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Rep. Jayapal on negotiations between Biden and House Democrats over Build Back Better

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Democratic lawmakers visited the White House today, trying once again to find common ground on President Biden's signature domestic proposals. The House was supposed to vote on two big packages weeks ago - the trillion-dollar infrastructure deal and the $3.5 trillion budget framework. Things fell apart when moderates and progressives couldn't agree on the size of the bigger deal, and they've been trying to compromise ever since. Time is running out.

Washington state Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal is chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. She was at that White House meeting today and joins us now.

Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

PRAMILA JAYAPAL: Thank you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: After you met with President Biden and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, you said you are confident about the prospects for a deal on the reconciliation package. What did you hear in that meeting that gives you that confidence?

JAYAPAL: Well, Ari, you know, we've been in a series of meetings. I had a meeting with the president yesterday as well, and then a two-hour meeting today with my colleagues. And I think that we had identified a number of priorities - five key priorities - for the Progressive Caucus. And the president went through - and really went through each priority. And I feel like we are going to be able to see substantial movement on each of these priorities in the package as it's envisioned. And he also was supportive of the position we laid out a couple of weeks ago that we would prefer if we have to lower the price tag to just do some of these things for a shorter period of time but still have more of the transformative investments. And we heard all of that today, and we feel good that we can get to a resolution.

SHAPIRO: I know you've also been talking with Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, who is one of the most prominent voices pushing for a smaller package. Are you confident that he would agree with the kinds of progressive priorities that you're saying will likely be included in a final deal?

JAYAPAL: Well, the interesting thing about all of our priorities is I think they're the American people's priorities. They're incredibly popular - child care pre-K, making sure we have paid leave for families, making sure that we take on the climate crisis that we're facing today, housing crisis that we're facing today and, of course, immigration...

SHAPIRO: But the question is whether Democrats can get 50 votes in the Senate to make that law. Do you think Senator Manchin would be on board with that, whether or not the American people are?

JAYAPAL: I think so. I mean, this was what the president has been negotiating. This is what he's trying to get to with both Senator Manchin and Sinema. The rest of the caucus agrees that this is what we should do, but we understand we've got to get them on board. And the president, I think, is working very hard to get there.

SHAPIRO: Now, you said the final package is likely to include many progressive priorities, but it looks like it will drop by about a trillion dollars in size. And so beyond these programs lasting for a shorter period of time, is there anything that you are looking at dropping altogether that might be tough for you to see it go?

JAYAPAL: Not out of our priorities. I'm happy to say our priorities are all in there. There are some other things, though, like, you know, two years of free community college. That was something that was very important to us, but it wasn't on our five priorities list. I think we're going to have a hard go of that one. I know it's something the first lady cares a lot about, but we can't fit everything in here. So there's a couple of things like that, but I'm really proud that our five priorities are largely going to stay in here.

SHAPIRO: Let's talk about the climate provisions because a key part of the climate legislation, the Clean Electricity Performance Program, has been in doubt here. Coming out of this meeting, you said you are hopeful you can come to an agreement on these provisions. Does that include the Clean Electricity Performance Program or not?

JAYAPAL: It does not at this point. And I think we are still looking to see what replaces that. And I think that's going to be the question - how do we continue to make sure we bring down carbon emissions and, you know, bring them down to the levels that the president has articulated? And so that was something we talked about in the meeting. We don't have a final resolution on the climate piece. But I think that's the concern - we need to make sure that we are ultimately bringing down carbon emissions to the levels that the president is committed to and that we need to show the world that we can do.

SHAPIRO: Is it your view that something has to replace this Clean Electricity Performance Program in the package - otherwise, it's no deal? Or do you think there's a world in which this passes without the climate provisions?

JAYAPAL: No, there will be a significant investment in climate. There's no question about that. The question is how do the resources get distributed and how much is in there? And I think we're still working on those pieces. There is, of course, a substantial piece of clean energy tax credits that are important. But the question is what replaces the CEPP? And I think that is still a piece that we need to figure out.

SHAPIRO: And so ultimately, you sound optimistic, but not certain, that this will get done. If Democrats are not able to pass this ambitious package, what do you think your party's message to the American people should be when you all go back to your home districts?

JAYAPAL: We're going to pass it, Ari. I am very confident that we're going to pass it.

SHAPIRO: That's a very definitive statement - we are going to pass it.

JAYAPAL: We're going to pass it. And I've been saying that for weeks. We're going to pass both the infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better Act. And hopefully, we'll get it done, you know, very quickly. We've made tremendous progress already.

SHAPIRO: You did briefly just tell activists that it's wrong to say something is better than nothing. Do you still stand by that? Do you think that having something - anything - to show for is better than getting this not over the finish line?

JAYAPAL: What I said, Ari, is it's important to make sure our priorities are in there. Otherwise, we can't say something is better than nothing because these transformational things wouldn't be in there. Now I feel like our priorities are in there. And we have been negotiating, so it's more appropriate to say - you know, to talk about...

SHAPIRO: All right.

JAYAPAL: ...What we need to get done.

SHAPIRO: Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of Washington state.

Thank you so much.

JAYAPAL: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.