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Biden lacks the votes to advance the 2nd part of Build Back Better by the end of 2021

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

President Biden acknowledged tonight what has become clear in recent days - he does not have the votes in Congress to advance his health care, climate change and child care bill by the end of the year. Now, this is a major setback for the president and for congressional Democrats. They just celebrated a bipartisan infrastructure bill and hoped to pass this second piece of the Build Back Better agenda by Christmas. West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin is still not ready to vote yes, and because he's holding out for changes, Democrats have to regroup and potentially rework some key policies in the package.

NPR's Deirdre Walsh, who covers Congress, joins us now. And can we just start with the idea that this top domestic agenda item might officially be kind of dead in the water?

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Hey, Audie. It's not dead in the water, but it's clearly stalled indefinitely. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, as you said, has been repeatedly saying he wanted to vote on the bill by Christmas. But he needs all 50 Democrats to pass it, and he's just not there yet.

In a statement released early tonight, President Biden said he talked to both Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about his negotiations with Senator Manchin. And the president said, quote, "we will advance this work together over the days and weeks ahead. Leader Schumer and I are determined to see the bill successfully on the floor as early as possible," end quote. But, I mean, the word weeks there shows you really that these issues between Biden and Manchin are still pretty significant, and it's going to take time.

CORNISH: I want to ask you about another topic. Democrats got a setback of sorts to their effort to reform immigration laws. Can you explain what happened?

WALSH: Yeah. I mean, it's really been a rough week for Senate Democrats. The Senate parliamentarian ruled today that Democrats can't include a provision in this spending bill that would've allowed undocumented immigrants to have work permits - immigrants who've been in the country since 2011. This would mean that they would be not threatened with deportation.

Top Senate Democrats released a joint statement saying that they disagreed with this ruling by the parliamentarian, and they're going to keep pressing for another way to get a path to citizenship in this package. But this was the third attempt to try to get some kind of immigration thing in this bill, and it seems really unlikely that any kind of broad immigration changes are going to be allowed under the rules.

CORNISH: I also don't want to forget another piece of legislation on voting rights. What's going on there?

WALSH: Well, Democrats have already started pivoting to talking about that, and it's also been a way that they sort of changed the subject today. A group of Senate Democrats talked to both Vice President Harris and President Biden today about this effort. They're trying to press ahead.

Minnesota Democrat told reporters that, you know, she's worried about efforts across the country to threaten election officials. And she talked about dozens of states trying to pass legislation that she thinks will suppress the vote. Here's Senator Klobuchar talking about the urgency on doing something now.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AMY KLOBUCHAR: You have got, literally, a breakdown that is pushed by the former president - a breakdown of our democracy. And we cannot say to the rest of the world, we're a beacon of democracy and say that with a straight face when this is going on.

WALSH: You know, but Democrats don't have the votes on this issue right now under the Senate rules. Republicans already blocked their voting rights bill this year. They would need 10 Republicans to agree to any legislation.

So Democrats are talking about some kind of carve-out to get around the Senate filibuster, but they're also going to need Manchin on this issue and another moderate, Arizona Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who's already signaled she has concerns about changing the Senate rules. So those negotiations will also continue, Audie.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Deirdre Walsh. Thanks so much.

WALSH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.