Failed 1st Vote on $1.2T Infrastructure Deal Doesn't Matter : The NPR Politics Podcast A group of 21 senators from both parties but out a statement that they're close to a deal and another vote is expected as soon as Monday.

And an Ohio Democratic primary race to replace Biden official Marica Fudge in the House of Representatives is getting a lot of national attention, including from this podcast.

This episode: White House correspondent Scott Detrow, congressional correspondent Susan Davis, and demographics and culture correspondent Danielle Kurtzleben.

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The First $1.2 Trillion Infrastructure Deal Vote Failed. It Doesn't Really Matter.

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SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Hey, everybody. Before we start the show, we need your help with something, especially if you're somebody who's new to listening to this podcast. We're trying to figure out what people like about the show and what they don't. So if you've got a few minutes, please go ahead, pause this - you can wait. It'll be a good episode when you're done with it. And head to npr.org/podcastsurvey. That's npr.org/podcastsurvey. It is short. It's anonymous. And it would really mean a lot. Thanks so much. OK, here's the show.

KATE: Hi. This is Kate (ph) calling from the Empire State Building. This is my first day back in the office after 499 days away. This podcast was recorded at...

DETROW: It's 2:05 Eastern on Thursday, July 22.

KATE: Things may have changed by the time you hear this, but I will never get sick of the beautiful view of a sunrise coming up over Manhattan from the 49th floor. OK, here's the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

DETROW: That's a pretty good view.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Yeah, it's not a bad way to return to work.

DETROW: Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the White House.

DAVIS: I'm Susan Davis. I cover Congress.

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: And I'm Danielle Kurtzleben. And I cover demographics and culture.

DETROW: So, Sue, on Monday when we talked, we said a big test vote was coming up for this bipartisan infrastructure plan. And I'm just going to say this right here. The White House keeps trying to make BIF happen, calling it the bipartisan infrastructure framework. BIF. We're not going to call it BIF here. I just - we're all on the same page about that, right? We have not. We will not.

DAVIS: I promise.

KURTZLEBEN: I feel fine with that.

DAVIS: But now I'm not going to be able to stop thinking about it now that you've said that. But I promise not to use it.

DETROW: Beyond what to call it, we're talking about the fact that vote did happen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wanted to move ahead by forcing a vote. That happened yesterday. How'd it go?

DAVIS: You know, pretty much as we expected, and that it failed and failed on party lines. Republicans, even though they're still in active negotiations for a deal, didn't like feeling pressure from the majority to get the ball moving because they don't have a bill yet. We haven't actually seen text of the legislation, although Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, one of the key negotiators, said today he thinks they're 99% of the way there. So I don't think the failure of this vote means the deal is doomed, but it's going to sort of shift the focus into next week and put the pressure on to try to get it done then.

KURTZLEBEN: Sue, you mentioned that the vote happened along party lines. I am curious, among those more progressive Democrats who I know have been pushing for a bigger bill, I mean, they clearly voted for it. Are they still - in the Senate, are they still trying to do that kind of pressuring or are they just kind of going with what they got?

DAVIS: You know, I think Democrats, part of the reason why they were behind Chuck Schumer in forcing this vote is they're running out of patience, right? You know, they announced this deal at the White House alongside President Biden about a month ago. They haven't seen a bill yet. There's some suspicion among Democrats that this is going to be a good-faith effort by Republicans. There's still some fears that they might walk away from the deal.

So they just want to get the ball rolling because getting this infrastructure bill done is sort of the gateway legislation to beginning work on the bigger Democratic priority, the bigger Democratic budget bill that holds all of these goodies in it that Democrats have been trying to pass for years and years. So they just want to get this. They see it as a roadblock to advancing the Biden agenda and they just want to move it forward.

DETROW: So to that end, is there any sign at all that there could be some resolution on the big holdups that are preventing this actual legislation from being written? I know primarily how to pay for it.

DAVIS: Negotiators say they've pretty much wrapped up the pay-fors. There was some outstanding issues on how much money was going to go to public transit, for instance. But they've come up with a plan. What they're waiting for is for the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office to do some scoring of those ideas, essentially do an independent analysis if they'll actually save what they're hoping it's going to save and get a bill to leaders by next week.

