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GOP erupts over its House members bailing out Biden

House lawmakers passed the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill on Nov. 5, sending it to President Biden to be signed into law. (Video: Reuters, Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images/Reuters)
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In Tuesday’s election, Republicans served notice that the clock is ticking on Democrats’ slim majorities in Congress. On Friday, 13 House Republicans delivered the decisive votes to rescue a key part of President Biden’s agenda — an agenda endangered by those in his own party.

Ensue the bloodletting.

Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill passed late Friday night and is headed for his signature after months of intense wrangling over the details — particularly whether it would be tied to a larger spending plan that progressives insisted upon passing alongside it. But in the end it wasn’t really those progressives who provided the key votes, but rather the 13 Republicans (the full list is at the bottom of this post). The final vote count was 228 to 206, meaning if no Republicans had voted for the bill, it wouldn’t have passed.

And some Republicans are predictably furious — with undersold questions about House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) future leadership of the party potentially in the offing.

“I can’t believe Republicans just gave the Democrats their socialism bill,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said.

“That 13 House Republicans provided the votes needed to pass this is absurd,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.) said.

Others threatened before the vote to target or launch primaries against the defectors in their midst.

Vote for this infrastructure bill and I will primary the hell out of you,” Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) said shortly before the vote.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), in her typically understated fashion, warned last week that any Republican who voted for the bill would be “a traitor to our party, a traitor to their voters and a traitor to our donors.” After the vote, she accused the 13 of having voted to “pass Joe Biden’s Communist takeover of America” and tweeted the phone numbers to their congressional offices (while for some reason only listing 12 of the 13).

That we’d see such rhetoric from this particular, more extreme wing of the party isn’t all that surprising. Nor is it terribly surprising that at least some Republicans would vote for the bill. When it passed in the Senate, 19 Republicans voted for it, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). (Many saw it as an olive branch amid a Democratic push to eliminate the filibuster in the Senate; an obstruction tactic that doesn’t apply in the House.)

Friday’s GOP defections were even more significant than during the last Trump impeachment, when 10 Republicans voted to impeach the president — a historically high number. And the fact that on Friday they provided the votes necessary for passage makes this even more fraught.

They were also more significant than many, including McCarthy, suggested they might be. While McCarthy previously kept his powder dry on whipping against the bill, he ultimately pushed for his members to vote against it. As recently as last week, McCarthy said, “I don’t expect few, if any, to vote for it, if it comes to the floor today.” In another interview, he was asked about the infrastructure bill and said, “It will fail.”

Circumstances change, but the defections from McCarthy’s party line were significant for the modern era. They also notably included Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.), who had been made part of the team led by Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) just earlier this year — the same whipping operation that failed Friday.

Malliotakis comes from a region which stood to benefit more than others from the bill and accounted for many of the GOP yes votes; 6 of the 13 came from New York and New Jersey. But that one in particular has to sting. We knew at least a few Republicans would vote yes and others were seemingly freed up to vote for a bill once it was headed for passage. But 10 Republicans voted for the bill rather quickly, and the eventual total number of defections gave the bill more than just a veneer of bipartisanship (especially when combined with the Senate vote).

The National Review summed it up accordingly: “Disgraceful House Republicans Rescue Biden’s Flailing Agenda”:

… [Thirteen] Republicans swooped in to rescue Pelosi, provide Biden with the biggest victory of his presidency, and put the rest of his reckless agenda on a glide path to passage in the House.
This is a substantively bad decision that is political malpractice. It represents a betrayal.
Politically, it’s unclear what Republicans are thinking. Biden entered this week reeling from a devastating rebuke of his presidency by voters in areas of the country thought to be reliably Democratic. He headed into the 2022 election year a wounded animal, and Republicans stood to make major gains. Now, they tossed him a life raft and allowed him to put bipartisan gloss on his radical agenda.
Every Republican who voted for this monstrosity who is not already retiring should be primaried and defeated by candidates who will actually resist the Left-wing agenda. Those who are retiring should be shamed for the rest of their lives. It also is not too soon to be asking whether Representative Kevin McCarthy should be ousted from leadership for his inability to keep his caucus together on such a crucial vote.

And that last one is a key point here. The bill included lots of popular projects and, in another era, probably would’ve gotten significantly more GOP votes. But we live in this era, in which delivering a political win for the other side — however popular the bill and however much your constituents might want it — is seen as apostasy. The demand in the GOP for such devotion to the party line and its election prospects is even greater than on the other side.

Republicans are still likely to win the House in 2022, despite the doom and gloom on the GOP side and even as it’s likely the bill’s passage will help Democrats electorally. That puts McCarthy in line to be House speaker. But we’ve written before about the undersold potential debate over whether he would even be elevated to a post he’s already failed to grab hold of once. McCarthy’s leadership has often been quite uneven, and the demands in the GOP are sky-high for such posts. Scalise, too, would seem to be line for some criticism given his status as the party’s whip.

The anger for now seems more focused on those 13 Republicans. It’s possible Democrats would have been able to pass the bill without them (the GOP crossover votes allowed the progressives who had been holding out to vote no and stick to their principled stand). But the end results is that, objectively, this bill passed thanks to GOP votes.

Whether McCarthy could have prevented the bill’s passage is a valid question — he doesn’t control the majority, after all — but his party and its base aren’t really big on that kind of nuance. And it’s unlikely the anger over what transpired Friday will subside quickly.

The Republicans who voted for the infrastructure bill were:

  • Don Bacon (Neb.)
  • Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.)
  • Andrew Garbarino (N.Y.)
  • Anthony Gonzalez (Ohio)
  • John Katko (N.Y.)
  • Adam Kinzinger (Ill.)
  • Nicole Malliotakis (N.Y.)
  • David McKinley (W.Va.)
  • Tom Reed (N.Y.)
  • Chris Smith (N.J.)
  • Fred Upton (Mich.)
  • Jeff Van Drew (N.J.)
  • Don Young (Alaska)
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