Kevin McCarthy’s strange, new definition of ‘bipartisan’

September 20, 2013

After Friday's House vote to fund the government but defund Obamacare, Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) made a bold claim.

"It wasn't just a group of Republicans," McCarthy said of the budget's supporters. "It was a bipartisan vote." McCarthy then repeated the statement for emphasis, urging all the reporters in the room to take note.


From left, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Speaker John Boehner and Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

McCarthy's justification was clear: Two conservative Democrats -- Reps. Jim Matheson of Utah and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina -- voted for the bill, along with all but one Republican.

So, in the most technical of all senses, he was correct.

But if that’s the new standard for “bipartisanship” in Congress, then let’s apply McCarthy’s definition to a whole bunch of other divisive bills…

1) The "cap and trade" climate change bill, which got the support of eight House Republicans in 2009

2) The DREAM Act, which got the support of three Senate Republicans and eight House Republicans in 2010

3) The 2009 stimulus package, which was supported by a trio of moderate Republican senators: Maine's Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. (Specter later became a Democrat.)

And, finally...

4) The first Obamacare vote, which got the support of one House Republican: then-Rep. Joseph Cao (La.). (Cao, who represented a heavily Democratic New Orleans-based district for one term after a fluke victory in 2008, later voted against the final version of Obamacare.)

All of these votes, according to such logic, would be considered bipartisan.

As with Cao, Matheson and McIntyre represent districts that, by all rights, should be held by the other party. Their opposition to Obamacare and decisions to cross party lines have everything to do with their districts and very little -- if anything -- to do with bipartisanship.

Now, McCarthy is hardly the first politician to appropriate the word "bipartisan" for something that appears to be everything but. Then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in 2010, for example, that Obamacare might be considered "bipartisan" even if no Republicans voted for it.

But for a public that often expresses a desire for more bipartisanship, this probably isn't what it had in mind.

Updated at 2:05 p.m.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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