Latest on Congress as shutdown looms

By Meg Wagner, Veronica Rocha, Melissa Macaya, Melissa Mahtani, Mike Hayes and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 9:41 PM ET, Wed September 29, 2021
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3:29 p.m. ET, September 29, 2021

White House won't say whether Manchin or Sinema have a figure they'd accept for economic package

From CNN's Jason Hoffman

White House press secretary Jen Psaki answers questions during a press briefing on September 29.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki answers questions during a press briefing on September 29. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

White House press secretary Jen Psaki would not say whether moderate Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have given the administration a topline number that would be acceptable to them for the economic package, a key holdup to any movement on President Biden’s agenda.

“I would point you again to Sen. Sinema and Sen. Manchin,” Psaki said at Wednesday’s White House press briefing when asked if the duo has given the President a firm number to help move negotiations forward. “We knew that it would be a compromise, and that's exactly what it is. And as you know, the President has spent a great bit of time, relatively so, but given nothing more precious than the time of the President of the United States over the last two days engaging with each of these senators about the path forward. But I would leave it to them to describe what they're comfortable with."

Psaki declined to weigh in on a topline number multiple times throughout the briefing, passing the question off to the senators to announce what they are comfortable with.

When asked if the White House was frustrated that it doesn’t know where the senators' bottom line is, Psaki said that the administration doesn’t have the luxury of getting frustrated.

In response to a comment Speaker Nancy Pelosi made earlier Wednesday saying she hopes to see legislative text on the larger Build Back Better Act agreed to before a key Thursday vote, Psaki said the administration is working in lockstep with the speaker and has confidence in her leadership of the Democratic caucus.

“We certainly trust Speaker Pelosi. We're working in lockstep and around the clock to get both of these pieces of legislation done,” she said.

3:14 p.m. ET, September 29, 2021

Senate parliamentarian rejects Democrats' second immigration proposal

From CNN's Daniella Diaz

The Senate parliamentarian on Wednesday rejected Democrats' second attempt to try to include a pathway to legalization for immigrants in a bill that could be passed with just Democratic support, a source tells CNN.

Democrats argued this time to the parliamentarian that they include a provision to change the registry date from 1972 to 2010 for the legalization of immigrants and it could be passed using budget reconciliation.

The effort to include immigration in their economic agenda bill, although it has faced long odds, has stood as one of the last clear opportunities for Democrats to pass substantial immigration reform in President Biden's first year in office.

Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, an official who advises the Senate on how its rules, protocols and precedents should be applied, rejected Democrats' second argument after they submitted a memo Tuesday.

"This registry proposal is also one in which those persons who are not currently eligible to adjust status under the law (a substantial proportion of the targeted population) would become eligible, which is a weighty policy change and our analysis of this issue is thus largely the same as the LPR proposal," MacDonough wrote in a response, which was obtained by CNN.

The source stressed to CNN they believed this fight for including immigration reform "is not over," but this is — again — a huge loss for Democrats who want to include these provisions as a last-ditch effort for reform.

The ruling marks the latest setback for Democrats who have pinned their hopes of passing immigration reform this year on the economic package.

Immigrant advocacy groups were disappointed by the parliamentarian's earlier ruling against a separate proposal to include legalization, but remained optimistic. Sergio Gonzales, Immigration Hub's executive director, said at the time the decision "is not the final straw."

Those hopes, though, might be dimming.

For years, Congress has tried and failed to pass legislation to provide a pathway to citizenship or otherwise address the immigration system. In the absence of legislation, the Obama administration and now, the Biden administration has relied on DACA to ensure the group known as "Dreamers" — many of whom are now adults — can stay and work in the US.

2:26 p.m. ET, September 29, 2021

Pelosi does not think government will shut down tomorrow 

From CNN's Annie Grayer

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters she does not believe the government will shut down tomorrow and that the House will pass a continuing resolution to fund the government. 

“No I do not,” Pelosi said when asked if she believed the government will shut down tomorrow.

“I think we’ll have a big vote tomorrow,” the Speaker added.

The House is expected to vote on suspending the debt limit later today, which was taken out of the government funding bill. 

