The double-cross system

It’s hard to believe that a Senator as sophisticated as Rob Portman is a knowing participant in the double-cross system that has been presented to us under the rubric of a “bipartisan deal.” What’s the deal? The editors of the Wall Street Journal describe it bluntly as a “double cross” in their lead editorial (“Instant Bipartisan Double Cross”) this morning:

Mr. Biden stood with five Democratic and five Republican Senators at the White House and endorsed their trillion-dollar infrastructure outline. Back-slapping and self-plaudits all around. But two hours later the President said he won’t sign the infrastructure bill unless the Senate also passes the other $3 trillion or more he has proposed in tax increases and multiple new entitlement programs.

“What we agreed on today is what we could agree on. The physical infrastructure. There’s no agreement on the rest,” Mr. Biden said. “If this is the only thing that comes to me, I’m not signing it.” Mrs. Pelosi issued the same ultimatum: “We will not take up a bill in the House until the Senate passes the bipartisan bill and a reconciliation bill” (that could pass without GOP support).

Most politicians at least wait a decent interval to pull a double cross. But Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Biden are trying to prevent a revolt on the left. So they are now holding a bipartisan deal hostage to the left’s demands. This is political blackmail aimed at Democrats like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema who are part of the bipartisan Senate Gang of 10: Unless they sign on to all of the progressive tax-and-spend agenda, they won’t get their bipartisan deal. And Mr. Biden and progressives will blame them for the failure.

This is remarkable bad faith even for Washington…Thursday’s comments make clear this exercise isn’t bipartisan at all. The Pelosi-Biden political goal is to use this Senate deal as leverage to jam through the rest of their progressive wish list.

The question is why Senate Republicans would sign on to this deal when they are being told to their faces they’ll be double-crossed.

I might hypothesize that Biden had forgotten the alleged “deal” before he undertook his whispering campaign two hours later, but we need to account for the Republican Senators. The Journal assumes that the Republican Senators know what they are doing.

That seems a little harsh. Manhattan Institute Brian Riedl asserts in the New York Post that “GOP is being fooled by this infrastructure ‘deal.'”

Despite the headline, Riedl’s column itself sits uneasily between the two hypotheses. Fooled or fools, or willing tools? That is the question and those seem to me to exhaust the possibilities.

UPDATE: Politico Playbook adds the comments of Senator Graham. Analyze this:

We caught up with Sen. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-S.C.) on Thursday night as he was boarding a plane to California. Graham, you may remember, is one of the 11 Republicans who signed onto the original bipartisan infrastructure framework, which seemed to prove that there were enough Republicans to overcome a filibuster.

Notably, there were only five of those Republicans at the White House on Thursday. This deal is dead without at least five more.

After hearing what Biden said about linking the small bipartisan bill to the big reconciliation bill, Graham told us … he’s out.

“If he’s gonna tie them together, he can forget it!” Graham said. “I’m not doing that. That’s extortion! I’m not going to do that. The Dems are being told you can’t get your bipartisan work product passed unless you sign on to what the left wants, and I’m not playing that game.”

Graham said the five Republicans negotiating the deal never told him about the linkage strategy and he does not believe that they were aware of it. “Most Republicans could not have known that,” he said. “There’s no way. You look like a [expletive deleted] idiot now.” He added, “I don’t mind bipartisanship, but I’m not going to do a suicide mission.”

Graham often changes his mind, so Republicans close to the negotiations may take his comments with a grain of salt. But at the same time, Republicans who want this deal to happen believe Biden created a massive problem that could put the entire deal in jeopardy.

“The president’s comments did real damage here,” said a senior GOP aide. “It is astonishing that he could endorse this bipartisan framework in one breath and then announce he will hold it hostage in the next.”

Graham’s comments also situate us uncomfortably among the possibilities.

Responses