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The big idea

White House says Democratic ‘infighting’ has hurt Biden

The White House on Monday unambiguously blamed some of President Biden’s political woes on Democratic “infighting” that is delaying his domestic agenda, an unusually candid admission as the party heads into a midterm-election cycle in which it fears a drubbing come November.

Democratic fortunes in 2022 could largely turn on how the administration diagnoses — then remedies — the president’s slump in public opinion, including in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. My colleagues reported this weekend the downward trajectory was “driven largely by more negative views among Democrats and independents.”

The diagnosis, for now, is a combination of covid and unusual Beltway politics.

In her regular briefing, Biden press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday broadly blamed the pandemic and the supply chain and inflation woes it has fueled for the president’s sagging job approval numbers, which have fallen to 41 percent in The Post-ABC poll.

“People are sick and tired of COVID and the impacts on the economy. We understand that; we're tired of it too,” Psaki told reporters. “The number-one priority continues to be getting COVID under control.”

But, she also said, the laborious legislative bridge-building required to get the $1.2 trillion infrastructure law to the White House, where Biden signed it Monday, consumed precious time and energy that could have been used to sell his domestic agenda.

“We know also — and I've been doing press and communications for some time — I will tell you that you don't design a communication strategy around infighting within the Democratic Party in Washington. That is not how you typically design it,” she said. “That has been a necessity in order to get this legislation done.”

Psaki said Biden had “no regrets” about the work done “getting this bill across the finish line,” but said “it hasn't allowed for all of the time we would typically be out there talking about the benefits, as the bill was not finalized — it wasn't finished.”

While 19 GOP senators and 13 Republican House members joined Democrats to approve the infrastructure package, lockstep GOP opposition to Biden’s broader Build Back Better legislation to broaden government services and fight climate change has left the president’s party looking and sounding more like a fractious European coalition government than a tug-of-war team all pulling in the same direction.

For months, the schisms over what to include in the two bills, and whether and how to condition the House voting on the bipartisan proposal to the Democrats-only bundle, focused news coverage on the top-line dollar amount and the intraparty tensions between progressives and moderates since, as Psaki noted, the actual legislation “wasn’t finished.” But some Democrats also blame the White House for not breaking through with messaging about what tangible benefits Biden aimed to deliver.

There hasn’t been great communication about what these bills mean for people,” Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) recently told The Washington Post about broader Democratic messaging efforts. “We’ve got to talk about the real pieces of it, not just the size of the bill, but actually how it helps people.”

Biden aides express confidence they can sell the infrastructure law and its billions for roads, bridges, water pipes, ports, rail and broadband Internet access, and hope the popular package — 63 percent of Americans support it, according to The Post-ABC poll — will restore some of the shine to his standing with the public.

My colleagues Seung Min Kim, Felicia Sonmez and Amy B Wang reported Monday night on how Biden has also seized on the law as a validation of his campaign promise that polarized America can still pull together and do big things.

“Here in Washington, we’ve heard countless speeches, promises and white papers from experts — but today, we’re finally getting this done,” Biden said, adding, “The bill I’m about to sign into law is proof that despite the cynics, Democrats and Republicans can come together and deliver results.”

Not yet built back normal

But that the pandemic could do this much damage to the economy, and consequently to Biden’s job-approval figure, highlights one Democratic frustration: The president’s year-long vaccination blitz, successful as it has been, hasn’t yet fulfilled his campaign promise to build back normal.

It’s not clear exactly how Democrats will manage that problem  — and the pandemic’s swelling death toll despite the availability of a cheap, effective, widely available vaccine. But one hint came Monday when a White House press aide retweeted a senior adviser to Barack Obama saying the GOP had spent the year “sabotaging the effort to beat the pandemic.” (The aide later clarified he meant to highlight the article in the tweet.)

The administration is deploying Biden, Vice President Harris and various Cabinet members and other senior officials on a national blitz to sell the infrastructure package, even as the White House works to pass Build Back Better.

