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Black lawmakers just gave Biden a big win. It’s time for Democrats to pay up.

Congressional Black Caucus members urged progressives to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill. What will Black people get in return?


With passage of President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill hanging in the balance, establishment Democrats tapped a familiar ally to shore up support for the proposed legislation ahead of last week’s vote: Black people.

Just as Rep. James Clyburn — a prominent Black Democrat from South Carolina — helped Biden clinch the party’s presidential nomination with his endorsement last year, the Congressional Black Caucus proved vital in getting Biden's crowning legislative achievement passed last week, according to a New York Times report published Saturday.

Yet again, Team Biden was saved by Black lawmakers. And now — with billions of dollars approved for infrastructure spending — it’s time for the administration to pay more than lip service.

Rep. Joyce Beatty speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill
Rep. Joyce Beatty, Chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, speaks during a news conference on the inclusion of Black policy priorities in the "Build Back Better" agenda and the bipartisan infrastructure bill on October 27.Jose Luis Magana / Associated Press

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., leaned on the caucus to convince House progressives to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better spending bill separately, a move many progressives opposed, the Times reported. Caucus members came up with the idea to both pass the infrastructure bill moderates wanted and hold a procedural vote on Build Back Better bill Friday to assuage progressive concerns. 

Here’s how the Times described negotiations last week: 

Ms. Pelosi agreed to the deal and then, tellingly, sent the low-key chairwoman of the Black Caucus, Representative Joyce Beatty of Ohio, out to waiting reporters to tell the world. In effect, the speaker had harnessed one faction of her unruly Democrats to win over two others, and she understood that the soft-spoken African American lawmaker might have had more influence at that point than she did.

Establishment Democrats essentially felt Black Democrats had a better chance of persuading progressives to budge on the bill, according to the report.

If Democrats aren’t careful, the cost of that gamesmanship may be the trust of Black and brown voters. A number of the progressives who wanted the infrastructure and social spending bills passed together felt this way specifically because the bill doesn’t do enough for Black and brown communities historically harmed by inequality. Just last week, Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri, one of six progressives who ultimately voted against the infrastructure bill, called Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin’s opposition to the plan “anti-Black, anti-child, anti-woman, and anti-immigrant.”

“Those same communities are overwhelmingly omitted from the bipartisan infrastructure bill,” Bush said.  

Pelosi was successful in passing the infrastructure, gaining some Black and brown support along the way. But they also trampled on Black and brown concerns. And those concerns aren’t going away. Democratic leaders need to show Black and brown voters the money to have any hope of success in the future. 

Either they’ll pay up now with ambitious social spending, or they’ll pay next fall with losses in the midterms. 

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