Full Text: 2,702 Page Bipartisan Senate Infrastructure Deal : The NPR Politics Podcast A vote on the trillion-dollar proposal is expected as soon as Thursday. Also, President Biden has been denying tens of thousands of migrants asylum proceedings, citing public health fears. After months of stagnant negotiations, immigration and civil rights groups are taking the White House to court.

This episode: White House correspondent Scott Detrow, congressional reporter Claudia Grisales, national political correspondent Mara Liasson, White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez.

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Light Summer Reading? The 2,702-Page Infrastructure Deal Just Dropped.

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NAVI: Hi. I'm Navi (ph).

ALICE: And I'm Alice (ph).

NAVI: And we're from...

NAVI AND ALICE: ...Iowa City, Iowa.

NAVI: This week, our dad is riding his bike across the state of Iowa doing RAGBRAI.

ALICE: We haven't seen him for days.

NAVI: This podcast was recorded at...

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Our friend Danielle Kurtzleben was on that ride.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: (Laughter).

DETROW: It is 2:05 Eastern. It is Monday, August 2. It's August.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: It's August. What about Scott Horsley? Wasn't he on there, too?

DETROW: He was there. He was on there, too. Scott - you know, Scott's off on the business desk now. I'm not going to mention him first reference.

LIASSON: (Laughter).

NAVI: Things may have changed by the time you hear this.

ALICE: I love you, Daddy. Drink water.

NAVI: We'll see you this weekend.

NAVI AND ALICE: OK. Here's the show.

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

DETROW: I do love Scott Horsley. Scott, I'm sorry.

GRISALES: And those kids were adorable.

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

GRISALES: I'm Claudia Grisales. I cover Congress.

LIASSON: And I'm Mara Liasson, national political correspondent.

DETROW: So here is a moment that Claudia and other Hill reporters had the pleasure...

GRISALES: (Laughter).

DETROW: ...Of listening for for a very long time, and it finally came this weekend.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHUCK SCHUMER: I call up the Sinema-Portman Substitute Amendment 2137.

DETROW: Claudia, big climactic moment - was it everything you had hoped it would be?

GRISALES: (Laughter) I think perhaps yes, from all of those anxious, awaiting minutes, hours and days. Yes...

DETROW: ...And months.

GRISALES: It was a big deal (laughter).

DETROW: All right. Some context here, that was Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer using Senate procedure to unveil the 2,700-page bill that is the infrastructure deal. We have been talking a lot about two theoretical bills lately. So a reminder, this one here, which is now an actual bill on the Senate floor, is the roughly $1 trillion measure crafted by moderate Democratic and Republican senators. It deals with roads, bridges, broadband, electric vehicle charging stations and other things deemed, in the conversational term that people use on Capitol Hill and nowhere else on the planet, hard infrastructure.

GRISALES: (Laughter).

DETROW: Claudia, you know, we're joking, but this is - this has been something the president has been pushing for since March. It has been negotiated for, like, more than a month now. Any surprises so far in this actual bill?

GRISALES: Not yet. But admittedly, we're all still digging through this beast of a bill finally unveiled last night. But largely, the surprise perhaps is that this group has reached this stage of the bill-making process. At many moments, what was once called BIF - that's the bipartisan infrastructure framework, the outline if you will for this legislation - appeared to be RIP - rest in peace. But now this legislation appears to have the green lights to perhaps gain final passage in the coming days.

DETROW: That was, like, a Mara-ism (ph). I just want to stop and applaud.

(LAUGHTER)

DETROW: Mara, do you approve?

LIASSON: Well, you know, this is a bill that would not die.

(LAUGHTER)

LIASSON: There were a lot of cliffhangers. There were a lot of moments where we thought it was going to be R-I-P.

GRISALES: Yeah.

LIASSON: But it just kept on going. And the most important thing to remind people about this bill is this bill is going to pass because it will have 60 votes or more. But that means it will have at least 10 Republican votes. And passing something with a bipartisan majority is really unusual these days.

DETROW: Is that the case, Claudia? Is this smooth sailing?

GRISALES: Well, I don't know if I would say smooth quite yet.

DETROW: OK.

GRISALES: It looks positive right now, but there's many threats here that things could get derailed. For example, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned against moving along too quickly on this plan, and they need time to amend the bill. So it's just another reminder of all the surprises we could see along the way and just how precarious this entire process is.

LIASSON: Well, speaking of Mitch McConnell, Claudia, he has said that he is 100% committed to stopping everything that Joe Biden wants to do. Why isn't he opposing this?

GRISALES: Yeah, that is so interesting. At many moments, we thought McConnell might turn on this, but he says if there is bipartisan work to be done in Congress, this is it. This - it's infrastructure. We need to tackle this. He mentioned that on the floor today. And he wants to see a robust bipartisan amendment process because he says infrastructure is not a luxury, it's a necessity. And so he sees this potential to move the economy into the modern century when it comes to physical infrastructure needs for workers and businesses alike.

DETROW: Mara, in terms of, like, real impact on people that would come over time, you know, this - even though it's smaller than it was before, this is a massive infrastructure spending bill, the biggest in generations. But just in terms of the raw short-term politics, this is something Biden has pushed for for months, has made a big part of his agenda. But one, we have seen so many instances where cultural warfare trumps actual policy in this political environment. And two, this is now moving forward at a moment where the delta variant is creating all of this alarm that maybe the U.S. is nowhere near as in the clear as we thought we would be. Is this something that can still deliver a big political win for the White House, or is it just murky now?

