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Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley On The Rocky Path Forward For Infrastructure Bill

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Well, it has taken months of negotiations, but today, the Senate passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package. It would rebuild roads, modernize the country's aging power grid and provide broadband to rural communities. Here's Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: There were many logs in our path, detours along the way, but the American people will now see the most robust injection of funds into infrastructure in decades.

CHANG: Well, the path for this bill could be rockier in the House. Joining us now to talk about the way forward is Democratic Representative Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.

Welcome.

AYANNA PRESSLEY: Thank you.

CHANG: All right. So this infrastructure bill would be the largest investment of its kind in more than a decade. But we are still hearing many progressive Democrats say it's still too narrow. I mean, what's missing from the bill, in your view?

PRESSLEY: Well, you know, we find ourselves at - in unprecedented times, and it's up to us to meet the moment. And my progressive colleagues and I, we've been calling for bold investments that meet the moment, so an unprecedented investment at an unprecedented time at an inflection point for our country. And that means making bold, robust investments both in human and physical infrastructure. Care is infrastructure.

CHANG: So what bold investments are missing from this bill?

PRESSLEY: Well, care is infrastructure, climate justice is infrastructure, housing is infrastructure. So this is what I want to see as we negotiate these packages, moving in tandem consistent with the original deal. So it's a welcome step forward.

CHANG: At this point, would you vote against this infrastructure bill?

PRESSLEY: I'll make a decision when it's time to vote, you know, when there's a bill in front of me. But what progressives have been clear about since day one, as has President Biden, as has Democratic leadership, is that any vote on the narrow bipartisan infrastructure package must also come with a movement on a massive investment in tandem for workers and families. And that's care economy, housing, combating climate change and a pathway to citizenship for millions of our immigrant neighbors. To meet the moment, to be responsive to the needs of the people, we have to be bold, and we can't tinker at the edges. And in fact, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, we did send a letter to leadership today reiterating that...

CHANG: Right.

PRESSLEY: ...Consistent with our position for months now.

CHANG: So you are referring to a separate $3.5 trillion budget framework. This is a plan with investments in child care, family leave, climate change measures. I'm curious - does the version - is the version that you see now enough? Does it go far enough for you and other progressive Democrats?

PRESSLEY: Look, I'm going to keep fighting, you know, to be as big and as bold and to make investments that are as deep as the hurt and hardship that everyone who calls this country home has experienced. If we're serious about a just, equitable and robust recovery, it means making these sorts of bold investments and a sweeping package that meets the moment. So I'm encouraged that this resolution will include investments in things like the care economy and housing and paid leave and a pathway to citizenship for our immigrant neighbors because these are the things that we've been fighting for.

CHANG: I hear you that you are looking for big, bold measures to meet the moment, but there are certain moderate Democrats who are saying that they are concerned about the level of spending that's in the $3.5 trillion package. Do you think it is worth torpedoing this entire infrastructure bill if that larger $3.5 trillion package does not end up passing in the Senate?

PRESSLEY: Again, progressive Speaker Pelosi and President Biden have been clear and consistent since day one. We have to move these packages in tandem, period. And that's the only way that the vote count actually works. And let me just, you know, pick up on that point...

CHANG: Right, but you can't ignore the math in the Senate. To get the $3.5 trillion package through, you need the moderate Democrats, who are expressing concern now. So could you end up with nothing in the end if you make these bills move in tandem, as you say?

PRESSLEY: I expect that we will honor the original terms of the deal. And to pick up on your point more specifically, this is not torpedoing. There's nothing obstructionist. There is a - this is a powerful progressive caucus which seeks to advance care economy priorities that have been heralded by President Biden and, most importantly, by our constituents. So I'm focused on - you know, I work in Washington, but I work for the people. And I need to be responsive to the needs of the people. And we've been consistent throughout with the original terms. And that's why the Progressive Caucus sent a leader to - a letter to House leadership today reiterating our consistent position...

CHANG: Right.

PRESSLEY: ...That we stick to the terms of the deal and advance both of these bills in concert. Care is infrastructure just like roads and bridges are.

CHANG: But if I may, looking ahead to the midterms, House Democrats have a tiny margin. And as we've talked about, some of the moderates who helped give your party the majority have concerns about the larger spending package. Are you at all worried that if progressives push for even more government spending, that could endanger your majority in 2022?

PRESSLEY: This is not just the progressives, this is the president and the speaker who are both committed publicly to advancing a bold reconciliation package alongside any more narrow infrastructure deal. And I fully expect them to follow through on that commitment. That's how we ensure that we keep the majority. It's honoring our word. It's keeping our promises. The ultimate persuasion is impact, and we need to deliver for the American people.

CHANG: That is Democrat Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts. Thank you very much for joining us today.

PRESSLEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.