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Politics & Policy

Schumer Rolls the Dice on Infrastructure

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) looks down the hall after speaking to reporters at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., July 20, 2021. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

On the menu today: The battle over bipartisan infrastructure deal drags on (and on and on), Republicans demand official action to aid Cubans protesting the regime, and a group of congressmen rolls out legislation to stop funding schools that provide abortions.

The Infrastructure Battle Marches On

In Washington, senators are still squabbling over the bipartisan infrastructure deal, which will get its first vote on the Senate floor later today, even though it almost certainly doesn’t have the necessary 60 votes to move on to debate. Though its prospects are looking grimmer as time goes on, the working group putting together the legislative text seems to be hopeful that their project still might work out, if on a slower time-table than Democratic leadership would prefer.

Somehow, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer seems to remain convinced that Republicans working on the deal will vote to proceed to debate later today without having the draft bill text in place. Meanwhile, virtually everyone in the Senate GOP is sending the opposite message.

Even Republicans who are helping to draft the compromise bill, including Senators Mitt Romney (Utah) and Rob Portman (Ohio), have indicated they’re unwilling to vote yes unless the text is finished before any voting takes place — and Schumer needs ten Republicans to vote yes if he wants the bill to get past its first procedural hurdle.

But the emerging consensus seems to be that senators working on the bill expect leniency from Schumer, even if the bill doesn’t get cloture in today’s vote. If the majority leader actually wants this bill to pass at some point, he’ll have to give the working group the time it’s asking for, especially if his effort to force debate with a premature vote fails. CNN has more on where things stand:

Republican senators told Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in a letter on Tuesday to postpone the vote until they secure a bipartisan agreement and write the bill. A Senate GOP source with direct knowledge of the matter told CNN all 50 Republicans would likely vote no on Wednesday, but expected that all of the issues would be resolved by Monday, and at least 10 Republican senators would support advancing the legislation then.

Schumer, a Democrat from New York, set up a test vote to open debate on the legislation, arguing that the vote would simply set the stage for considering the bill once negotiators have finalized the agreement.

At a private lunch Tuesday, Schumer suggested he would be willing to tee up another procedural vote if it fails Wednesday, multiple Democratic sources said. But while most Democrats support Schumer’s strategy, one Democrat has stood out: West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin.

He urged Schumer to delay the vote until Monday to give more time for the talks to proceed, according to a source with knowledge of the matter. Schumer said he and Manchin would talk, another source said.

Manchin told CNN that Schumer was “committed” to getting the bill passed. Even if the vote fails, as expected, he believes Schumer will try to force another vote when talks have been finalized.

According to a Tuesday evening report from Politico, Schumer decided to cue up a vote on the bill only after solidifying his own coalition, confident that at least the moderate members of the Democratic caucus would be okay with voting this week. From the piece:

Shortly before Chuck Schumer cued up a vote on the teetering bipartisan infrastructure agreement reached by five of his centrists, he gathered them all in person for a gut check.

The Senate majority leader wanted to explain his thinking in greater detail to the Democrats who’ve labored to cut a nearly $600 billion deal with Republicans, according to two sources familiar with the meeting. He needed to make sure everyone in his tight-knit 50-member caucus was behind him before taking a gamble that could endanger the bipartisan talks he’s spent weeks supporting.

Schumer emerged from the meeting confident that his aggressive tactics had buy-in from Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Jon Tester of Montana, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Mark Warner of Virginia. Though many Republicans claim Schumer is undercutting the bipartisan talks by forcing a Wednesday vote before negotiations have concluded, his most important swing votes all sided with him behind closed doors before he made a move.

Schumer “thought this was the best way to keep advancing the bill,” Tester said of the leader’s hardball move, adding in an interview that the New York Democrat “doesn’t want to kill” the bipartisan deal. “And so I agreed. We all agreed.”

But judging by the response from the Republicans working across the aisle, Schumer didn’t give enough thought to whether he’d keep them on board after scheduling the vote, essentially signaling that staying on his timeline was more important than maintaining their support. While the Senate’s few moderate Democrats have committed to working with GOP centrists, most of the Democratic caucus has been grumbling about not getting everything they want from the bill and about their fears that the Republicans involved might bail at the last minute.

In light of that, Schumer’s insistence on an early vote in spite of intransigence from Republicans working with him might be an effort to suss out whether the ten GOP votes for infrastructure are solid enough to keep pushing forward. If I were a Republican in the working group, instead of doubling down on demanding more time to work, I’d start to think that maybe it’s time for Republicans to take the many hints and just walk away — though to be fair, if I were a Republican senator, I don’t think I’d have joined the working group to begin with.

