Friday, July 16, 2021

The Morning: Democrats, united (mostly)

Plus: the News Quiz

Good morning. Biden's ambitious legislative agenda faces many hurdles. But Democrats appear notably unified for now.

Senator Chuck Schumer and President Biden this week.Pete Marovich for The New York Times

Not in disarray

President Biden and his fellow Democrats face many challenges in trying to pass two ambitious bills — one on infrastructure, the other on social and environmental programs — this summer.

Among them: Republican support looks shaky on the infrastructure plan and nonexistent on the other plan. Democrats have such slim congressional majorities that they can lose almost none of their own members. And some liberal activists have already protested one of the plans outside the White House.

The task is difficult enough that White House staff members sometimes talk about it internally as akin to "trying to land the plane on a very narrow landstrip in the middle of the ocean," Cecilia Rouse, the chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, told me yesterday.

But Biden and the Democratic leaders in Congress do have one big advantage, and it sometimes gets lost amid the noise. So far, both Senate and House Democrats seem notably unified behind the two bills' major goals.

Manchin to Sanders

In the political center, Joe Manchin of West Virginia helped negotiate the infrastructure bill and has spoken positively about a large second bill focused on social programs. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, another moderate, has said she is "open to finding a path forward" on both. Mark Warner of Virginia, known as a "business guy," is helping craft large parts of the legislation, as my colleague Jonathan Weisman explains.

On the left, both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren also seem to be on board, praising the second package even though it's smaller than they favor. "In some cases, it doesn't provide all the funding that I would like," Sanders said this week. But he also called it "probably the most consequential piece of legislation since the 1930s."

This relative consensus is a contrast to the internal Democratic divisions on some other issues, like voting rights and the filibuster. But the politics of economic policy tend to be different — and easier — for the party. It frequently stays unified on economic issues, including taxes and Obamacare.

Why? For one thing, Democrats' economic positions tend to be popular, even in purple and red states. The two big bills Biden is hoping to get through Congress — which together would spend money on roads, broadband internet, pre-K and other programs while raising taxes on the rich — fit the pattern. A large majority of voters support them, polls show.

Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a Republican, and Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, a Democrat.Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

'A long way to go'

The bills may still fail, to be clear. They face multiple hurdles.

On the infrastructure bill, the Democrats' plan is to pass it with at least 10 Republican votes in the Senate, enough to overcome a filibuster. Eleven Republican senators signaled support for negotiations over a bill last month, but only five have signed on to the resulting deal. That deal includes an increase in I.R.S. funding, which would help cover the bill's cost by reducing tax evasion — a provision that may not be able to win 10 Republican votes.

If Republican votes don't materialize, the next question will be whether Manchin and other moderate Democrats are willing to pass the bill anyway. Doing so would require using a process known as reconciliation that bypasses the filibuster and lets Democrats pass a bill on party lines.

Then there is Biden's second plan, focused on social programs like pre-K and measures to slow climate change. Republican support for it seems unlikely, which means it would need to pass through reconciliation and keep the support of every Democratic senator. It also could not afford to lose more than a handful of House Democrats.

Manchin has already signaled that he finds the climate provisions too aggressive. Senator Jon Tester of Montana has called the overall $3.5 trillion price tag "a big amount." Some House Democrats have also said they were worried about the debt.

For now, these objections seem more like efforts to shape an eventual bill than block it. Moderate Democrats like Manchin often issue high-profile, if substantively modest, objections, which help maintain their centrist public image.

"Democrats have found ways to bridge these divides so far," Carl Hulse, The Times's chief Washington correspondent, said. "But there is a long way to go."

70 percent — or 40?

During a panel I moderated yesterday, I asked two economists — one progressive leaning and one conservative leaning — how they viewed the bills' chances. Jason Furman, a former top aide to Barack Obama, said they were "vastly higher than I expected" a few months ago. He added that an infrastructure bill seemed on a path to pass and gave the second plan a 70 percent chance of doing so.

Michael Strain of the American Enterprise Institute agreed that the second bill's odds looked better than a few months ago but thought they were still only "40 to 45 percent."

