Jayapal emerges as a powerful leader in Congress, forcing Biden leftward

By Arul Louis/IANS

Pramila Jayapal, the Indian-American leader of the progressive faction of the Democratic Party, has emerged as a powerful force in US politics, pushing President Joe Biden leftward after holding his signature multi-trillion-dollar programs hostage.

In Congress, where her party holds a slim majority, she shot down a plan carefully crafted by Speaker Nancy Pelosi to get moderates’ support by sequentially getting voted in the House Biden’s $1 trillion plan for the nation’s infrastructure and then another plan for over $3 trillion for wide-ranging social and climate change programs.

Jayapal heads the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), representing 95 of the 220 party members in the House. In addition, the CPC has one Senator (Bernie Sanders). Ro Khanna, another Indian-American, is its deputy whip.

Biden came to Congress last week and agreed with Jayapal putting the legislation in  a limbo even as party leaders try to work out a compromise.

In August, the Senate had passed the bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill known as the ‘American Jobs Plan (AJP)’ but hasn’t taken up the $3 trillion social program called the ‘American Family Plan (AFP)’ because of the opposition from the moderates over its cost and the range of programs from free community college education to care for children and seniors.

The CPC has refused to back the AJP in the House unless it first passes the AFP.

“It’s not about trusting the speaker, it’s not about trusting the President, it’s really about the vote as an ironclad assurance from the Senate” that the AFP would be passed, Jayapal said.

Moderates blamed Jayapal and the CPC for the failure to pass the AJP. Rep Josh Gottheimer, who worked on finding a compromise, criticized  Jayapal and her supporters for blocking the “president’s historic bipartisan infrastructure bill”.

As the stalemate in the Democratic side continues, Senator Joe Machin has offered to back a total package costing $1.5 trillion. But Jayapal has rejected the Manchin proposal as too small.

Jayapal, 56, was born in India, and is on her third term as a House member.

She had introduced a bill in 2019 demanding that India restore Kashmir’s special constitutional status that the Indian government had rescinded. She has also made statements critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and India. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar refused to meet with a House Foreign Affairs Committee that year because Jayapal was to be included in the meeting. Vice President Kamala Harris criticized Jaishankar’s decision.

Jayapal was born in Chennai in a Malayalee family and went to the US to study at age 16.

Politico said she broke into tears at a meeting with Biden when demanding that those working on farms, essential workers and those who came illegally to the US as children should get a chance to become citizens.

After spending two years in India on a fellowship she published her first book in 2000, “Pilgrimage to India: A Woman Revisits Her Homeland”.

Opposing legislation in Texas and proposals in others to limit access to abortions, Jayapal testified at a Congressional committee hearing that she had had an abortion but had not discussed it till two years ago “because as an immigrant from a culture that deeply values children and in a society that still stigmatizes abortion, suicide and mental health needs, I felt shame that I should never have felt”.

Image courtesy of (Photo courtesy UPI)

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