President Joe Biden said Tuesday he was “confident” a rail strike would be averted after meeting with four top congressional leaders, even though any senator could slow the process of passing legislation to avert such a strike — and at least one said he planned to do so.
“I’ve asked four of the top leaders in Congress if they’d like to come and talk about what we’re going to do between now and Christmas in terms of legislation, and there’s a lot more that needs to be done, including resolving the train strike.” Biden said he met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“It’s not an easy call, but I think we have to make it,” Biden said. “The economy is at risk.”
On Monday, Biden called on Congress to “immediately” pass legislation to avert a rail shutdown, formally approving the September a preliminary agreement approved by labor and management leaders. Rank-and-file members of four unions have rejected the deal and are poised to begin a railroad strike on Dec. 9 without a new labor contract or congressional action.
Biden, a longtime labor ally, worked with Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and other administration officials to help unions and management reach a tentative deal to avert a freight rail strike in September.
A rail strike could clog supply chains and send prices of essential goods such as gasoline and food soaring, slowing an economy many fear is headed for recession. It could also cost the U.S. economy $1 billion in the first week alone, according to an analysis by Anderson Economic Group.
Michael Baldwin, president of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, one of four unions whose members voted against the deal, said Tuesday that Biden had failed the union and its members.
“We are trying to solve the problem of sick time. It’s very important,” Michael Baldwin, president of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, told CNN’s Jim Sciutto on the Newsroom. “This action prevents us from reaching the end of the process.” It takes away the strength and ability we have to negotiate or put the railroads into a situation to actually do the right thing.
Pelosi said Tuesday that the House could vote as early as Wednesday on legislation that would pass the Sept. a tentative agreement and would avoid a possible rail strike. Once passed, the Senate could act later this week or next week, multiple Senate sources told CNN. The Senate is expected to have the votes to defeat the bill to avert a possible rail strike, Senate sources also said. At least 10 Republicans are likely to vote with the majority of Senate Democrats to pass the 60-vote threshold.
After the meeting, McConnell expressed openness to support the legislation, telling reporters, “We have to pass the bill.”
But any senator can slow down the process, as agreements on timing to move on to legislation typically require unanimous consent from all 100 members of the chamber. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who aligns with Democrats, criticized the proposed deal to avert a railroad strike on Tuesday. Sanders took to Twitter Tuesday afternoon to repeat his threat to slow the railroad measures unless he votes on the sick leave.
“At a time of record profits in the rail industry, it is unacceptable that rail workers have ZERO guaranteed paid sick days. I intend to block railroad legislation pending a roll call vote to guarantee 7 paid sick days for railroad workers in America,” he wrote.
Any member can delay the snap vote and possibly delay final action until Dec. 9 to avoid a strike.
Some Republicans remain skeptical of congressional intervention, saying they would prefer to see the issue handled administratively.
Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a frequent voter, told CNN the measure “deserves careful consideration.”
“I will wait and listen to the debate today at lunch before I make any conclusions,” she said.
Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, a member of the GOP leadership, also told CNN that she was still evaluating the plan.