The next big step could come this week, as Democratic congressional leaders want to advance that $1.75 trillion legislation. On Friday, the Congressional Budget Office is slated to say how much the BBB could add to the deficit and the debt, something some moderate Democrats have suggested could decide on which side of the fence they end up.

What's happening now

House eyes vote this week on $2 trillion Biden spending plan

House Democrats hope to begin debate as soon as Wednesday on a roughly $2 trillion proposal to overhaul the country’s health care, education, climate, immigration and tax laws, aiming to adopt the sweeping measure by the end of the week,” Tony Romm and Marianna Sotomayor report.

  • Uh-oh: “One potential trouble area for Democrats is their proposal to empower the IRS to pursue tax cheats, an idea that they believe could raise hundreds of billions of dollars to pay for their spending initiatives. Historically, the CBO has evaluated these provisions unfavorably …”

Rep. Jackie Speier, Jonestown survivor who has served in Congress since 2008, will not seek reelection in 2022

“It’s time for me to come home — time for me to be more than a weekend wife, mother and friend,” Speier, 71, said in a video announcing her decision, Amy B Wang reports. “It’s been an extraordinary privilege and honor to represent the people of San Mateo County and San Francisco at almost every level of government for nearly four decades.”

Pfizer will allow its covid pill to be made and sold cheaply in poor countries

“The company announced a deal that could help significantly expand access to the Covid-19 treatment, but the agreement excludes a number of countries hit hard by the pandemic,” the New York Times’s Stephanie Nolen and Rebecca Robbins report.

U.S. judge to hear House bid to get Trump tax returns

“A U.S. judge on Tuesday will hear arguments in a long-running lawsuit over whether Congress can obtain former President Donald Trump's tax returns from the Internal Revenue Service,” Reuters’s Jan Wolfe reports.

McCarthy urges unity during closed-door meeting this morning:

From a CNN reporter:

From a Politico reporter:

Lunchtime reads from The Post

Who was at the infrastructure bill signing at the White House?

“Members of Congress, governors, mayors, state and local elected officials, as well as labor leaders, business leaders and other stakeholders, sat before a dais that included 30 key players from both sides of the aisle and representing diverse communities across America,” Eugene Scott and Garland Potts report.

The picture could provide a glimpse of some of the figures that Biden will depend on most — in D.C. and elsewhere — to carry out his agenda.”

If you’re a high-risk patient who needs an abortion, a hospital’s religious chaplain might help decide whether you can get one

“While the strict regulations around abortion at Catholic hospitals are widely known, a groundbreaking report published Tuesday by Columbia Law School shows that many Protestant-based and secular hospitals in the South also impose harsh restrictions on abortion care, permitting the procedure only under a narrow set of circumstances and sometimes requiring an elaborate approval process that may involve religious leaders, even in time-sensitive cases when a patient’s life might be in danger,” The Lily’s Caroline Kitchener reports.

  • “To make decisions about individual cases that might necessitate abortions, the report found that some hospitals, both Protestant and secular, rely on ‘abortion committees.’ These groups can include selected doctors and attorneys and sometimes religious leaders”

… and beyond

‘He’s nuts and he’s got a vendetta’: Cuomo won’t leave New York alone

“His lawyer is holding press conferences asking for new material to be added to investigations that were already concluded. New pro-Cuomo merchandise and affiliated groups have popped up online. Public opinion polls keep asking about him. And the Democrat’s remaining advisers haven’t dismissed the idea he could try a political comeback — and soon,” Politico’s Anna Gronewold reports.

"Even as Albany’s insiders focus on Cuomo's successor, Gov. Kathy Hochul and New York City Mayor-elect Eric Adams, they privately continue chattering, worrying, that Cuomo might run for office next year, or at the very least employ his substantial remaining resources to influence critical races in the months to come.”