2:52 p.m. ET, September 29, 2021

Rep. Jayapal says it will be "difficult" to strike deal that will get progressives to vote for infrastructure 

From CNN's Ryan Nobles

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, center, departs after a meeting with House Democrats at the US Capitol on September 27.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, center, departs after a meeting with House Democrats at the US Capitol on September 27. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the leader of the progressive caucus, is very skeptical that a deal can be struck on the spending bill that will satisfy progressives before tomorrow’s planned vote on the bipartisan infrastructure deal.

“There's always enough time on Capitol Hill. You know how it goes here I mean things get to this point and I'm pretty calm and sanguine about it because I've seen it happen over and over again where things get to a point and then all of a sudden things become possible that no one thought was possible. That said, I think it's pretty difficult,” she said. 

Jayapal said the reason she is doubtful that both can be accomplished is because she thinks many of her members won’t feel comfortable unless there is a an actual vote on the bill in the Senate, because so much can happen procedurally in the upper chamber. 

“That said, I think it's pretty difficult because what we have called for, is a vote in the Senate, and I've spoken to the speaker about this, that, you know, the legislative language is absolutely important. I'm so glad she said that because it's a point I've made to her as well," she said.

Jayapal said she is open to hearing options about a path forward that doesn’t include a vote, but she remains skeptical because she believes moderates broke their agreement about passing the two bills together first. 

“I'm open to hearing if there's some other way to give us assurances, I'm open and willing to listen. But what I don't want to do is have a situation where we once again trust, and then that trust is broken and then somehow it becomes we reneged on the bargain ... that's not what happened,” Jayapal said.

2:05 p.m. ET, September 29, 2021

Pelosi says the House will deal with debt-ceiling issue today

From CNN's Annie Grayer

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a Dear Colleague letter that the House will deal with the debt ceiling issue today.

“Today, the House plans to move forward to honor its responsibility to protect the American economy and American families from the catastrophe of a default by passing legislation to suspend the debt limit," she said in the letter.

The House is beginning to debate the bill on the floor now.

12:46 p.m. ET, September 29, 2021

Republican leaders are confident there won't be many defections on infrastructure 

From CNN's Lauren Fox

As Democratic leaders struggle to unite their caucus around the bipartisan infrastructure bill, House Republican leaders have been working overtime to ensure that Republicans won’t be the reason the bill gets over the finish line. 

Since announcing last week they would formally whip the legislation, GOP leaders have been engaged in an all-out operation to make it clear to members that a vote for the bipartisan infrastructure bill is a vote to help Democrats advance their broader agenda.

“Our argument is that infrastructure is a gateway drug to reconciliation,” a source familiar with the whip operation said.

The source says the expectation right now is that between a dozen and 20 House Republicans will vote “yes” on the legislation, but that it wouldn’t be enough to overcome the mass defections progressives say they are planning if the bill comes to the floor.

“There won’t be enough Republicans to carry this if there is widespread opposition,” the person said.

They did include one caveat, however. If Pelosi were to bring the BIF to the floor and there was an all-out jailbreak of progressives voting “no” tomorrow that could lead to larger GOP “yes” numbers as members would view it as a “freebie.” In other words, their votes wouldn’t be enough to help pass the bill, but they could go home and tout they backed it.

Still, House leaders have been facing one unexpected challenge. The group of Senate Republicans that voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill and helped craft it are running their own counter programming, circulating fact memos and talking on the phone to House Republicans who have questions about what is inside that bill. One of those members –Sen. Rob Portman– told CNN that he wishes GOP leaders would have remained on the sidelines on this one.

“I would like to have seen them remain neutral,” Portman said.

“I have been talking to House Republicans about it,” Portman said. “Every day I talk to a few… they are going to make their own decisions. I am just providing information.”

“People are confusing the two bills saying that the bad policy that is in the reconciliation bill is in the infrastructure bill, which is not surprising… but they are very different bills.”

12:43 p.m. ET, September 29, 2021

Why progressives say they aren't backing down 

From CNN's Phil Mattingly and Lauren Fox

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the leader of the progressive caucus, speaks to reporters outside the US Capitol on Tuesday, September 28.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the leader of the progressive caucus, speaks to reporters outside the US Capitol on Tuesday, September 28. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

The progressive outcry against the planned vote on President Biden's $1.2 trillion infrastructure package didn't just hold, according to several members it actually grew in numbers over the course of the day.

