Republicans are increasingly divided over the bipartisan infrastructure bill that will soon become law, with tensions rising among GOP members over whether the party should remain united against all aspects of President Biden’s agenda or strike deals in the rare instances when there is common ground.
At a private event hosted by the House Republican campaign arm Monday night in Florida, Trump took time out of his 90 minute speech that focused mostly on his baseless claims about the election and attacking Biden to throw a jab at the 13 House GOP lawmakers who supported the infrastructure package.
“I love all the House Republicans. Well, actually I don’t love all of you. I don’t love the 13 that voted for Biden’s infrastructure plan,” Trump said, according to the recollection of a person who attended the event and spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private gathering.
His comments came just hours after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) told reporters in his home state of Kentucky that he was “delighted” the bill will soon be signed into law, touting the improvements it would make to the state’s roads and bridges.
“This will be the first time I’ve come up here in a quarter of a century when I thought maybe there was a way forward on the Brent Spence Bridge,” McConnell said, according to a local report, referring to a bridge connecting Kentucky and Ohio that is one of the nation’s worst bottlenecks.
The divisions and hard feelings over the bill reflect the degree to which Republicans have defined themselves heading into the 2022 midterms as being against whatever Biden and the Democrats are for. Any crack in that approach has led to charges of disloyalty from Trump and his allies and an uneasiness among many GOP congressional leaders who are unsure how to navigate a situation where the party is not neatly aligned against Biden.
The tensions are highest in the House where some members who voted for the bill have been the subject of heated criticism from colleagues — led by Trump loyalists Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) — and who have received menacing and threatening messages at their offices.
Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) — a moderate who voted for the infrastructure package — said during an interview Monday evening on CNN that a caller left a message with his office that was filled with expletives and called him a traitor. “I hope you die,” the caller said, adding that he hoped everybody in his family died as well.
House Republican leaders have done nothing to come to aid of the 13 who voted for the bill, remaining silent even as these members publicly disclose the harassment they have faced. The office of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) did not respond to a request for comment.
Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) defended his vote for the bill Tuesday, saying it will help improve the “atrocious state of our infrastructure” while noting his office has received a “substantial amount of troubling phone calls.”
“Ronald Reagan cut deals all the time with Democrats for the good of the country. That is what we’re supposed to do. This isn’t a zero-sum game,” he said Tuesday in an interview with Spectrum News. “There’s always going to be people in the cheap seats who are going to be naysayers, but that’s the nature of the business. But the bottom line is, we got to move this country forward.”
Senate Republicans have largely avoided cannibalizing 19 of their colleagues who voted in favor of the bipartisan infrastructure bill in August. And much of the anger at the 13 House Republicans is fueled by the argument that they bailed out Democrats with their votes and the bill would have otherwise gone down in an embarrassing defeat for Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)
With this in mind, allies of Trump are looking to punish these members, particularly those who hold senior committee positions.
Former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said in interview on Stephen K. Bannon’s “War Room”podcast Tuesday that all 13 members should “absolutely” be stripped of their committee assignments by House leadership in the coming days.
“These people voted for Joe Biden, for an infrastructure bill that will clear the way for more socialist spending that will, quite frankly, gives Joe Biden a win,” Meadows said. “I don’t know how you can send a clearer message than saying, ‘Listen, obviously you’re not on our team. We’re going to give that leadership position to somebody else.’ ”
House GOP leaders are also facing scrutiny for not holding all members in line after spending weeks trying to dissuade Republicans from voting for the bill, or at least withholding their support until it was clear Democrats had enough votes on their own to pass the bill.
Yet 15 minutes into the Friday night roll call, five Republicans had already voted yes before even a single Democrat had voted no, making it clear the legislation would pass without much Democratic drama. All five — Reps. Jefferson “Jeff” Van Drew (R-N.J.), Upton, Don Young (R-Alaska), Don Bacon (R-Neb.) and Katko — are beneficiaries of McCarthy’s fundraising apparatus because they face tough reelection contests. Reps. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.), Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.), Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio), Andrew R. Garbarino (R-N.Y.) and David B. McKinley (R-W.Va.) also voted in favor of the measure.
Kinzinger, Katko and Gonzalez also voted to impeach Trump and to form a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
In the end, only six liberals bucked Pelosi and Biden’s entreaties and opposed the legislation, enough to torpedo it, but the 13 GOP votes gave the Democratic speaker a comfortable victory, 228-206.
The pro-Trump wing of the conference immediately took notice.
“Kevin McCarthy isn’t the cause of these problems. He’s the symptom because we have Republicans willing to say, ‘Aw, shucks, we’ll always lose a few.’ Nancy Pelosi is in the majority, and she lost less than half the votes that we lost in the minority,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said during a Newsmax interview Monday. “That’s why, frankly, the morale in the Republican conference is very low right now and we need back up.”
Trump has since amplified the suggestion to punish the 13 Republicans who defected, a rallying cry that started among the former president’s “America First” supporters in the House over the weekend.
While in office, Trump repeatedly tried to strike an infrastructure deal, an agenda item that was less liked by many of his senior aides and conservative Republicans. He imagined going across the country and attending events for infrastructure projects, talking about his work as a builder, said former aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private conversations. While “infrastructure week” was a joke to many, it was a topic Trump brought up somewhat regularly, these former aides said.
But for Trump and many Republicans, their love of infrastructure has turned to loathing now that it bears Biden’s imprimatur.
Some of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s star recruits are starting to bash GOP lawmakers who supported the infrastructure package even as these candidates must run in seats held by Democrats where voters are likely to be more supportive of the legislation.
In an interview Saturday with Breitbart News, Wisconsin Republican candidate Derrick Van Orden said the 13 Republicans “just voted themselves out of a job, and rightly so,” questioning the nation’s drift toward socialism.
“There’s absolutely no excuse for doing that,” Van Orden told the conservative news site.
On Monday morning, Texas GOP candidate Monica De La Cruz also blasted the Republicans who backed the Democratic bill. “I still can’t believe 13 Republicans voted for this unfundable bill, $3 trillion worth of social policy, infrastructure and climate change programs,” De La Cruz tweeted, misrepresenting the cost of the bill and the policies it contains, adding three red-flag emoji to show her opposition to her fellow Republicans.
Hours earlier, McCarthy announced that Van Orden and De La Cruz were part of the initial eight GOP candidates who received “Young Gun” status, a program that McCarthy co-launched in the 2008 campaign. That connotation means the GOP leader considers these recruits his very best and it serves as an instruction to his most loyal donors to focus their money on these candidates.
Another “Young Gun,” Esther Joy King of Illinois, called the legislation something for the “Radical Left” that is supported by Pelosi. “We have to fight this wasteful bill,” she tweeted, “with all we’ve got!”
But the Republicans who supported the bill argue that these arguments are shortsighted and that the party should be focused on what the package can do for their communities while attacking other parts of the Biden agenda.
“This is the last opportunity we have to make sure those potholes are filled, those airports run right, that bridges are safe, and our economy can continue to grow. This is the only chance we have,” Young, who co-authored a massive highway bill in 2005, said during a recent floor speech. “To my colleagues who are voting no, I’d say: Think about it, what is the other alternative?”
Democrats have mostly reveled in the GOP infighting after Republicans tried to make political hay out of the divisions among Democrats recently on display as the party hashed out its differences over an economic and social spending package.
Biden expressed amazement at the situation on Tuesday and bemoaned that a bipartisan agreement could generate such anger.
“I’ve never seen it like this before,” Biden said at a town hall hosted by the Democratic National Committee. “It’s got to stop.”
Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.