Former President Donald Trump released a statement on Saturday threatening to withhold his endorsement from any Republican who supports the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. Hours later, 18 Republican senators voted to advance the infrastructure package anyway.
It was just a procedural vote (the Senate hasn’t voted yet on passage of the bill, as of Monday afternoon). But the chain of events illustrates that at least when it comes to infrastructure, the former president’s threats don’t seem to carry the weight they once did.
This was on stark display on Fox News on Sunday morning as one of the Republican senators who voted to advance the infrastructure bill, Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, went on Maria Bartiromo’s show and was castigated for not toeing the line.
“Are you betraying the Republican base?” Bartiromo asked Cramer to open the interview. He responded by arguing that the bill addresses important national priorities.
“It’s not just infrastructure — it’s roads and bridges specifically. In addition to that, there’s ports, waterways, railroads, airports, broadband, all of which are critical to the movement of goods and services around the country and around the world,” Cramer said. “We couldn’t get North Dakota soybeans to South Korea if we didn’t have ports in the Pacific Northwest. and we certainly couldn’t get pasta in New York without trucks getting the wheat from the field to the bins and then off to the mills and the factories.”
Bartiromo later pressed Cramer to specifically address Trump’s threat. Trump said on Saturday that “Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill will be used against the Republican Party in the upcoming elections in 2022 and 2024. It will be very hard for me to endorse anyone foolish enough to vote in favor of this deal.”
But Cramer, who is up for reelection in 2024, didn’t back down.
“He didn’t give one reason why it’s a bad deal, other than it’s Joe Biden’s [bill] … I think he’s wrong on this issue,” he said.
North Dakota Republican Kevin Cramer courted Donald Trump on the Senate campaign trail, but is poised to ignore the president’s threat
and vote for the infrastructure bill anyway. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
[SIZE=5]Senate Republicans decided bipartisanship was in their interest this one time[/SIZE]
While infrastructure is proving to be an area where Senate Republicans are willing to break with Trump, it’s too early to say whether this is the start of a trend.
For one, some of the 18 Republican senators who voted to close debate on the infrastructure bill may still end up ultimately voting against it. But ultimately the votes are expected to be there for the bill’s passage, meaning that in this case, Republican senators seem to have calculated that doing something for their constituents and demonstrating that the Senate isn’t totally broken is worth the tradeoff of handing Biden a major bipartisan win.
That doesn’t mean that it’ll be smooth sailing for Biden’s legislative agenda heading forward, however. McConnell, after all, said in May that “one hundred percent of my focus is standing up to this administration,” and with Republicans entrenched against any sort of voting rights legislation, it’s unclear what major policy areas if any could be ripe for a bipartisan agreement after infrastructure.
It’s also easier for Senate Republicans to inch away from Trump than it is for GOP House members. While characterizing the infrastructure bill as “one of the most significant steps to date by elected Republicans to defy Mr. Trump,” the New York Times’ Luke Broadwater and Emily Cochrane note that Republicans like Cramer who aren’t up for reelection in 2022 aren’t quite feeling the heat. But for House members, a sour statement from the former president could spell serious trouble for their political futures.
[INDENT]The vast majority of Republicans are opposed to the legislation. House Republicans are as tightly bound to Mr. Trump as ever, with many continuing to support his election lies and conspiracy theories about the Jan. 6 attack at the Capitol. And with the approach of the 2022 elections, members of his party will have less and less room to maneuver away from a figure whom their base still reveres.[/INDENT]
But whether it’s an aberration or the beginning of an era in which Republicans are less scared about incurring Trump’s wrath, the fact remains that for the first time in many years, a significant number of GOP elected officials are voting in favor of a major piece of legislation that will provide their constituents with something beyond tax cuts aimed disproportionately toward the wealthy. That’s something to celebrate.