Vice President Kamala Harris and the bipartisan infrastructure law

Surrounded by lawmakers from both sides and Vice President Kamala Harris, Joe Biden celebrated his presidency’s biggest victory to date, signing the bipartisan $ 1,000 billion infrastructure bill last month.

“It’s a big deal,” the president said, referring to something he said more than a decade ago as vice president, when President Obama signed his landmark healthcare law. health.

President Biden signs bipartisan infrastructure bill
FILE: WASHINGTON, DC – NOVEMBER 15: President Biden (C) signs HR 3684, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House on November 15, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Chen Mengtong / Chinese News Service via Getty Images

Mr. Biden’s turn as second in command received largely positive reviews. Vice Presidential Researcher Joel K. Goldstein assessment shortly after Mr. Biden left office was that he had been “extraordinary,” praising Mr. Biden’s ability to exercise a high level of influence during both terms, with a broad portfolio that included the implementation of the Obama administration’s stimulus package and high-level budget negotiations with Hill’s Republicans.

Often times, the effectiveness of VPs “depends on acting in a way that conveys the internal perception that they are part of a team – not someone who is trying, you know, to cheat their own horn.” Goldstein told CBS News.

As Harris prepares to enter her second year in office, she faces political and political headwinds – like multiple departures of high-level personnel and the open and somewhat inextricable political missions with which she has been entrusted. Advancing voting rights and tackling the root causes of southern border migration are almost certainly destined to be issues that endure beyond his tenure.

Recently, she embarked on a more concrete project: participating in the enhancement of the law signing the administration on infrastructure.

So what did the vice president do to help pass it?

A lot – or not a lot – depending on who you ask.

Several Congressional Republican advisers directly involved in negotiations for the final framework of the bill told CBS News that Harris had no involvement in the meetings on Capitol Hill, “where all negotiations took place.” Assistants said Harris had attended at least two “lip service” meetings at the White House.

“I’m sure she and her staff relayed their support for various things to Democratic negotiators, but she was not involved in any direct negotiations,” said an aide to a Republican senator involved in the negotiations.

White House officials and their allies tell a different story.

They characterize Harris as a behind-the-scenes actor who quietly pushed several environmental arrangements she worked on as a Senator: funding electric school buses, fighting wildfires and droughts in the West, and replacing water pipes in the West. lead water.

As a senator, Harris introduced legislation dealing with each of these issues, but none became law. Throughout his Senate career, Republicans controlled the Senate and the White House. But Harris’s allies said the failed bills formed the basis of the infrastructure bill’s environmental provisions.

“Because she was working on these topics in the Senate, she knows, on a tactical level, where our caucus members and caucus members are across the aisle are.” Ali Zaidi, the White House deputy national climate adviser said.

During the negotiations, White House officials said Harris engaged with lawmakers at least 150 times through calls, meetings and travel with members. His relationship in the Senate – and particularly with Republican members – is not as deep as that of President Biden, who served in the body for 36 years and chaired it as vice president for eight years.

There is one particular problem with the law that Democrats who spoke with CBS News pointed out when discussing Harris’ involvement. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire and one of the first senators to negotiate the measure, said in a statement to CBS News that Harris was a “key partner” in advancing funding for electric school buses.

The infrastructure law provides $ 5 billion over five years to wean the country’s school bus fleet from fossil fuels.

“She told people why it was so important that children in our communities were subjected to pollution from their own school buses,” Washington Senator Patty Murray of Washington said of Harris. Some 25 million children depend on school buses to transport them to school every day, according to government data.

Murray became a co-sponsor of the Clean School Bus Act after Harris, who introduced the bill, left the Senate.

Congresswoman Jahana Hayes, a Democrat from Connecticut, and author of the House Clean School Bus Act, said she and Harris discussed electric school buses at their first meeting in 2018. Hayes told CBS News that their conversations continued for the next three years, until the bill was passed.

“There have been a few times that [funding for clean buses] was on the table, off the table. ”Hayes said.“ But I’m convinced that the only reason the final text even became real legislation is because it was something that was important to the vice- President.”

Democrats CBS News spoke to for this story painted a portrait of a vice president who has shown a keen interest in issues familiar to him from his time as a California senator and state attorney general. They even point to legislation she wrote that went straight into the final bill.

For example, Congressman Jared Huffman, Democrat from California, worked with Harris on wildfire and drought resilience legislation during his tenure in the Senate. Huffman says elements of their work together were added to the final version of the bill.

“There was no House participation in these negotiations which produced the bipartite infrastructure framework, but major elements of the bills that we had developed together and which were ready to be incorporated into this agreement, because they needed pretty developed things, ”Huffman said.

This week, Harris made two announcements related to the implementation of the infrastructure law. On Thursday, she announced the administration’s plan to speed up the replacement of millions of remaining lead pipes in the United States. Lead is a neurotoxin and can enter drinking water when lead pipes corrode. Even low levels of exposure are linked to learning disabilities, hearing and nerve damage, and other health risks. On Monday, she touted the creation of a new office that will work to roll out electric vehicle infrastructure across the country.

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