The ‘Tug Of War’ Over President Biden’s First Big Speech To Congress

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THE WEST WING: President Biden is set to deliver his first address to a joint session of Congress (the presidential freshman year equivalent of the annual State of the Union) on Wednesday night. Biden is expected to push his “American Families Plan,” which includes a suite of programs like paid parental leave, free community college, and national childcare programs.

The “big question,” according to The Uprising’s sources on the Hill, is whether the prescription pricing bill H.R. 3 will be included. The legislation, which would allow the government to negotiate prices for certain widely used drugs, is a top priority for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“It is Nancy’s baby. She really loves that prescription drug price bill,” a senior House staffer said, adding that it “polls insanely well.” Another staffer called it Pelosi’s “pet project.” 

Pelosi has taken clear steps to have the measure included in Biden’s big speech. The staffer noted that the reintroduction of the legislation last week, which was renamed for the late congressman Elijah Cummings, was “rushed” so that it would be ready ahead of the speech. A Pelosi spokesperson subsequently issued a statement saying “we expect it to be part of the American Families Plan.” 

Behind the scenes, despite the confident projections of Pelosi’s office, the White House is not yet on board with adding the bill to Biden’s agenda. The staffer described the situation as a “tug of war” between the president’s team and Pelosi’s and a Hill source described Pelosi’s public statement promising as “the equivalent of a ‘Sherman tank’ approach.”

“It was certainly a flex,” the source said, adding that Pelosi “does nothing by accident.” 

Part of the issue for the White House seems to be that the bill has dim prospects in the Senate and isn’t fully supported by Pelosi’s House caucus. That makes it unattractive for Biden as he’s seeking legislative wins. Another staffer who talked to The Uprising said there’s opposition from “both progressives and moderates.” 

Multiple sources said progressives want to see more drugs included in the bill while the moderates are concerned about pharmaceutical industry objections. Nevertheless, the Hill source predicted Pelosi wouldn’t get behind the measure like this unless she was confident it could pass and suggested that the White House should defer to her instincts on internal House matters. 

Supporters of the legislation say the savings from drug price negotiations will be pumped into research and development whereas pharmaceutical companies would use the money to pad executives’ wallets. But a senior staffer for a moderate Democrat, meanwhile, said the issue was “way more complex” than the bill’s backers on Pelosi’s team is “making it out to be.” They argued there actually is merit to the claims the legislation could hurt R&D. The staffer also conceded the pharmaceutical lobby has substantial sway in Washington. 

“Here’s the thing about H.R. 3: Someone in Pelosi’s office had a really great messaging idea, which is, ‘Let’s lower prescription drug prices’ ... but no one thought to loop in pharma. For better or worse, pharma still has a lot of power,” the staffer said.  

With all of the intrigue, whether or not the legislation is included in President Biden’s first speech to Congress tomorrow night will be a key detail to watch out for. 

EXCLUSIVE: The Uprising obtained documents showing lobbyists for the Saudi government monitored activists on U.S. soil in 2016. One of the activists told me they weren’t surprised since, “The world of Saudi Arabia is just swirling with government informants that make people so afraid, not only for what will happen to them, but of course, what will happen to their families back home.” Read the full story here.

ON THE TRAIL: With strong fundraising numbers, Nina Turner, a former co-chair of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, is emerging as a frontrunner in a crowded Ohio House race that’s widely seen as a test of progressive strength in the Biden era. 

Turner’s “Opportunity Agenda” platform provides a vivid example of the common ground between Biden and progressives as well as the areas where they remain apart. In an interview with The Uprising, Turner gave Biden credit for some progressive elements of his agenda, but also attributed that to pressure from activists and leaders.

“Those things came because progressives were out there fighting and pushing,” Turner asserted. “They didn’t happen by accident.”

Read the full interview here

FUN FACT: Saudi Arabia’s Abraj Al-Bait Royal Clock Tower is ranked on some lists as the third tallest building in the world. It’s a government-owned hotel complex located in the holy city of Mecca. The central tower features the world’s largest clock face and a Fairmont with a very solid rating on Tripadvisor. Like the rest of the city, the building is officially not open to non-Muslim visitors. 

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