the major issues,” Portman told reporters. “We are prepared to move forward.”

“There is a strong, solid number of folks on both sides of the aisle that want to get on an infrastructure package,” added Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska.), another negotiator. “In fairness, there’s a lot that many of our colleagues have not been read into” the agreement.

In a positive sign for the vote, Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said that they support moving forward Wednesday, and Sen Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said he was inclined to do the same. Some of the senators cautioned that Wednesday’s vote did not signal their final vote on the legislation.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Young or Moran could be the presumptive 10th Republican vote. Young said he was “busy studying the particulars right now, while Moran said: “I haven’t made up my mind yet, until I know the details.”

On the Democratic side, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) declined to say how he will vote. But Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), another leading progressive, said since the vote was simply to advance the bill, she would support it despite reservations about what’s in it.

“There’s a discussion we need to have about infrastructure. So I think it’s time,” Warren said. “There are things I like and there are things I really don’t like.”

Many Senate Republicans are skeptical of the bipartisan framework and want to see legislative text and details about whether the bill is fully financed before moving forward. Committee chairs and ranking members have also expressed frustration with the process.

And even once the effort advances, its supporters must fend off divisive amendments and navigate it to a place where at least 60 senators feel satisfied enough to cut off debate and send it to the House, where its fate is uncertain.

“This idea of getting on a bill that’s still being written is still a bad idea,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, a close Sen. Mitch McConnell adviser. “We’re going to insist upon amendments because this bill’s been negotiated by 20 people but there are 80 other senators.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi hasn’t been briefed on the bipartisan deal and wouldn’t rule out amending it if it came over to the House, she told reporters at lunchtime Wednesday. Pelosi and other top House Democrats are under significant pressure from some within their caucus — like Transportation Chair Peter DeFazio — to ensure the Senate deal isn’t completely void of House priorities.

“I can’t commit to passing something that I don’t know what it is yet,” Pelosi told reporters Wednesday. “But I’m hoping for the best.”

Privately, though, Democrats admit it’s highly unlikely the House would try to make changes to the Senate deal, noting the White House’s opposition to reopening the negotiations after the fact. Pelosi also reiterated her promise to not even consider the bipartisan bill until the Senate passes a Democratically backed reconciliation package, leaving the timing in flux for when a deal would even reach Biden’s desk.

Schumer has long insisted that the Senate will pass the bipartisan infrastructure package and the budget blueprint for the $3.5 trillion social spending before leaving for the August recess. Schumer reiterated Wednesday that “both tracks are moving forward.”

Tanya Snyder and Heather Caygle contributed to this report.