Both Republicans and Democrats involved in these negotiations say that we could see some element of the text by Monday that would allow the Senate to start the process. It's probably unlikely they could pass it fully through the Senate. The Senate just doesn't necessarily work that fast. But we should know within days if their promises of being close to a deal are true or not.

KURTZLEBEN: So to that end, I mean, you've just told us a couple of potential timing guideposts here. Do you have - do we have any sense of when this might be passed, if it is passed?

DAVIS: Well, the most dreaded thing is Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said that they need to be passed - both the infrastructure plan and the Democratic budget plan - before they adjourn for the August recess. Now, those of us who live our lives by hoping Congress adjourns for the month of August are now very closely watching that that deadline is most likely to skip.

The Senate's only currently scheduled to be in session for two more weeks. It seems all but certain that this is going to bleed deeper into the month of August. It's just hard to get both of those things through the Senate timing wise. But I don't think, as of now, Schumer has any reason to feel like he won't be able to get these bills passed by the August recess. That could just be the late August recess by the time he gets them done soon.

DETROW: Sue, before we take a break, let's talk about one other thing that just happened in Congress. You know, there's been a lot of conversation - we've covered it a few times over the years - about changing the way the military responds to sexual assaults. Kirsten Gillibrand, the New York senator, has been a huge proponent of doing this. She's run into some problems in the past, but she's been steadily building more momentum. What happened this week?

DAVIS: A big victory for Gillibrand and not just Gillibrand. This is a legislation that has a lot of bipartisan support, including Joni Ernst, who's a Republican from Iowa. This has been an issue that has been in the Senate for about a decade now. And there was very strongly held feelings about how the military handles sexual assaults. Gillibrand has been a very public and active advocate to take these cases outside the chain of military command. When there was a big debate about this, I think is about eight or 10 years ago now. She lost, but she hadn't given up. She kept going. And she was able to build a bipartisan coalition, her and Ernst.

They're going to roll their proposal into the national defense bill. It's sort of a must-pass legislative vehicle. It's been embraced by a lot of top Pentagon leaders, by the Biden administration. And essentially, what her bill would do would move all felony crimes, not just sexual assaults, outside of the chain of military command and allow them to be prosecuted or investigated by military prosecutors. It doesn't sound like that big of a change, but it really is a huge change inside the military, inside the Pentagon and something that the Pentagon fought for years and years and years but has now come around to embrace.

DETROW: All right. We're going to take a quick break. When we get back, Danielle, you just got back from Cleveland, where you are covering this Democratic congressional primary. We're going to talk about that race and what it means for the big picture. Look at the Democratic Party right now.

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DETROW: We are back. And, Danielle, I mentioned you just got back from Ohio. I'm sure your real reason was to visit the home of LeBron James, star of "Space Jam: A New Legacy." Is that right?

DAVIS: (Laughter).

KURTZLEBEN: I only watch films if they're on the Criterion Collection, Scott, so I have no idea. I have no idea what you're talking about here.

DETROW: (Laughter) Well, why were you really in Ohio?

KURTZLEBEN: I was there to cover the Democratic primary for Ohio's 11th District. This seat has been held by Democrats for quite a while. The person who wins this primary will likely win the seat altogether. And this is a majority Black district. And this is a race to replace Representative Marcia Fudge in the House. She was, of course, tapped by Joe Biden to be his HUD secretary. And the two candidates who have risen to the top of this primary are Shontel Brown - she is the chairwoman of the Cuyahoga, Ohio, Democratic Party and Nina Turner - she is a former state senator and also former co-chair of Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign.

DAVIS: Danielle, I don't think of summertime in an off year being a time where voters are particularly engaged in any election, let alone a special election. I'm just curious if you've got a sense of how much sort of enthusiasm or interest there is in politics right now.