AI surveillance takes U.S. prisons by storm

“When the sheriff in Suffolk County, New York, requested $700,000 from the U.S. government for an artificial intelligence system to eavesdrop on prison phone conversations, his office called it a key tool in fighting gang-related and violent crime,” Reuters’s Avi Asher-Schapiro and David Sherfinski report.

But the county jail ended up listening to calls involving a much wider range of subjects — scanning as many as 600,000 minutes per month, according to public records from the county obtained by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.”

Key vacancies at HHS

Biden delays naming health officials to oversee social services programs

“President Biden has yet to fill the three Senate-confirmed positions at the federal division responsible for a slew of his social-services policies, including expanding child care, establishing universal preschool and housing migrant children at the border, ahead of a congressional deadline that takes effect Tuesday,” Dan Diamond reports.

U.S.-China summit produces little more than polite words, but they help

“The virtual meeting between President Biden and China’s leader, Xi Jinping, produced no breakthroughs in a relationship that has spiraled dangerously downward. That was not the intent,” the Times’s Steven Lee Myers and David E. Sanger write.

“Instead, the two leaders sought to keep the many disputes between the two countries from escalating into a broader conflict. If they can translate their words into a kind of détente, it would count as a diplomatic success.”

Biden tries to get tough with Putin.

“To the alarm of the United States, other NATO members and the European Union, Russian leader Vladimir Putin is again amassing troops along his country’s western borders. Senior U.S. officials are warning Putin not to attempt another invasion of Ukraine. Analysts, meanwhile, say Putin may be trying to take advantage of a growing dispute between Kremlin-aligned Belarus and its European neighbors to inject chaos into the region and make NATO look weak,” Politico’s Nahal Toosi reports.

Biden signs executive order to address the ‘crisis of missing or murdered Indigenous people’

“In the executive order, the Biden administration committed to working with tribal leaders when creating policy that affects their populations, coordinating a federal law enforcement strategy across departments, supporting tribal law enforcement agencies, improving data collection and strengthening community-based services for survivors,” the 19th’s Mariel Padilla reports.

FEMA disaster mitigation, visualized

“For decades, FEMA’s dominant strategy has been to come in after disasters to coordinate cleanup and recovery. This is why the agency was created 40 years ago, but as climate disasters grow more frequent and devastating, FEMA is refocusing on a policy known as mitigation, which involves trying to intervene before catastrophe strikes,” our colleagues Hannah Dreier and Andrew Ba Tran report.

Hot on the left

Olsen: Try harder, Dems

Based on a memo the House Democrats’ campaign arm released Monday, columnist Henry Olsen writes that, “If this is the best they can come up with, Republicans will win in a landslide.”

This Democratic message amounts to pandering to the base rather than talking to swing voters. Democratic voters clearly place high priority on fighting covid-19, support the infrastructure deal and want as large a social spending package as can be pushed through Congress. There’s absolutely no evidence, on the other hand, that independents prioritize any of this. Yes, there are polls that show many of these plans are superficially popular — although the sheer size of the cumulative spending does concern many independents. But that’s a far cry from making these items political priorities.”

Hot on the right

Republicans seize on inflation

“Republicans are latching onto heightened anxiety tied to the nation’s sharpest inflation spike in three decades,” Politico's Megan Cassella reports.

“As Democrats work to get their climate and social spending package through Congress, the Republican counter-programming has been fierce. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said Friday that Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ‘want the American people to believe that if the government spends trillions more of taxpayer dollars that will fix inflation. They could not be more detached from reality,’ he said in a statement.”

Today in Washington

Biden will deliver remarks on how the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law repairs and rebuilds the nation’s roads and bridges at 2:25 p.m. in Woodstock, New Hampshire.

Harris will deliver remarks at the Tribal Nations Summit at 4:40 p.m.

In closing

Ingraham and Costello

Laura Ingraham had a real “Who’s on First?” moment during her show:

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.