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John Podesta warns Democrats they won't get the "full $3.5 trillion investment" and urges them "to unite" in moving forward

In a memo sent to every Democratic congressional office, John Podesta, a former White House chief of staff and member of the Board of Directors at the Center for American Progress think tank, says the party "must unite and act together" to pass the president's domestic agenda — but at a size and price much smaller than many have in mind.

"The political reality is clear, given Democrats have no margin for error in the Senate and a limited margin in the House. We will not secure the full $3.5 trillion investment," he wrote. "It's time for Democrats to unite in finding the path forward." 

FILE: John Podesta CBS News screen grab

Singling out the moderate Democrats who are more focused on moving the smaller infrastructure bill, Podesta said, "[T]o those Democrats who only favor the bipartisan infrastructure bill, know this: you are either getting both bills or neither –– and the prospect of neither is unconscionable. It would signal a complete and utter failure of our democratic duty, and a reckless abdication of our responsibility. It would define our generation's history and show that, when our time came, we failed, both for Americans now and in the years to come. Again, it's time for Democrats to unite, find an honorable compromise and a path forward."

His memo landed in congressional inboxes as the fate of President Biden's domestic agenda — and potentially the credit rating of the U.S. — hang in the balance. Democrats are feuding among themselves about the size and scope of the Biden "Build Back Better" agenda that is set to be squeezed into a massive budget bill and passed only with Democratic support. Meanwhile, the largest bipartisan infrastructure spending bill in nearly two decades awaits final passage in the House, where it's being held in reserve to coax moderate and liberal Democrats to agree on the larger budget plan.

He pointed out that the consequences of failing to pass the legislation would be devastating both economically for American families and for the climate — both issues addressed by the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill. 

And Podesta also reminded them that there would be political fallout: "Republicans will have ample ammunition to skewer their opponents, and Democrats will lose. Our majority, thin now, will be a thing of the past."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this week also advised her Democratic colleagues that they "must be prepared for adjustments" and that she had promised "that we would not have House members vote for a bill with a higher topline than would be passed by the Senate." She was hopeful that "will be at the $3.5 trillion number."

As the disagreements continue to spill out into the open, the president is set to hold three separate White House meetings Wednesday with Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer; then a midafternoon gathering with a collection of House and Senate moderates; followed by a late afternoon confab with House and Senate liberals.

Read Podesta's letter here:

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