U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Seattle’s Democratic representative in Congress, has become a major player in Washington, D.C., by being a calmly articulate and collegial leader who can explain progressive ideas in a way that makes them sound like common sense.
Now serving her third term in the U.S. House of Representatives, she is chair of the 96-member Congressional Progressive Caucus. In that role, she has effectively held the line against efforts to unlink President Joe Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure legislation from his very ambitious $3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” bill that would hike taxes on the very wealthy, establish free community college, provide child care and paid family leave, expand Medicare and institute serious efforts to combat climate change.
With 96 votes in her pocket, Jayapal will play a key role in the success or failure of the president’s legislative agenda. However, with just one vote, Arizona’s Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema may hold equal sway over Biden’s fate. The Senate is split 50-50, so Biden needs the Democratic caucus to be unanimous in support of his objectives. Sinema, though — like West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin — is not a fan of the big bill that Jayapal has been defending, and nothing can happen without her vote.
What Sinema wants, instead, is unclear. Unlike Jayapal, the senator — nicknamed “the sphinx from Phoenix” — has been opaque about her intentions, her goals and her complaints. She has skipped out of town in the midst of negotiations over the two linked bills and has shunned reporters. Meanwhile, Jayapal has been all over TV doing interviews and all over the Capitol working for a deal.
Chances are that, in this current intraparty squabble, Sinema’s recalcitrance will force a steep reduction from the $3.5 trillion that progressives want and Jayapal will be forced to convince her colleagues on the left that it is better to accept less than they desire rather than end up with nothing. If that happens, it may be a small victory for Sinema’s maverick moderation, but the political future looks far brighter for Jayapal than Sinema.
The Arizona senator has infuriated her fellow Democrats with her shenanigans, and she is likely to face opposition in the Democratic primary when she is up for reelection in 2024. Even if she beats back a challenge from within her party, she will be weakened when she faces a Republican opponent in a state that still leans conservative.
Jayapal, on the other hand, represents a district that is so heavily Democratic that she can probably stay in office as long as she wishes. And, given her popularity with House progressives and the respect she commands from House moderates, it is not hard to imagine her as a future Speaker of the House.
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