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Senate Republicans Blocked A Key Vote On The Infrastructure Bill

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

This afternoon, Senate Republicans blocked a key vote on a bipartisan infrastructure plan. This comes as the White House continues to tout the president's economic agenda. Biden is in Ohio today trying to sell it to voters, but the question now is whether this failed vote could throw that agenda into question. NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid has been keeping an eye on all of this and joins us now to talk about it.

Hey, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK, so again, this was a bipartisan infrastructure deal, right? So tell us why Senate Republicans still decided to block this vote.

KHALID: Well, we should be clear. This is a procedural vote on the $1.2 trillion package. It was not an up-or-down vote on the bill itself. But in some ways, it was also the first big test for this infrastructure deal. The bill itself is not written, and Republicans have been critical of the idea of voting about a bill before they even know what's in it. Ohio Senator Rob Portman is one of the Republican senators who helped negotiate the deal with the White House.

ROB PORTMAN: So we're voting no today because we're not ready, but we're saying we do want to take up this bill since we are - we meet every Monday.

KHALID: Right.

So Ailsa, if you caught that, you know, he's referring to the fact that, essentially, he does not think the bill is ready yet. But he did tell reporters he delivered a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer that was signed by 11 GOP senators that they would be prepared to support this procedural vote if it came up again on Monday.

CHANG: OK, Monday will be the day. Meanwhile, the White House had been hoping to boast that this bill was evidence that bipartisanship is still alive and possible in Washington, D.C. What do you think all of this means for the president's agenda at this point?

KHALID: Well, White House press secretary Jen Psaki tried to downplay the vote itself when speaking to reporters today. She also indicated that the White House is optimistic by indications that Republicans who are involved in the negotiations are willing to revisit this vote again very soon. But, Ailsa, what I will say is that, you know, broadly, infrastructure is the centerpiece of this White House's agenda. President Biden has been on the road promoting his infrastructure plans. You know, he doesn't do that with the same sort of, I would say, frequency for issues like police reform or voting. So when it comes to the president's economic vision, Ailsa, that is really at the forefront for him. And, you know, as you mentioned at the outset, he's traveling to Ohio today. He's in Cincinnati visiting a union training center to pitch this economic agenda.

And frankly, it's not just the infrastructure plan. That is one piece of his agenda. The other part is this major change to the social safety net through a separate $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill the Democrats hope to pass along party lines. You know, what I will say, though, is that the White House has been very clear that it sees the president's economic agenda moving forward through a two-track process. So, you know, what happens with this infrastructure deal in Congress is certainly a key part of that two-track process.

CHANG: OK. Well, as you so clearly laid out, today's vote was a procedural step for this infrastructure package. What happens next?

KHALID: Well, the main Democratic and Republican negotiators did put out a statement after the vote saying that they are, quote, "close to a final agreement." One issue that the original deal dealt with that has become a sticking point is the issue of stepped-up tax enforcement as a way to pay for this all. That would allow the IRS to just bring in more money. Some Republicans have been loathe to that suggestion. So, you know, now negotiators do need to figure out a new funding mechanism. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer can bring up this infrastructure bill at any point now moving forward. That could happen as early as next week. But either way, Ailsa, I will say no matter what the timeline is, we will certainly be talking about infrastructure in Congress yet again very soon.

CHANG: I'm sure we will. That was NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid.

Thank you, Asma.

KHALID: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.