LIASSON: No, I think that if this passes, this will be a big political win for the White House; not just because it's infrastructure and infrastructure is something that's very, very popular across party lines with voters, but also because it's bipartisan. And Joe Biden's brand and one of his most foundational campaign promises was that he could get both sides to work together again. He truly believed that bipartisan compromise was not extinct in Washington despite all the evidence to the contrary. So I think that if this passes - and still a big if - this will be a real win for him. Now, will it - would it withstand COVID coming back and the economy tanking? No, it won't make up for that, but it'll be a win.

DETROW: Yeah.

LIASSON: Claudia, you know, one of the things that could derail this is that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has made it really clear that she doesn't want to take up the infrastructure bill in the House unless the much bigger $3.5 trillion human infrastructure bill - money for pre-K and community college and climate change and elder care - is also ready to go. That's a bill that will pass with Democratic votes only because it's a budget bill, and budget bills are immune to the filibuster in the Senate. But how likely is that two-track process to actually happen?

GRISALES: Yeah, I think House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been very clear that these two items are handcuffed to each other. She is not moving on one bill unless the other bill is ready as well. So it's really a signal to her party - this is for the progressives who are worried that the bipartisan bill is it - that they will move forward on both pieces of legislation when they are ready. They are on recess. So that's also in their lane in terms of when they come back and when they time that. And that could very well be when they see this momentum on the reconciliation bill. So it's very, very key. And we've heard Schumer, the leader of the Senate, mention this as well, that he wants to move quickly on this bipartisan process so they can get to reconciliation as part of this whole two-part track that they're sticking to, he says.

DETROW: All right. Claudia, thank you for that. And I'll let you get back to - I don't know. What do you do next now that the bill has actually been introduced? I guess - I guess...

GRISALES: Read, read and read some more.

(LAUGHTER)

DETROW: That's right. You read the bill - 2,700 pages.

GRISALES: Exactly.

DETROW: Just roll it to the beach on, like...

GRISALES: (Laughter).

DETROW: ...Like, a shopping cart or something.

GRISALES: Exactly (laughter).

DETROW: I don't even know how you would (laughter). All right. We're going to take a quick break. Claudia, we will talk to you soon.

GRISALES: Thanks much.

DETROW: And we are back with White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez.

Hey, Franco.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Hey, Scott.

DETROW: So we're going to talk about something today that we touched on a little bit last week, but it is a higher-profile story today. The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the Biden administration as the White House continues to refuse migrants without hearing their asylum claims. The ACLU argues this is a violation of international law.

Little bit of context - President Trump began this practice citing a section of U.S. law that allows the government to refuse migrants when there's a serious risk of introducing a contagious disease to the United States. We are all well aware the coronavirus has been here for a very long time already. All of this, the shorthand for it, is Title 42. Franco, what is going on here? What is the reason for the White House continuing this policy? And what happens next?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. I mean, basically, on the side of the advocacy groups, I mean, they basically lost patience. Biden reversed several of Trump's harshest immigration policies. You know, he pledged a more humane system. But, you know, Biden also kept in place this rule, Title 42, which shuts out most people seeking asylum. The administration did make some exceptions for unaccompanied children and some families, but the large number of migrants arriving, tens of thousands, have been removed from the country, sent back using this public health rule.

And it has really angered the advocates who have sued - who had sued the U.S. government to stop it. They sued under Trump. And they kind of put it on hold in order to negotiate in good faith with the Biden administration. But they say they've been negotiating for seven months. Lawyers for the U.S. government repeatedly said they wanted to fix some things from the previous administration. And now, the advocates are saying enough is enough, and they're going to go back to court.

DETROW: There's a growing number of things where progressives and activist groups are getting really frustrated with the Biden administration. You know, we've talked about it a lot. This is an example here. At what point do you think this becomes a real, actual political problem for the White House?

LIASSON: Well, not anytime soon.

DETROW: Why not?

LIASSON: I mean, what you're saying is, at what point would the left actually break with the White House or say, we're not going to help you turn out our voters? I think that in terms of immigration as a political problem, it's much more of a problem for the Democrats from the right than from their left.

In other words, what battleground House seats are going to be lost because Biden wasn't open enough to immigration? I think none. Are there seats that could be lost because Biden couldn't control the flow of migrants at the border? Don't forget, immigration, especially in the time of COVID, is an issue that Republicans have wielded very effectively in the past. So I think that, as a political problem, immigration is much more of a danger from Biden's right than from his left right now.

ORDOÑEZ: Certainly, especially now with the delta variant going on and, you know, really exploding. The Biden administration is struggling in so many different areas - you know, extending other travel restrictions, putting in more mask mandates, restrictions for federal workers and vaccines. It seems like the Biden administration would be in a tough place to lift some of these rules and not face the type of political attacks that Mara is describing.

On the left, there's no doubt, though, that there is increasing frustration against President Biden for keeping in this plan. As I just mentioned earlier, Biden reversed some of the harshest policies of Trump. But this was one of the harshest, and it's - he's still allowing it in there. And it seems to be for questionable reasons. There's a lot of questions about whether this is being done because of a public health or if it's done because of political, as Mara's describing, or operational 'cause immigration has obviously been a really difficult challenge for this president.

LIASSON: But don't forget, the Democrats are still nursing their wounds from losing so many seats along the southern border in the Rio Grande Valley, a place with very big Hispanic numbers of voters. And Democrats didn't do too well there in 2020.

DETROW: All right. That is it for today. But we will be back in your feeds, as we are every weekday, tomorrow afternoon.

I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the White House.

ORDOÑEZ: I'm Franco Ordoñez. I also cover the White House.

LIASSON: And I'm Mara Liasson, national political correspondent.

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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