KURTZLEBEN: Yeah, it is a summer-off-year-during-a-pandemic special election. So there are many reasons why this might not have huge turnout. The candidates are really out there doing a lot of canvassing, just trying to drum up votes, period. But the sort of odd counterbalance to that is that in this race where there might not be a whole lot of votes cast, there is so much national attention. It really felt like, you know, for every few voters I would talk to, I would turn around and hold out my microphone to someone and they would be like, no, I'm here from Maryland, I'm here from California, I'm here from wherever, I'm here - but I'm here to campaign on behalf of so-and-so. There's just so many people and a fair amount of money dumping into this race right now.

DETROW: If you could sort through all of the outsiders and activist groups swarming in, though, like what are the big issues in voters' minds? What are the fault lines that are popping up in this race?

KURTZLEBEN: When I ask voters what their top issues are, you know, recovery from COVID is a big one. I talked to a few voters who said that public safety, policing, crime, things that fall under that heading are very big deals to them. So that's sort of the local view. But look, there is also very much the unavoidable national heuristic of liberal, anti-establishment versus establishment moderates that have been put on to this race and that the candidates to some degree themselves embrace. I mean, Nina Turner is, of course, a Bernie Sanders friend.

DETROW: Yeah.

KURTZLEBEN: And Shontel Brown has a lot of establishment backing.

DETROW: That's something I want to ask about, though, because it's such an interesting moment for that. Like, on one hand, we have really talked about how particularly on issues like voting rights, like not blowing up the Senate in order to get them passed. There's a lot of progressive frustration with the Biden administration right now. But at the same time, Joe Biden is out there pushing for a $3.5 trillion plan.

And I know, Sue, one of the things you keep saying over and over and over again is that we can't lose context of how historically aggressive and bold and outside of the norm, that level of spending is. So, like, are progressives feeling like their message is being heard right now, or is that is that typical frustration kind of coming out more?

KURTZLEBEN: Yeah. Well, I mean, they're - one of the interesting things about this race is that, first of all, Biden does have a place in this because as Bernie Sanders' campaign surrogate, Nina Turner did at times very, very sharply criticize Joe Biden and pushed back against him. But, you know, both candidates are doing this thing where they are trying to win over their bases and then trying to expand out. So I talked to Nina Turner, and she said, you know, this is not necessarily a liberal-versus-moderate race. This is a race where we are really working on, you know, people's pocketbook issues. And so that's what people care about. And she - when I asked her about her past criticisms of Biden, she was like, look. Kamala Harris criticized Joe Biden. And so if she can work with him, so can I.

Similarly, Shontel Brown talks a lot about bipartisanship, a lot about reaching across the aisle, about creating consensus both within the party and across the aisle. Guess who that sounds like? But she also pushes some more progressive messages herself, like talking at one event I went to, she talked about cancelling student debt for certain workers like teachers.

DAVIS: One of my favorite things about this race, because it's for the seat of former Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, who's serving in the Biden administration now, and she cannot legally endorse in this race, but she had her mom cut an ad for Shontel Brown.

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MARIAN SAFFOLD: Marcia now serves in President Biden's Cabinet, so she can't endorse in the race for Congress, but I can. Shontel Brown is Marcia's protege.

DAVIS: I thought that was sort of a clever use of parenting (laughter) in politics to have your mom do the ad for you.

KURTZLEBEN: Yeah.

DETROW: And when's the actual voting?

KURTZLEBEN: The actual voting is on August 3. So up until then, this is only going to get louder. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, New York representative, is supposed to come to the district soon, as is Bernie Sanders to support Nina Turner. Meanwhile, James Clyburn is supposed to come soon to campaign on behalf of Brown. So this is only going to become more high profile in the next - what? - 11 or 12 days?

DETROW: Well, I'm glad you got out into the real world for this story, among other things.

KURTZLEBEN: I know. It felt great.

DETROW: All right. That is it for today. A reminder - and I promise this is the very last one - take a few moments, please, to take our survey so we can get some feedback about the show. It's npr.org/podcastsurvey. If you have taken it already, thank you very much. If you haven't, come on, man. I have told you about this 15 times. And it takes a few minutes.

(LAUGHTER)

DETROW: That's it, though. I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the White House.

DAVIS: I'm Susan Davis. I cover Congress.

KURTZLEBEN: And I'm Danielle Kurtzleben. I cover demographics and culture.

DETROW: Thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

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