The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Why are Republicans touting parts of Biden’s covid relief plan?

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) celebrate after signing the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill on March 10. No Republican voted for the bill. (Alex Brandon/AP)

Not a single Republican lawmaker voted for the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, President Biden’s coronavirus relief package that doled out $1,400 checks for many Americans and provided aid to state and local governments, restaurants and businesses. The bill passed with only narrow majorities, each party stuck in its own corner.

Biden’s bill came just weeks after Congress had passed a coronavirus relief package under President Donald Trump, so many Republicans argued it was too much too soon. Of course, one cannot discount the idea that a change in presidents might have also had something to do with their votes.

Nevertheless, Republicans have been touting elements of the bill on Twitter and in news releases. Any big bill is going to have elements in it that might have, in other circumstances, won the support of lawmakers. Moreover, it might be worth letting constituents know about the potential largesse available from the federal government.

Some readers have noted how striking it is that none of these lawmakers acknowledge they are promoting something that they voted against.

Here’s a sampling. We reached out to the staff of each lawmaker and have added a comment if we received one. We grouped these examples into two categories — each with a different rating. That’s because we determined that some of these tweets are not objectionable.

Constituent services

The Restaurant Revitalization Fund is intended to help restaurants make up revenue they lost to the pandemic, up to $10 million per business and no more than $5 million per physical location. It is considered an important part of Biden’s rescue package.

Hannah Osantowske, communications director for Rep. Greg Pence (R-Ind.), responded quickly to our query about why Pence was tweeting about it: “We consistently direct constituents to information they may find useful. Congressman Pence is always looking for a silver lining hiding in a big lump of s--- if it helps out his constituents.”

“The Congresswoman is using her platform to inform her constituents of federal funds and resources available to them,” said Karoline Leavitt, communications director for Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.). “She did not claim to support the bill in the tweet, and her constituents deserve to know about federal programs they can apply for regardless of how she votes.”

Leavitt noted that Stefanik has issued a statement that she opposed the overall bill because much of it represented “a Far-Left’s policy wish list,” even though she had long advocated coronavirus relief for small businesses such as restaurants. Indeed, Stefanik had sponsored the Save Our Stages Act and co-sponsored the Restaurants Act of 2020, which had similar goals as the restaurant fund in Biden’s law. So she is on record as supporting this type of assistance.

“The Congresswoman supports the program but it was unfortunately included in a bill ladened with billions of dollars for Democratic pet projects and increased unemployment incentives that are currently causing restaurants to struggle to employ workers,” said Andrea Coker, communications director for Rep. Beth Van Duyne (R-Tex.). “Furthermore, the Congresswoman is actually planning on introducing legislation to increase oversight and accountability of this program to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent responsibly. She promoted this program to her constituents because it is her job as their representative to provide information about the resources available to them.”

In the minority report on the bill signed by Van Duyne, as a member of the Small Business Committee, Republicans noted that they had proposed boosting funding for the restaurant program from $25 billion to $40 billion, but Democrats had rejected that proposal.

“It’s now law and the Southwest Washington taxpayers she represents deserve to know about the program they are now paying for which was part of the 9 percent of actual COVID-related items in the so-called COVID relief bill — a bill she would have supported if it didn’t include tens of billions of dollars to states with enormous cash surpluses and other non-essential items,” said Craig Wheeler, communications director for Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.).

The Pinocchio Test

On balance, these tweets strike us as reasonable. Perhaps it might have been better for the lawmakers to acknowledge they voted against the overall bill — as many of the nasty replies noted. But the restaurant fund is actually a program that many Republicans supported — and for which they even sought more money.

In these tweets, lawmakers are doing their job by letting people in their districts know about the program. So these tweets will remain unrated. They are good examples of appropriate communication about federal programs, enacted in law, to people in lawmakers’ districts.


Grant bragging

Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.) in mid-April issued a “first 100 days report card” on herself in which she listed “Malliotakis’ achievements.” On the list were grants of $2,622,250 to the Community Health Center of Richmond and $1,118,625 to the Beacon Christian Community Health Center. Both grants came from the American Rescue Plan, according to the website of the Health Resources and Services Administration.

In statement to The Fact Checker, Malliotakis said: “These grants were among the 9% of funds dedicated to covid-19 relief that I was always in support of. Regardless of any particular vote, I’m going to help individuals, small businesses and nonprofit organizations get funding they are entitled to.”

Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) celebrated grants for North Carolina health centers that are contained in the American Rescue Plan.

In March, Cawthorn’s office had issued a statement to the local newspaper, the Asheville Citizen Times, saying he uses his official Twitter account to post information relevant to constituents. “This may include federal grant information, vaccination information, public announcements or other information that is useful to the people he represents,” the statement says. “He will oppose legislation that he believes if the underlying bill is unconstitutional, increases our debt and deficit or does more harm than good.”

Rep. Alex Mooney (R-W.Va.) in March issued a statement with the headline, “CONGRESSMAN ALEX X. MOONEY ANNOUNCES $41.5 MILLION IN GRANTS TO HEALTH CARE CENTERS.” These grants also came from the American Rescue Plan, according to the website of the Health Resources and Services Administration. We did not get a response from his office.

The Pinocchio Test

This is a different situation than the first set of examples, because here the lawmakers are bragging about bringing home the bacon. They have a responsibility to note to voters that even if they supported the grants, they also voted against the bill that supplied them. This type of communication appears hypocritical. Failing to acknowledge the vote against the bill earns these lawmakers an upside-down Pinocchio, representing an unacknowledged flip-flop.

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