$15 Minimum Wage Fight Tests Biden's Ties To Progressives President Biden vowed to govern as the most progressive chief executive since Franklin Roosevelt. But progressives in Congress are skeptical, especially after a recent letdown over the minimum wage.

Progressives Show Patience With Biden, At Least Until Relief Bill Passes

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The Senate will vote on President Biden's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan sometime in the next few days. It's expected to pass with only Democratic votes. Because of complicated Senate rules, the Biden administration has dropped its push to include a $15 minimum wage in the measure. And that retreat is the first big test of Biden's relationship with the progressive wing of his party. NPR's Scott Detrow reports.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Progressive annoyance began when Biden talked about the minimum wage with CBS News' Norah O'Donnell in an interview last month.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Well, apparently that's not going to occur because of the rules of the United States Senate.

NORAH O’DONNELL: So you're saying the minimum wage won't be in this...

BIDEN: My guess is it will not be in it. But I do...

DETROW: It's a complicated process, but the Senate parliamentarian had to decide whether a wage increase fit inside the narrow definition of what the Senate can and can't pass with 50 votes instead of 60. But the Senate parliamentarian? She hadn't made that ruling yet.

PRAMILA JAYAPAL: You know, it's like a gut punch to millions of people because he came out so bold on including $15. And then suddenly to preempt made no sense to us.

DETROW: Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal chairs the House Progressive Caucus. She's one of several progressives in the House pressuring Vice President Harris to overrule that parliamentarian decision and forced the minimum wage back into the measure. The Biden administration has made it clear that's not going to happen. Emmy Ruiz is the White House's Director of Political Strategy and Outreach.

EMMY RUIZ: But what President Biden has said and what we are all incredibly committed to is finding other avenues and other lanes for accomplishing this goal.

DETROW: Biden floated a standalone measure raising the minimum wage. Congressman Ro Khanna, another progressive urging more of a fight, just doesn't see it.

RO KHANNA: That would be good messaging. And if the game was just politics, fine, we could do it. But that's not the purpose. The game and the purpose is to actually get it passed. And there's no way we get to 60 votes on the minimum wage.

DETROW: The bulk of House progressives angry at the situation are holding off on the ultimate leverage - saying they would vote no if the Senate returns the spending bill without a minimum wage increase. They want to get money to schools, vaccine drives and people suffering from the recession. But many are also like Faiz Shakir, a Bernie Sanders adviser who's worried about the long line of other progressive priorities Democrats see stalling in the Senate as long as bills need support from 10 Republicans to advance.

FAIZ SHAKIR: There's a whole lot of things coming down the pipe. And you can imagine that those are areas where Republicans are not going to offer the 10 votes to get you past the 60-vote threshold.

DETROW: Progressives do still see the Biden administration as a good-faith ally. For example, the president released a video this week cheering on a union drive at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama after Shakir and others urged the White House to get involved. That type of specific support for a union push from a sitting president is rare. Still, the president's relationship with progressives may start to splinter unless Biden more forcefully backs big moves like changing the Senate's rules. Here's Khanna.

KHANNA: We appreciate, we recognize that the Biden administration on many policies has adopted things that Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, progressives have been talking about. But ultimately, the question is, are we going to have a view of structural change that is necessary to make those laws?

DETROW: Jayapal says things like a $15 minimum wage and campaign finance reform and big action on climate change are all popular with voters.

JAYAPAL: If the Senate becomes under Democrats what it was under Mitch McConnell - the graveyard where all good things go to die - that is going to be a huge problem for us in the midterms, both with retaining control of the Senate and retaining control of the House.

DETROW: After all, Democrats have only the thinnest margin of error in the House. And in the Senate, they don't have a margin at all.

Scott Detrow, NPR News, Washington.

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