Republicans Want More Help for Cuba

In Politico‘s Playbook this morning, reporters have the details on a request from nearly 150 Republicans in Congress, asking international leadership and the Biden administration for a bolder stance on the unrest in Cuba. The letter, led by Florida senator Rick Scott and House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.), is addressed to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, as well as to members of both the Organization of American States and the European Union.

Among their requests: an international criminal tribunal to hold the Cuban government accountable for “crimes against humanity,” an end to all financial support for the regime in Cuba, an effort to “coordinate democratic assistance” to Cuban protesters, and technological assistance so the Cuban people can communicate with one another more effectively.

Here are some highlights from the letter:

In concerted solidarity with the Cuban people, we believe there are four essential actions that we all must take immediately to promote freedom for the Cuban people and place further pressure on the corrupt and murderous Cuban regime to end its reign of terror. First, we urge you to emphatically denounce the illegitimate Cuban regime, hold it accountable for its human rights abuses and immediately end diplomatic relations. . . .

Second, we believe it is critical that the freedom-loving nations of the world immediately end all financial support to the regime. A full withdrawal of financial support by the international community will end a critical lifeline that allows the Cuban regime to maintain its tight grip on power. . . .

Third, we believe the world’s democracies must work collaboratively to coordinate democratic assistance for the brave Cuban freedom advocates. We must rally worldwide support for democracy assistance for former political prisoners and their families, civil society leaders, pro-democracy movements and other democracy-building assistance directly to the Cuban people. . . .

Finally, it is of utmost importance that we do everything in our power to make sure the people of Cuba can communicate with each other and the outside world through unfettered internet access, cellular service, cellular and satellite phones, and other technology that may assist the democratic opposition.

The protests in Cuba have already become a major issue in the Republican Party, with possible 2024 GOP candidates zeroing in on the topic and offering a unified message in support of the democratic uprising. Conservatives seem to sense, probably correctly, that this could be a pivotal moment for the country, especially if the U.S. does what it can to help.

But the Biden administration is on less certain footing. Though the president’s messaging has been more pro-democracy than one might’ve expected given the Obama administration’s stance toward the Cuban regime, the administration has announced that it won’t offer assistance to Cuban refugees seeking asylum, and elements of the Left — including Black Lives Matter — have tried to pin the blame for Cuba’s woes on the U.S. embargo.

Congressional Republicans Take Aim at Abortion on Campus

On the NRO homepage today, I have the exclusive on a Republican bill that would remove federal funding from colleges and universities that provide abortions to students. A coalition of more than 50 congressmen and about a dozen senators is announcing the legislation this morning. Here’s a bit more from my article:

According to the draft bill, a copy of which was obtained exclusively by National Review, the legislation would prohibit federal money from either directly or indirectly funding “any institution of higher education that hosts or is affiliated with any school-based service site that provides abortion drugs or abortions to students of the institution or to employees of the institution or site.”

. . . To remain eligible for federal funding, institutions of higher education that host a health clinic would be required to send an annual report to the Departments of Education and of Health and Human Services, “certifying that no such site provides abortion drugs or abortions” to students or employees.

Thus far, the bill has garnered the support of more than 50 cosponsors in the House and of a handful of Republican senators: Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, Mike Rounds of South Dakota, Marco Rubio of Florida, Ted Cruz of Texas, Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, and Josh Hawley of Missouri.

The GOP effort to draft this new legislation came about first and foremost as a response to a California law that requires every public university in the state to provide chemical-abortion pills to female students — or, as the law puts it, “pregnant persons.”

The California statute, first enacted in 2019, will take effect starting in 2023, spurring this response from federal lawmakers concerned that the policy might be replicated in blue states across the country. In fact, the state senator who sponsored California’s law explicitly said she hoped her bill would jump-start a nationwide movement to make chemical abortions more widely available on campus.

The focus from pro-life leaders on this issue is part of a broader national debate over chemical abortion, the most common type of abortion procedure early in pregnancy. During the pandemic, abortion-rights activists and abortion providers successfully lobbied for a loosening of federal health and safety regulations on chemical-abortion drugs, a move that will make it easier to obtain an abortion in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy without much supervision from a physician.

As I note in my piece, there are significant risks to women who take these drugs, sometimes requiring follow-up surgery or emergency-room admission. And as Michael New has written here at NRO, a steep increase in the chemical-abortion rate almost certainly explains the recent slight rise in the overall abortion rate in the U.S.

ADDENDUM: Some depressing news out this morning from the CDC: U.S. life expectancy fell dramatically last year as the result of COVID-19 deaths. Our own Zack Evans notes that life expectancy dropped by 1.5 years, which is the largest single-year drop we’ve seen since World War II. The average life expectancy was 77.3 years, the lowest calculated since 2003. Even as we emerge from this pandemic, we can’t easily forget the immense toll it took.


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