Infrastructure negotiations drag on as Biden meets with Democrats on Capitol Hill

Biden traveled to Capitol Hill in the afternoon to speak with members of the House Democratic Caucus, as Democratic leaders and White House officials work to reach an agreement on the economic framework that they hope can unlock enough votes for infrastructure. Two sources familiar with the ongoing conversations told CNN that an agreement on the so-called economic package framework is neither finished nor imminent at this current time.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden wants to “defend his legislative agenda” and “speak directly with members, answer their questions, and explain why we should all work together to give the American people more room to speak. to breathe”. “

The president’s high-stakes visit to Hill comes as some Democrats have called for Biden to play a more active role in the process.

Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee said Friday: “I think the president should be involved” and said that “very few of us have seen the president in nine months that he’s been president. And I think he should attend a caucus.”

It can be a quieter caucus meeting than others. Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California, told CNN that the members decided, as a group, to put their cell phones in cubicles. The expectation is that the leaks from the meeting will be reduced.

It remains to be seen if Biden’s involvement will be able to change the dynamics or lead to some kind of breakthrough. Divisions within the party were on full display Thursday night when Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives scored in a vote for the $ 1 trillion infrastructure bill What progressives rebelled on the prospect of a vote and vowed to sink the bill. Progressives don’t want to go through with the bipartisan bill without a vote on the economic package, which could be priced as high as $ 3.5 trillion.

However, as of Friday, the way forward is still unclear, especially as progressives continue to say they need a Senate vote on the $ 3.5 trillion package to secure their support for the bipartisan infrastructure bill, and some Democrats are beginning to openly express their frustration with the delay.

Moderates are irritated that the bipartisan bill has yet to be voted on after Democratic leaders promised it would be carried out.

Centrist Democratic Rep. Scott Peters of California expressed that sentiment, saying, “I am frustrated. I want to vote on this today on this package.” Reflecting the uncertainty on the hill about what will happen next, he said, “I don’t know what will happen.”

Meanwhile, some progressives have expressed frustration that they were unaware of West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin’s front-line negotiating position before, so they could have started the negotiating process earlier. Manchin made it clear Thursday that $ 1.5 trillion was the price he was willing to pay over his party’s plan to expand the social safety net, taking him $ 2 trillion away from the lowest figure progressive Democrats have said they would accept.

Other Democrats, however, have shown more patience and suggested that it is a good thing that the talks are underway as they express optimism that a deal will be joined.

House Democratic Caucus Speaker Hakeem Jefferies said on Friday: “The speaker has indicated that we are going to vote today. I look forward to voting today, and I hope the bill will pass today … In the next hour We will get some clarity from the Senate as it relates to what they see as possible, so that we can decide what is acceptable. “

Meanwhile, Democrats are preparing a “Plan B” for the highway trust fund, that expired at midnight.

California Rep. Mark Takano confirmed that House Transportation Speaker Peter DeFazio presented a plan to make an interim bill and said he “presumes” a vote will take place today.

Leaving the House Democratic Caucus meeting this morning, DeFazio, a Democrat from Oregon, did not confirm to reporters whether he was announcing a 30-day freeway funding extension, but asked if Republicans could participate with an extension, replied, “I think if that was a solution, then they would.”

Any kind of interim bill would need the cooperation of both houses to clear up quickly.

Some senators have already left town, including moderate Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Sinema left Washington and is in Phoenix, Arizona, for a medical appointment, according to a statement from her office. However, the statement said it is continuing negotiations remotely.

This story and the headline were updated with additional news on Friday.

CNN’s DJ Judd, Morgan Rimmer, Kristin Wilson, and Ali Zaslav contributed to this report.

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