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Rep. Pramila Jayapal on what led her to throw support behind infrastructure bill


As we just heard, the passage on Friday of the House Democrats' trillion dollar infrastructure package was the end result of months of negotiations as the White House, congressional progressives and more conservative lawmakers wrestled over the scope of the bill. At the center of those negotiations was Democratic Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of Washington. She is the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and she's here with us to tell us more.

Congresswoman, thank you so much for joining us.

PRAMILA JAYAPAL: Thank you, Michel, for having me.

MARTIN: How do you feel?

JAYAPAL: I feel so good. This is really a victory for the country. We delivered this trillion dollar infrastructure package. The president is going to sign that. And we will make sure that our roads and bridges, our clean drinking water - you know, we're going to have investments in ports, electric vehicle charging stations. It is really a comprehensive bill. But equally important, Michel, and the thing that progressives were fighting for is we passed the rule for the Build Back Better Act, which is a historic, transformational investment in child care, pre-K, climate change, health care, immigration, housing. And that will now - we now have a commitment from everyone in our caucus that that bill will move forward in 10 days and go to the Senate.

MARTIN: So let me ask you about that because you obviously support what is in the infrastructure bill. You've made that clear. But before yesterday, you and other progressive House members had held out support for the bill that just passed because you wanted it to pass alongside the other bill that you referenced. So what got you to finally - you and other members to support this bill?

JAYAPAL: Well, you know, over the last month, we were nowhere on the Build Back Better Act. And the push was to pass the infrastructure bill without the Build Back Better bill. And so we had to hold it up twice, and I know that was frustrating for some people. But what we got over the last 3 1/2 weeks was truly remarkable. Because we tied them together, we got actual legislative text. We got everybody in the caucus to agree to moving it forward. And we got a vote on the rule so that the Build Back Better Act will move forward to the Senate.

And that's - what we've been waiting to deliver all this time is make sure that the Build Back Better bill is as transformational as possible and moves forward. And, Michel, let me just add that just in the last week alone, we were able to add back in to the Build Back Better Act paid family leave, of course, not at the level we want, but we will get an investment in paid family leave, an agreement on prescription drug pricing and agreement on immigration and making sure we lift up our immigrant essential workers that have been lifting up this country.

MARTIN: So that's interesting. You know, 13 Republicans joined in voting for this bill, but six members of the Progressive Caucus did not. Was there some agreement that they could withhold their votes because you had sufficient numbers from more conservative members, including these Republicans?

JAYAPAL: Yes, that's exactly right. We delivered the number of votes that we needed to get it across the finish line. And frankly, the six of them voting no also pushed more Republicans to vote yes. I mean, if this is going to be bipartisan, then let's put Republicans on the hook as well, make sure that they vote for this. And I think that is part of what happened.

MARTIN: So like I said, the other major package you've been talking about, which has not yet passed, focuses on social safety net programs and climate change. The more conservative members who have been resisting this bill are waiting on a full spending analysis from the Congressional Budget Office, which could take at least another week. With so many deadlines having come and gone, what makes you confident that this will actually get done?

JAYAPAL: Well, in the agreement that we reached - and they released a statement to this effect. It says that they will get this information that they're looking for. But no matter what, the bill will move forward no later than the week of November 15. So we are now all committed to this timeline. I trust they are going to keep their side of the bargain. We looked each other in the eyes. They told me that they would, and I believe them. So it will move forward in about 10 days. Hopefully, at the beginning of that week, we can send it over to the Senate - a very strong bill. And the Senate can then do their work. And, look, I'm even hoping, Michel, that we could try to get it done before Thanksgiving.

MARTIN: So let's talk about what's actually in the bill. And why don't we just focus on your state and Washington state? You represent a district, including Seattle and some surrounding areas. Do you have a sense of what this bill will mean for your constituents?

JAYAPAL: Absolutely. Well, first of all, it delivers the largest federal investment in public transit in American history. And in Washington state, that means $5 billion for Washington's highways. It makes the largest dedicated bridge investment since the mid-1900s, Michel. And for Washington state, that means $600 million for bridges. There's the largest federal investment in public transportation, nearly $90 billion for the next five years. And for my state, that means $380 million for public transit.

And there's just so much more. There's clean energy and infrastructure, climate resilience, ports, the largest ever investment, Michel, in clean drinking water and wastewater and high-speed internet. I mean, it is going to make a huge difference for our country and certainly for my district.

MARTIN: You know, and this all goes - this is all going on against the backdrop of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26, which is underway right now in Glasgow, Scotland. Looking at the infrastructure bill and the bill that is yet to be voted on, do you think the United States is doing enough to establish itself as a world leader on climate?

JAYAPAL: Well, that's why it was so important that we hold out to get the Build Back Better Act through because the Build Back Better Act is the one that has half a trillion dollars into investments that are actually going to reduce carbon emissions. That is - the thing that we have to contend with is the reduction of carbon emissions. And, you know, frankly, that bill has been held up for a long time in the Senate by a couple of senators. But I believe that what we have now in the bill will lead to the kinds of significant carbon emissions reductions that the president has promised the world.

And between that and the things that are in the infrastructure bill, it will be over a trillion dollars that we're going to invest into taking on climate change. But without the Build Back Better Act, we would have not been able to hold our head up. And we still have to pass that. So that's - the pressure now is let's get the Build Back Better Act done. And I think we'll be able to really, truly say that the United States is serious about leading the world in carbon emissions reductions.

MARTIN: That was Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal. She is a Democrat. She is the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Congresswoman Jayapal, thank you so much for talking with us today.

JAYAPAL: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.