Editor’s Note: David Axelrod, a senior CNN political commentator and host of “The Axe Files,” was a senior adviser to President Barack Obama and chief strategist for the 2008 and 2012 Obama presidential campaigns. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his. View more opinion on CNN.
Moving major legislation through Congress in these bitterly polarized times is like living through a horror movie. The ground is constantly shifting and there are endless near-death experiences. You can’t be sure of anything until the final credits roll.
The way President Biden has pursued a big, bipartisan infrastructure deal was roundly dismissed by many within his own party. They treated his consensus-seeking as a pointless and nostalgic fetish and grumpily accused the old man of wasting time looking for common ground that no longer existed in Washington.
Now, it seems, Biden’s persistence – and that of an intrepid group of moderate senators of both parties – may be rewarded.
After months of false starts and gloomy forecasts, 17 Republicans joined with Senate Democrats Wednesday to advance a trillion-dollar plan painstakingly negotiated by the moderates and the White House.
Like any negotiation, this plan was the product of compromise. It is not as ambitious as the $2.2 trillion blueprint the President first proposed. It’s more expansive than the plans Republicans at first offered. But it would be, by far, the largest investment in infrastructure we have seen in generations.
That is good news for a country whose roads, bridges, ports and other public works desperately need replacement or repair. If it survives the next steps to passage, it will be a hopeful development for our frayed democracy.
This is a big moment for Biden, who made unity and the promise of bipartisan cooperation a signature of his campaign. Passage of the major infrastructure bill that eluded his predecessors would help validate his message and the skills he’s honed over nearly a half century in Washington as a senator and vice president.
Biden’s progress on this bill suggests that to meet, listen, compromise and refrain from personalizing differences still has some currency in Washington. That will sit well with a majority of Americans after the relentlessly divisive presidency of Donald Trump.
But even if such deals are still possible, this hardly trumpets a new era of cooperation in Washington. Pitched battles loom over a host of issues, including the even larger spending bill Democrats plan to ram through a procedural loophole later this summer, filled with plans to strengthen the nation’s social safety net.
But by overriding the left and working closely on this bipartisan bill with moderate Democratic senators, led by Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, Biden improved his chances of getting their critical support for that larger bill later this year.
Biden struck an appropriately cautionary note after the infrastructure bill crossed its first major hurdle Wednesday night. Nothing is certain in a fragile Washington until it’s sitting on the President’s desk for signature.
“As the deal goes to the entire Senate, there is still plenty of work ahead to bring this home,” he said, with the wisdom of a man who’s seen a few things. “There will be disagreements to resolve and more compromise to forge along the way.”
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Yet the fact that minority leader Mitch McConnell, generally viewed by Democrats as the Lord Voldemort of the Senate, was among the Republicans who supported the plan suggests its final passage is likely.
Progressive Democrats in the House, who have the numbers to sink any close vote in a chamber where the party now has a slim, three-vote majority, will try and use that leverage to include more of their priorities. But enough Republicans are likely to support the infrastructure bill to carry the day.
There will be more scary twists and turns in the plot of this saga; more spats and threats and gloomy reports about last-minute complications.
But the final scene is coming into focus and for Biden and those who yearn for a functioning democracy, it will play to loud applause.