Sanders — who is more of a dealmaker than his radical reputation suggests — is among those who is more confident. "If you're asking me at the end of the day, do I think we're going to pass this? I do," he told reporters this week. Biden sounds confident, too: "I still have confidence we're going to be able to get what I've proposed and what I've agreed to in the bipartisan agreement on infrastructure," he said yesterday.

For more:

  • Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader, plans to hold a vote on the infrastructure bill as early as Wednesday, a test of Republican support.
  • A question about the second package, as The Times's Jim Tankersley notes: Will major provisions last for only a few years, so Democrats can hold down the cost and win moderates' votes?

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The Virus
Dr. Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general, yesterday.Doug Mills/The New York Times
Flooding damage in Schuld, Germany. Western Europe is seeing some of the most severe flooding in decades. Germany is most affected.Sascha Steinbach/EPA, via Shutterstock
Other Big Stories
  • The Capitol Police arrested Representative Joyce Beatty, the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, during a voting rights protest.
  • Boston will overhaul admissions to three prestigious public schools to increase the number of Black and Latino students.
  • The gunman who killed five people at The Capital Gazette newspaper in 2018 was criminally responsible, a jury found. He will spend his life in prison.
  • Justice Stephen Breyer, 82, told CNN that he had not decided when to retire from the Supreme Court.
  • When the pandemic hit, some tech workers fled San Francisco. They're back — and so are traffic jams.

If climate change threatens your town, consider a managed retreat, Katharine Mach and A.R. Siders write.



A.I. ghosts: Whatever happened to IBM's Watson?

Modern Love: Coming out as a "plushie" lover.

Olympics: How a ban on a swim cap galvanized Black swimmers.

Lives Lived: When Esther Bejarano was 18, she played accordion in the women's orchestra at Auschwitz. "We played with tears in our eyes," she said. Decades later, she formed a band with her children to sing Jewish resistance songs. Bejarano has died at 96.


Emmanuelle Polack at the Louvre's Centre du Dominique-Vivant Denon research facility.Joann Pai for The New York Times

Hunting down looted paintings

Emmanuelle Polack is an art historian and an archival sleuth — a magazine once called her "the Indiana Jones of looted paintings." Last year, the Louvre hired Polack as the public face of its restitution investigations. Her focus: uncovering the origins of works that suspiciously changed hands during the Nazi occupation of France.

France has faced criticism that it lags behind other countries like Germany and the United States in identifying and returning works looted during World War II, as Elaine Sciolino writes in The Times. "For years I cultivated a secret garden about the art market during the Occupation," Polack said. "And finally, it is recognized as a crucial field for investigation."

At the Louvre, her methods include combing through auction catalogs, correspondence and gallery receipts to track how works of art shuffled around over the years. On the backs of paintings, she often finds clues about sales, restorations and framers that might lead back to the rightful owners. Read more about her mystery solving. — Sanam Yar, a Morning writer


What to Cook
Andrew Scrivani for the New York Times

Berries, nectarines, peaches, plums: Any juicy fruit will work in this tender summer buckle.

What to Watch

The "Space Jam" sequel leaves a viewer "feeling like Wile E. Coyote after hitting a mesa wall," Glenn Kenny writes in a review.


Farida Khelfa, one of fashion's early supermodels, wants to challenge the image of Middle Eastern women.

Late Night
Take the News Quiz

See how you do compared with other Times readers on the News Quiz.

Now Time to Play

The pangrams from yesterday's Spelling Bee were clementine and inclement. Here is today's puzzle — or you can play online.

Here's today's Mini Crossword, and a clue: "The Lion King" villain (four letters).

If you're in the mood to play more, find all our games here.

Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you Monday. — David

P.S. Apollo 11 took off for the moon 52 years ago today. The next day, The Times reported it went "without flaw."

"The Daily" is about abuse inside Canada's residential schools. "The Ezra Klein Show" features Ibram X. Kendi.

Claire Moses, Ian Prasad Philbrick, Tom Wright-Piersanti and Sanam Yar contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at

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