A tale of two chambers: Trump’s power holds in House, wanes in Senate

The infrastructure debate dominating Capitol Hill this summer is highlighting the sharp contrast between the chambers when it comes to the influence of former President Trump over the GOP.

Nearly 20 Senate Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), broke with Trump this week to support a massive infrastructure package, providing President Biden with a big win and reflecting the diminishing hold his predecessor has on the upper chamber.

But the story is likely to be much different in the House, where Trump retains a muscular grip and GOP leaders have deemed his support vital to both the party’s prospects of winning back the chamber and their individual aspirations for rising in the leadership ranks.

McConnell, ignoring Trump’s warnings that the infrastructure deal was a “disgrace,” joined 18 other Senate Republicans in approving the $1 trillion package on Tuesday — a rare bipartisan achievement in a Congress that’s practically defined by partisan hostility.

But the bill likely won’t find similar backing in the House, where Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Republican Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) are all expected to vote against the proposal when it hits the floor in the fall.

“They will vote ‘no.’ There’s no political upside” for them to vote “yes,” one veteran House Republican told The Hill.

The expected opposition is, in some aspects, a no-brainer. Not only would it align GOP leaders with Trump, who remains the party’s standard bearer, it would also undercut Biden’s message that he’s bringing bipartisanship to Washington, while providing Republicans with new ammunition to attack Democrats as profligate spenders of taxpayer dollars.

“Infrastructure to Democrats is a five lane highway to socialism,” Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), head of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, tweeted as the lower chamber headed into its August recess.

Still, infrastructure projects are enormously popular with the public — support that transcends political ideologies — and some Republican leaders are treading carefully into the debate. Neither McCarthy nor Stefanik, for instance, have commented publicly on the bipartisan Senate deal, nor did their offices respond this week to questions about how they’ll vote when it reaches the House floor.

Scalise has been more vocal. In an interview this week with Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business, the Republican whip acknowledged the bipartisan infrastructure bill had momentum after the lopsided 69-30 Senate vote. But he’s still rooting for it to go down in defeat, along with a separate $3.5 trillion package of Democratic priorities that’s running on a parallel track.

Scalise railed against a provision in the infrastructure bill that would allow Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to create a pilot program to study a per-mile user fee for drivers and said the legislation includes “hundreds of billions of dollars of slush funds.”

But the No. 2 GOP leader said the “big problem” he had with the bill centered on Democrats’ process: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has tied the two packages together, vowing she wouldn’t bring infrastructure to the floor until the Senate passed the $3.5 trillion package that includes what Scalise called “amnesty” and “Green New Deal garbage.”

“Nancy Pelosi has made it clear. The two bills are linked together. … The two are one in the same, which means over $5 trillion of new spending with taxes to go with it that will kill middle-class jobs,” Scalise said on Fox Business.

However, given the popularity of the infrastructure issue, McConnell’s backing of the bill and the near certainty it will become law, it’s unlikely that House leaders will whip their rank-and-file members aggressively against the package.

Most House Republicans will stick with Trump and their leadership team and vote no. Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah), a member of the centrist Problem Solvers Caucus, praised the Senate’s “bipartisan work” on infrastructure but, like Scalise, slammed Pelosi for linking the two packages together.

“These bills may be attractive to the many who see money coming their way, but it is not the Utah way — nor is it the way I vote,” Curtis said in a statement Thursday.

Yet a handful of other moderate Republicans have already signaled they will vote “yes” when the $1 trillion package heads to the floor. Two House GOP lawmakers both predicted, based on conversations with colleagues, that anywhere between 30 and 40 Republicans will be on board.

“It’s time to make an investment in our nation that will pay dividends for future generations. Finding new and innovative ways to keep America moving is one of the most important roles of the federal government,” said Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), a vocal Trump critic who is serving on Pelosi’s special committee probing the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

“I support the legislation passed by the Senate, as well as the bipartisan negotiations that made it possible. A strong national infrastructure is vital for our ability to compete globally, foster local and regional economic development, and create jobs.”

If 30 to 40 Republicans break with Trump, it would represent a significant number, though much smaller, percentage wise, than GOP support in the Senate. Forty House Republicans would represent less than 19 percent of the GOP conference; meanwhile, nearly 40 percent of GOP senators voted “yes.”

“Trump’s influence remains, but 19 votes in the Senate and the need for infrastructure keeps us in the range” of 30 to 40 GOP “yes” votes in the House, the veteran House GOP lawmaker said.

For McConnell, bucking Trump bears little risk. The Senate GOP leader has been the target of attacks by the former president all year long after McConnell took the remarkable step of holding Trump personally responsible for the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

GOP senators, including McConnell, may also have been enticed to back the infrastructure bill to send a message that the Senate remains capable of passing major bipartisan legislation — a dynamic that undermines the liberal arguments for eliminating the filibuster, which Republicans want to keep intact.

In addition to McConnell, the GOP “yes” votes included Sens. Mitt Romney (Utah), Bill Cassidy (La.), Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), Susan Collins (Maine), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Rob Portman (Ohio), one of the bill’s chief negotiators.

But most of McConnell’s leadership team did not join him in backing the bipartisan bill. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who are all looking to climb the leadership ladder, all rejected the bill, signifying where Trump still retains influence in the upper chamber.

The only other member of McConnell’s team to support the infrastructure bill was Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman Roy Blunt (Mo.), who is not seeking reelection in 2022.

Via The Hill