With 24 hours until Speaker Nancy Pelosi has pledged to hold the infrastructure vote, something needs to unlock, and fast, for Biden and Democratic leaders to have any hope of success.

"Nobody wants to blink, everyone thinks the other side is about to," said one source involved in the negotiations. "Neither is right about that, which puts us in a very bad place."

With House Democratic leadership's self-imposed September 30 deadline to put the infrastructure vote on the floor now a day away, House progressives aren't budging.

House moderates are still demanding the vote. And Pelosi's not one to violate her own policy that she won't go to the floor without knowing she's going to win.

Right now, progressives claim to have dozens of members ready to vote against Biden's $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and there's been absolutely no indication this is a bluff.

Progressives feel burned. They feel like they are always accepting less to get something and after nine months, they want to prove they aren't kidding when they say they are standing firm.

"How many bills have we passed in the House that the Senate has not taken up? What about on voting rights? What about the George Floyd Justice in policing? This is not about trust. This is about verify," Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the leader of the progressive caucus, said Tuesday.

Read more about where things stand here.

11:48 a.m. ET, September 29, 2021

Pelosi says she has authority to delay tomorrow's bipartisan infrastructure bill vote

From CNN's Manu Raju, Daniella Diaz, and Morgan Rimmer

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi departs a Democratic whip meeting at the US Capitol on Wednesday.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi departs a Democratic whip meeting at the US Capitol on Wednesday. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she has the authority to delay tomorrow's vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill during a back-and-forth with a reporter in a gaggle after a caucus meeting.

"The Speaker has that authority (to delay the vote), but I want it to pass. So what we wanted to do is to pass tomorrow, and anything that strengthens the hand of the Speaker helps pass the bill," she said during the gaggle. 

On the debt ceiling rule today, Pelosi said she doesn't have "patience" for the handful of moderates who don't support a separate vote on raising the debt ceiling and could block the bill. 

"We have a responsibility to uphold the full faith and credit of the United States of America. That's what we have to do. These members have all voted for this last week. So if they're concerned about how it might be in an ad, it's already in an ad. It's already in an ad, so let us give every confidence, every step of the way that we will do that. We cannot predicate our actions in the House on what could happen in the Senate, we can when we're coming to agreement on a bill, but in terms of this. I have no patience for people not voting for (this)," she said.
12:21 p.m. ET, September 29, 2021

White House economic adviser paints an optimistic picture of the current state of play

From CNN's Betsy Klein

White House economic adviser Jared Bernstein painted an optimistic picture of Biden’s economic agenda Wednesday, one day before a planned House vote on the bipartisan infrastructure package that progressives are threatening to tank. The infrastructure vote is scheduled just hours before the government could shut down if Congress does not pass a spending bill – and this, just weeks before the US could default if the debt limit is not raised.

Bernstein declined to say what price tag moderate Democrat Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is willing to be on board with, suggesting the administration doesn’t want to talk about the agenda in terms of specific spending amounts.

“We're in the midst of real time negotiations. Rather than get into price tags, what I understand is under discussion is precisely the kinds of transformational investments I was just talking to you about. I actually think one of the least informative perspective is to talk about this trillion or that trillion, and much more important is to talk to growing the economy from the bottom up, and the middle out,” he said during an interview with CNN’s “New Day.”

Brnstein added, “Yes, there are negotiations to be made, and this President continues to leap over every legislative hurdle that has been put in front of him thus far. So I don't think of this as the week from H-E-double hockey sticks as you were calling it a minute ago, I think it’s the as the week towards just essential investments in progress on behalf of the middle class.”

He declined to speculate on whether the bipartisan infrastructure bill will pass on Thursday, but touted the package’s “strong Democratic support.”

Pressed repeatedly on whether the White House is preparing for the possibility of default if action is not taken on the debt ceiling, Bernstein said, “Default is not an option,” going on to criticize Senate Republicans.

Describing a default as an “economic cataclysm,” he reiterated that default is not an option, adding that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer “is doing everything he can to get around this Republican-imposed obstacle.