Infrastructure debate devolves into chaos; senators trade accusations of double-crossing


Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer on Friday was forced to delay a vote to begin debate on President Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure package as pandemonium broke out in the usually austere upper chamber.

Mr. Schumer, New York Democrat, had to referee lawmakers who accused one another of a double-cross with the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

The Senate eventually approved the motion in a 66-28 vote, but it only came after an intense back and forth across the aisle.

Most notably, Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell, Washington Democrat, threatened to derail the deal over broadband internet funding. She raised concerns that the deal steered too much money to rural areas over urban communities.

“They need to do more on affordability,” said Mrs. Cantwell, pushing for a focus on underserved urban communities rather than “rural issues.”

Authors of the deal say the flare-up is the result of outdated or inaccurate versions of the legislation circulating among lawmakers.

“There are different versions of the language that apparently are floating out there, none of them are accurate,” said Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican who was instrumental in hammering out the deal. “The only accurate one is ours.”

Sen. Bill Cassidy, another lawmaker who crafted the package, blamed lobbying groups for ratcheting up discord after having received an inaccurate version of the bill.

“There’s a version floating around downtown which is not the version we agreed upon,” said Mr. Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican.

Republicans also raised concerns about advancing the bill amid speculation that Mr. Schumer planned to substitute a different version of the legislation than that agreed to by the bipartisan group of negotiators.

The concern was fed, in part, by the fact that once a vote to begin debate takes place, lawmakers can offer amendments to the legislation. In some instances, an entire bill’s language is stripped out and replaced.

“We essentially heard that Democratic leadership was planning to do a bait and switch,” said a senior GOP aide.

Mr. Portman and others pushed back, saying they had received “personal assurances” from Mr. Schumer on the matter.

“He will not do that,” said Mr. Portman. “He’s going to wait and it’s going to be the [bipartisan] product, which was our agreement all along.”

The assurances from Mr. Portman were insufficient for some Republicans, and Mr. Schumer’s staff followed up with vigorous denials that Democrats were plotting a double-cross.

“Schumer agreed from the beginning [that] the substitute will be the agreed-to text from the bipartisan group,” said a Democratic aide. “That’s still the case.”

The confusion underscores the distrust lingering among lawmakers over the negotiations, a situation only made worse because the final bill text is not yet available.

“There’s a lot of other new things that have been added and as of right now, nobody’s seen it,” said Senate Republican Whip John Thune of South Dakota. “So it just makes it really hard to … figure out a path forward until you have text, but I think that’s the challenge we’re dealing with right now.”

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