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Biden's Strategy Will Be Put To The Test As House Democrats Prepare To Vote

NOEL KING, HOST:

All right, with us now is Dan Sena. He's a Democratic strategist and former executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Good morning, dear.

DAN SENA: Good morning.

KING: What is this delay in the infrastructure bill vote until Thursday say to you? What do you think's going on?

SENA: Well, you know, look; obviously, House Democrats had a very busy weekend with budget committee work. And I think the Democrats are very much laying out what is going to be probably the most important week of both the Biden administration and the House Democrats' leadership, and so I think the Democrats are taking a few minutes just to get all the ducks in a row for what's going to be an incredibly important 10-day span.

KING: President Biden met with Democratic lawmakers last week, trying to get support from both progressives and moderates. At this point, how real is the threat that some wing of the Democratic Party could blow up Biden's agenda?

SENA: Well, I think the important piece to remember about the caucus is that the House battlefield, the defense of the battlefield itself or the defense of the majority, runs so heavily through suburban districts, from Houston to Dallas to Orange County, Calif., all the way down to Miami. And so it is a diverse coalition that is really the Democratic caucus. And an awful lot of these suburban districts are relatively fiscally conservative. You know, folks move to the suburbs for a bit more security. So I think this is really more about ensuring that those front-liners and those most vulnerable Democrats, as we look past this week and look towards the defense of the House, are in a place where what they are delivering on for their constituents is defendable.

KING: Is what you're saying that progressives need to back off a little bit?

SENA: Well, I think it's less about progressives having to back off, and I think it's really just more about the coalition - excuse me, the caucus coming together in a way that both supports what can get done in the Senate but also is able to achieve what the president is looking to do.

KING: What do you think Nancy Pelosi should be doing this week or right now, as we speak?

SENA: Well, that's a great question. Well, first of all, we should never, ever, ever, ever underestimate Nancy Pelosi. She is by far the most gifted politician and operative in - really, in Washington, D.C. And so the most important thing that she needs to do is really ensure that those front-liners, those folks who are going to be attacked repeatedly - you know, Republicans across the country are already up attacking Democrats on television in most of these districts. And so - and unfortunately, it's just not going to stop. So when these folks go home, they just have a very different set of constituencies and set of concerns that they're dealing with. And so I think the very first thing she's got to do is ensure that those most vulnerable Democrats are on board and feeling comfortable with the plan moving forward.

KING: It will be asked and so let me ask you - did President Biden overreach? Is $3.5 trillion for social programs just too much?

SENA: Well, I think one of the challenges we have is, coming out of - and it was similar to post-9/11 - is that the standards by which we gauged everything politically changed. And I think COVID itself and a post-Trump presidency itself have changed the standards by which we have to sort of measure progress in the role of government. And I think, you know, one of the challenges and opportunities that the Biden administration has is redefining what that role of government looks like and how it impacts, in particular, working-class voters across the country. And so I think it has more to do with the redefinition of government and what the government can do for you than any real overreach. Clearly, the Democrats have to be very, very - they - very, very careful, in particular, in these suburban districts with not overreaching. But I really think it's more about reestablishing what the definition of what a post-COVID government looks like.

KING: You know, President Biden, obviously, promised to get things done when he was elected, and here we are in a moment that feels a little bit like a crisis.

SENA: Sure.

KING: What does it say about him that these two bills could be scuttled?

SENA: Well, look; I think this is probably the most important week of his presidency. And I can't stress to your listeners just how important in 2017 it was to us, nationally, when the Republicans really fumbled health care over and over again. And they controlled all three branches. And so, you know, that changed the political winds in 2017 that ultimately led the Democrats to being able to take back the House. So this is just an incredibly important, you know, next two weeks to 10-day span.

KING: How carefully are Democrats keeping an eye on the 2022 congressional elections, do you think?

SENA: Well, look; I think we're waiting on maps.

KING: Yeah.

SENA: You know, most states are still in the process of being able to put maps together. But look; the Republicans are already up spending against these Democrats. And in some degree, in some way - reelection - you know, the reelection for most of these House members actually starts this week.

KING: Do you think we are looking at a shutdown?

SENA: No, I think the Democrats will do everything in their power to avoid the shutdown. I think the more important piece for this is the Democrats' ability to pivot out of this week and really begin to define what infrastructure means for Americans. I think that's the real challenge moving forward.

KING: OK. Democratic strategist Dan Sena. Thanks so much for taking the time. We appreciate it.

SENA: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.